The mom that understands the value of meal planning is the one that has skipped it for the week! But, really…its SO TRUE!
Planning is an INVALUABLE tool to keep us sane…even if it’s just a quick jot down sesh of the fam’s favorites.
Once you’ve nailed down your 3-Step Weekly Rhythm, it’s time to make sure you never miss meal planning again.
Here are some of my tips to make this time both efficient AND enjoyable…
Designate a Day
Strategically deciding when to do this will maximize efficiency so you can spend less time thinking and deciding and more time making and eating.
Choose a day of the week that is your meal planning day and be as specific as possible–over morning coffee before the kids wake up, while the kids are napping, or maybe after dinner.
Since planning is the first step in your 3-step weekly rhythm, choose a day that works in the context of your best shopping and preparation times.
My day is Friday. I wake up before the babes, pour myself a steaming cup of coffee, and sit down with my pretty little meal planner. I peek through the fridge to see what we need to eat up over the weekend, see if there is anything on Pinterest that looks delish, and jot down a plan. (This would also be a good time to check what’s on sale at the grocery store.)
Make it Fun
This much I know….If we want to sustain a habit, it has to be something we’re excited about, rather than dread. That’s why I make meal planning a time I look forward to as much as possible. Here’s how I do that:
- Like a new playlist to get me get through a workout, I’m much more excited to meal plan if I have a pretty meal planner to write on. I created a few beautiful and festive meal planners to inspire me.
- Play music–music just makes anything more inspirational. My meal planning jam is “The Hour” by Lee McDerment.
- Pour a hot cup of coffee– heck, maybe even put an extra splash of creamer in– just because it’s MEAL PLANNING MORRRNING, BABY!
Start with Dinner
I find most of us are pretty regimented when it comes to breakfast and lunch, so dinner tends to be the meal with most variety throughout the week.
Planning dinner first automatically fills in plans for breakfast and lunch. Here are some examples:
- Dinner leftovers can be morphed into lunch the next (few) days. I love making a big pot of soup or stew and having it for lunch the next day (I even pack it for the kids lunch in these containers).
- If you have leftover meat from dinner, make it into a salad for lunch. Bed of greens, chopped raw veggies and/or leftover roasted veggies, leftover meat, good salad dressing. BOOM…DONE!
- You can also overlap many ingredients (which will help the food budget!) For example you could use leftover beans from a Taco Night in a breakfast burrito, or leftover veggies at dinner can be used with your eggs the next morning.
So first, plan all dinners for the week, then go back through and fill in breakfast and lunch squares.
Defining criteria for each night ensures your plan works for you and makes meal planning much faster. This is the foundation of your weekly plan that you build upon each week.
This will change based on your family’s needs–based on kids schedules, work schedules, etc. but serves as an evolving framework.
You do this by choosing criteria in several categories (as many as you can). Categories to consider are:
- Dietary variety: Variety of protein sources–beef, chicken, turkey, fish, meatless meal, etc.
- Nutrition preference: Whole 30, Keto, Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo, FODMAPS, AIP, you name it!
- Meal Style: Soup, Sheet pan meal, Bowl meal, etc.
- Convenience & Time to prep/cook: Instanpot/Crockpot meal, Freezer Meal night, Bulk cooking recipe
- Ethnic/flavor themes: Tacos night, Italian, Mexican, Asian, etc. Whatever your preference, you can build it into your plan–or just choose 1 ‘ethnic night’ each week and rotate!
Here’s how this plays into our weekly plans:
- For our nutrition considerations and taste preferences, we know we want to have fish at least once/week, a beef dish once/week, and chicken or turkey the other days.
- We know Tuesdays & Thursdays are busy days and need less prep/cooking time.
- I have more time on Mondays & Fridays to do a bulk meal prep, so I choose recipes here that can be doubled or tripled and frozen.
This is how the foundation plays into my planning for the week:
MONDAY: Bulk Meal (I choose a recipe I can double or triple & freeze) OR something we can use in different ways throughout the week (like I did in my downloadable 1-week meal plan). Usually rotates chicken, turkey, or beef based so we have a variety of proteins in freezer meals. I try not to save soups for Fridays.
TUESDAY: busy night, so either a sheet pan meal or quick Instant Pot Meal. Fish tacos fit nicely within our Taco Tuesday preference.
