My kids come home from school every day starving… every.single.day. They immediately want food…and lots of it. Of course, this could send me into an utter panic, desperately pulling easy foods from the cupboards and freezer trying to find ANYTHING that they will eat. But, I learned long ago that having a meal plan set up in advance takes the pressure off of me. I can look at that meal plan each morning as we are all getting ready to head in our various directions, and know just what I need to do to make sure our evening is less hectic and more wholesome. The side effect is not only am I more sane, but we also save a ton on groceries, since we no longer have to work on a whim and a prayer.
We are a family with a lot of activities and we have things to do most days of the week. We also try really hard to avoid eating out too much. This means that we eat early in order to make it where we need to be in time. That means that planning ahead is an essential component to my meal plan. I am lucky to work from home, but meal planning can be done if you work outside the home as well…in fact, it may be a real life saver after a long day at work. Setting up your meal plan doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple family sit-down can get you started. From there, it’s easy to plan ahead and do your shopping all at once (so, no more quick trips to the store).
Sit Down with Your Family to Make a List
Sit down on the weekend (we do this on Sunday), with all the members of your family to make a list. What foods do they want to eat? Is there anything they are looking forward to having? Try to nail down their favorite foods while still making a balanced and nutritious meal. This will look different for all families, so don’t worry too much if you meal plan is not perfect right off the bat. Just write down their favorites and go from there. This is also a great time to find out what upcoming activities your family has planned that week. Activities can affect your meal plan, so try to make sure there are a few quick or easy meals in your plan to accommodate your family’s crazier days.
Write it all on your Meal Plan
Now, sit down with the calendar and a notebook and start making a plan. You will find a printable menu planning worksheet below to get you started. Insert a dinner into each day of the week, while paying attention to your family’s schedule. Don’t plan a difficult or long dinner for a night that you have packed full of activities! Keep those days light and simple or you will just end up frustrated.
If your largest meal of the day is not at the dinner hour (which can be the case when families have very different schedules) plan for whatever meal is the biggest and most difficult for you to manage. Don’t get boxed into the “ideal” plan here…this is a REAL plan for your REAL family.
Once each dinner is planned, move on to the sections for lunch and snack ideas. Jot down what things you have on hand, or want to have on hand, for lunches and snacks throughout the day. If you family has a difficult time with breakfast, you can add that section as well! This gives you a rough outline of what is available in the house for other meals. I prefer to leave those loosely planned, because our days can be very changeable, but if you need or desire every meal to be planned out, simply do it on another sheet of paper.
Make a Grocery List
Using your meal plan, make a grocery list of the items you need to accomplish your plan. Be sure to check your own stock of food at home before buying it at the store. Try to plan for each part of your meals before hitting the store. It is helpful to have the sales flyers from your local store as well during this part of planning. You can then change things around a bit according to what’s on sale!
When you go shopping, take BOTH your meal plan and your shopping list with you, as well as a pen. If something on your meal plan is unavailable or too highly priced, you can make changes as needed. Don’t be afraid to change it up.
Leave Room for Flexibility
When you are first starting meal planning, you will want to leave room to be flexible if things don’t go exactly as planned. If something doesn’t work out, make a note on your meal plan and keep moving forward. If you have a picky eater, you may have to adjust your plan so that portions of the meal will work for them. The same is true with family members with allergies. Be aware of your challenges.
As you get to be a better menu planner, you will also want to leave some flexibility to have fun! If you want to try a new recipe, or have a hankering for something different…then you want the ability to be able to do that…even if it isn’t in the plan. Be kind to yourself and try to enjoy the new freedom that comes from having a plan.
Meal planning really can set you free. Imagine a day where dinner time doesn’t come with meltdowns and tantrums (and that’s just from ME!) but instead is as calm as one could expect a family dinner to be. Planning ahead will save your sanity…and your wallet.