Meal planning is not just for super moms or the exceedingly organized working professional! Meal planning is for all, for families small and large. It saves you time, money, and lowers your stress. Planning ahead also encourages you to nourish your family with real homemade meals. When you think about what you are going to eat ahead of time, fast food or microwave dinners seem less of a temptation. And if you’ve read this blog for very long, you know that I espouse the benefits of eating real food all the time!
My 15 meal planning tips are a collection of how to get organized, in no particular order of importance. You will have to invest some precious time at first, but once you have a system in place, the pay off is worth it! Spend the time and create a routine that works for you. Let me know which tips are the most valuable.
- Notebooks with typed lists work well for organizing, but you can also use free apps like Evernote to organize your food lists, recipes, and menus. Evernote syncs your phone and computer automatically. Visit Evernote to sign up.
- Create a master list of all your favorite breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. (These are for main dishes, but you could create a section for side dishes as well.) Keep a Word document on your computer or create a note in Evernote and update it periodically as you find new meals that you like. Use a star or number system to rate which recipes your family likes the most – 5 stars, 4 stars or 10, 9, or 8, etc.
- Use Pinterest to pin your favorite recipes and categorize them in a way that makes sense to you – by breakfast, lunch or dinner, OR gluten-free, dairy-free, or Paleo, OR main dishes, sides dishes, or desserts. Sign up for a free Pinterest account here.
- Ask your family for input about their favorite meals. That makes everyone happy!
- When putting together your meal plans, think about meals in 3 parts – the main dish, a vegetable, and a starch or grain. Easy peasy!
- Create a master shopping list and keep it on your phone or tablet, so when you shop, you can check off items you need.
- If your family members have allergies to specific foods, create a food allergy list for every person and keep extra copies for babysitters, child-care workers, and school staff.
- When putting together your plans, keep track of the nights you have commitments that prevent you from preparing a fresh meal, like sports games, music lessons, or Bible study. Those nights are leftover nights!
- It’s important to keep healthy snack foods on hand for the entire family, so they can take care of their own needs in between meals. Foods that are easy to grab – fresh fruit, raw veggies, homemade muffins, real food snack bars, pre-cooked sausage – are good choices. Another idea – we almost always have chicken or beef vegetable soup available on the counter in a slow cooker to eat over several days.
- If you make school lunches for your kids, create a master list of school lunch ideas. Also, consider making them the night before, so your mornings are less stressful.
- Cook large dinners and create freezer meals for nights or weeks you know you will be extra busy, or for life-changing events, like a move or baby’s arrival. Don’t forget to label with the name and date!
- If you are concerned about food getting lost in your refrigerator, label your leftover containers with the date you cooked the meal. Masking tape and a fine-point sharpie pen work well. Do the same with dried spices when you purchase them. Throw them out after 6-8 months, as they lose their freshness by then.
- Don’t get stuck creating the “perfect” meal planning system – just use what works for you and your family. Search the Internet and try new systems if you don’t like your current one. Plug your planned meals into some kind of calendar – weekly, monthly, or a list by date.
- Involve your kids in meal planning and prep. Yes, it takes time to teach while cooking, but the benefits are worth it in the long term. Plus, you are giving your children valuable life-skills and health, and even preparing them for marriage! Young men and women that know how to prepare homemade meals are attractive.
- If you can’t buy organic all the time, save money by using EWG’s Dirty Dozen list to prioritize which vegetables and fruits have the most pesticides. You can find the most current list published by the Environmental Working Group here.
What other meal planning tips have worked well for you and your family?
Share in the comments below.
Thank you for reading!