WEDNESDAY: If we didn’t do fish on Tuesday, it goes here. Otherwise, we do a chicken or beef dish (whichever we didn’t do on Monday).
THURSDAY: another busy day & night for us- this is a day we cook a freezer meal I have previously prepared.
FRIDAY: Bulk Meal, soup so we can have this over the weekend too.
SATURDAY: leftovers & clean out fridge, and occasionally order out for dinner.
SUNDAY: Since I’m already cooking for some Sunday meal prep, I make a whole Chicken recipe for Sunday dinners. I make an extra whole chicken to use in soup, or on a chicken salad that week. I also use the bones for homemade bone broth.
Heres what I love….once your have set your criteria you can do a Pinterest search for your criteria…”Instant Pot Italian Chicken” or “Whole 30 Vegetarian Freezer Soup recipes” and in 5 seconds, you just planned what works for YOUR family.
Plan around the Protein
Meat, fish, beans, lentils, tofu…whatever your protein is—start by choosing what this will be and using it as the foundation of your meal. This will help you quickly plan which veggies and/or grains you can pair with it.
It also ensures that you have a solid source of protein at each meal!
Write it down
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a meal plan in my mind. Then, without fail, I forget to buy something or by Monday, I’ve forgotten what I mentally planned for dinner Thursday. Writing it down is key…even if only on a napkin or posit-it note.
Writing it in calendar format, allows you to visualize your weekly schedule to plan around that. The grid-style also help you be strategic about using leftovers, and seeing where there are ‘gaps’ for the week.
I also love making my grocery list on the same page so I can write down random ingredients I think of, and take it all with me in 1 sheet. The categorized list makes shopping much more efficient, too!
With these things in mind, I created a few seasonal meal planners that are functional & bring beauty to your kitchen!
What would you do if you had a dollar for every “What’s for dinner?” question…
…a few exotic vacations come to mind.
Though it’s an honor to answer this question, I do love posting the meal plan in a visible place for all to see. After all, dinner is something to be excited about! You can easily put it on your refrigerator (I love these magnets!), a bulletin board, or write it on a whiteboard or chalkboard.
the day that you’re meal planning do a quick fridge inventory– what needs to be used up. What is almost gone that you can add to your Inventory checklist and restock?
One of my favorite things to do is make something and use the same ingredients in some way or reinvent leftovers to make dinners later that week.
The best way to do this is by planning backwards.
Start with Friday, then work backwards to Monday.
Thinking about Friday dinner and what would be nice to have already made for it may help you plan Wednesday and Tuesdays dinner to.
For example, if I planned Chicken Pesto Pizza for Friday night, and Chicken Parmesan for Thursday night, I can make Almond-crusted Chicken Tenders Monday night to use both recipes! That’s 3 quick dinners–yeehaw!
Family Top 10 List
This is fun & super simple.
Sit down with the family and brainstorm your family’s Top 10 favorites in each category– breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and maybe snacks too). You can even do this over dinner one night!
Then, stick it in a kitchen binder or folder with your other meal plans. When inspiration is lacking, and your thinking muscle is tired go to this list and pull from it.
Involving your babes in this process can be rich in so many ways. By giving them input, they’ll be more likely to actually eat, try new things, and maybe even help prepare!
Since this will vary widely based on age, here are some practical ideas:
2-5 years old: Younger kids are great at flipping through cookbooks with colorful pictures and choosing what looks good to them.
If you don’t have a lot of cookbooks at home, take a trip to the library on your meal planning day and have them each pick a recipe. Rather then checking out all the books, I often just take a picture of each recipe on my phone.
6-10 years old: Take it up a notch by having each child pick a meal for the week based on the list of criteria for that day.
11-18 years old: If they’re a bit older, you could even take it up a notch and have them meet to coordinate what each other have planned to avoid overlap. Shoot, at this point…I may be having my kids cook me dinner anyways.
Many peoples favorite childhood memory is centered around food or creating something together in some way. While cooking with littles may be messy and frustrating at times, know you are sowing memories and seeds of skill that will serve their future families and legacy.
A different way of doing this is to start a group text with friends, or do a social media post about meals their families have loved lately. With input from 5 friends, you could literally have your meals planned in 5 minutes.
There you go! I’d love to know YOUR favorite meal-planning methods and hacks…comment below!