If your family is anything like mine, you’ll understand this scenario:
We walk in the door about 5:45pm. One kid is complaining about homework, the other is all “MOM, MOM, MOM…”, and all I want is just 5 minutes to get out of my work clothes (ie: take my bra off) and figure out what to do for dinner.
I have become reliant on meal planning. You can find many meal planning templates by doing a quick Google search. The meal plan template I use is just a blank weekly calendar that has room for me to fill in what we’re eating. There are also numerous websites devoted to meal planning. I’ve tried E-Meals which was nice because they provide a shopping list for exactly what you needed to make everything, but my kids are picky with a capital “P” so those meals didn’t always work.
Here are a few meal-planning tips for beginners:
Tip 1: Decide how long your meal plan is going to last. Our meal plan spans two weeks because we get paid bi-weekly. For some people, one week at a time is what works best..
Tip 2: Look at your calendar while making your meal plan. I match up what we’re eating with when we’ll be home. If you know you will be at a baseball game until 7:30, it’s probably not a good idea to have a recipe that calls for an hour of baking time. Also, consider time of year when you’re meal planning. I know if the weather is going to be nice for the week I will have at least one meal that will be grilled. Easy cooking and easy clean up. Win-win!
Tip 3: Have a few go-to meals that you can include each week. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc. Our go-to meals are tacos, chicken fried rice (sans the veggies because, kids) and meatloaf. Find what works and memorize it, pin it, whatever it takes to not lose the recipe!
Tip 4: I always have a few “at home” or leftover nights built in. This will ensure that the leftovers will get eaten, and I will not be throwing food away. This is also a way to utilize what you’ve made throughout the week to re-purpose it for something else. If you’ve made a pork roast one night, a few days later you can shred it for pulled pork sandwiches. Just toast some buns and throw some chips on a plate!
Tip 5: Always be on the lookout for new dinner ideas. I go to Pinterest and search “30 minute weeknight meals” or “5 ingredient weeknight meals”. Those will narrow my search and help find things in the realm of my ability. (Spoiler Alert: not very high!) Keep in mind that in real life, most meals that say 30 minutes will take a bit longer – and if they don’t I bow down to you.
Tip 6: Put the meal plan on your refrigerator (or a place visible to everyone). This way, anytime anyone wants to know what is for dinner they can look and see. It is also a visible reminder of what you need to pull out for the next day’s meal.
Tip 7: Give yourself grace. It took a while for me to be able to fully rely on my meal plan. There are also some days you come home and don’t have it in you to cook one more thing
that your kids won’t eat, so takeout it is! The best thing I ever read regarding meal planning was from the blog Peanut Blossom and said “If you have a hand in preparing a meal, it is home cooked.” It may only be grilled cheese sandwiches, but it’s better than going to McDonald’s!
A few tips on buying groceries for a meal plan:
- Make and stick to a list. I know this is said every time, but if I don’t have a list going in I guarantee that I will walk out missing at least three items that are needed for my meals, which in turn throws off the whole process. I would also blow my entire budget on snacks if my kids had any say in our shopping. I try to include things they like so that doesn’t happen.
- Buy items that can be used multiple ways. If you buy a bag of potatoes you can make sides at least 3 different ways. (Mashed potatoes, baked potatoes and diced potatoes). The same can be said for meat. Rotisserie chickens are one of my faves. You can just eat it as is, or you can dice it up and throw it in a chicken pot pie or chicken enchiladas. Or you could eat it as a meal and then the leftovers you could make into chicken salad. One bird, two meals.
- When buying produce/bakery items make sure that your meal plan is in an order to where those items won’t go bad. If you need fresh bread for your spaghetti side then move spaghetti to one of the first days after your shopping day. I do this with hamburger/hot dog buns if we’re grilling – no one like stale buns.
I am not a master chef, and my kids are not great eaters so my meals are more focused on what they’ll eat and trying to make them as healthy as possible. With planning my meals I am able to easily put a home-cooked meal on the table 5-6 nights a week!