Meal planning and I have a love hate relationship. I hate the prep work and effort at the beginning of the week, but love reaping the benefits the rest of the week. It is one of the things that keeps my house running smoothly, yet I struggle sometimes to motivate myself to keep up with it! In the end, it is hard to ignore the benefits from meal planning. We eat healthier, we save money, we save time, we eat out less, and I stay more sane 😉
I have heard from so many of you that struggle with meal planning or would like more family meal ideas and I am happy to share what has worked for us. Sharing our weekly menu will also motivate me to keep up with our meal planning!
To start, I want to explain the difference between meal planning and meal prepping. Meal planning is planning meals/menu for the week and then making sure you have all necessary ingredients on hand. Meal prepping is the actual preparation of meals in advanced; most often all at once. You can combine the two. I will sometimes prep chicken or chop fruit or veggies for the week ahead.
Tips for Meal Planning:
- Take your schedule into account – It is impossible to meal plan without planning around your families schedule. I work on Mondays and Thursdays, so I either make these meals ahead or plan easier meals knowing we have less time on these evenings. Tuesdays, we are not always able to eat together due to activities, so I like to plan meals that can sit warm for a while. Know your evenings you are pressed for time and plan ahead. Use evenings or days you have more time (Sundays and Wednesdays for me) to prepare more involved meals or additional meals.
- Set a date to meal plan – My goal is to always plan on Sundays. This is also when I fill out my paper planner for the week and take a good look at our week ahead. Making this a routine really helps you stick with it. Miss your meal plan day? It doesn’t mean the whole week is shot – plan from there! This date may also be your day you shop or take inventory of what you will use from your current stock.
- Create your menu – I have my tried and true recipes, but also am always looking for new ideas. I find ideas for recipes via the internet, my family, and my home! Pinterest is a big inspirations. I also use Skinny Taste for healthy meal ideas and Pioneer Lady gives me a ton heartier meal ideas. In addition to searching in cookbooks and online, I ask the kids and Aaron for ideas. We will also sometimes create a theme night – Friday nights often turn into soup and movie night – kind of a funny combo, and I do not remember how it came about, but the kids really enjoy it! Also, use your pantry and freezer for menu ideas. Use up items you have on hand! Create your menu for the days you will be eating at home. I always reward myself with takeout on Fridays!
- Shop in advanced – This is also a crucial step. Once your menu for the week is made, create a list of items you need. I do a lot of my grocery shopping online. This is where I think we save a lot of money – I am buying only what we need for this weeks meals. If I do not have planned meals, I tend to over buy things – and often it is more processed items because I do not know when I will be making them.
- Utilize leftovers – I repurpose leftovers in our lunches all the time. In addition to reserving the meal, I use a lot of them mixed in with my salad the next day. If I am roasting a chicken or making chicken breast in the instant, I will double what I make to have extra on hand for another meal or for lunches that week. Leftovers can also easily be repurposed into dinner the next day via a soup or pizza topping, etc. Get creative with them!
- Periodically reassess – Take a step back and figure out what is working and what is not working. Running out of meal ideas? Go back and repeat some ones you have made in the past. Losing motivation? Keep it easy – not every meal has to be made from scratch! Eating healthier? Give yourself a pat on the back!
My Meal Planning Tools:
Paper Planner – I use our shared iPhone calendars for our daily schedules. My paper planner includes all of the details, to-do lists, menus, and specifics. Having the meals written in the planner also gives me a place to reference previous meals if I am in need of a menu idea.
Storage containers – I use these for leftovers or any food I may prep. I like that they are stackable and look nice in the fridge.
Cookbooks – My favorites include: Skinny Taste – love the healthy option, but these recipes are sometimes more involved. Sheet Pan – some of my favorites to make because they are so easy and the leftovers are great on salad. InstaPot and Crockpot – love these in the winter! Cravings – such great recipes!
Here is a sample of our menu this week. I had a lot of the ingredients on hand, so did not have to order much this week for our meals! I will continue to share these each week (you guys will hold me accountable to this!!).