Overwhelmed at the idea of feeding your family well with little time to devote to it? Reign it in with my best meal planning made easy tips!
What is meal planning anyway?
Believe it or not, there’s a whole spectrum to this. Everything from diet restrictions to weekly meal prep to freezer meals – you name it, there’s meal planning for that.
I have friends with allergies who research and plan everything out ahead of time so as not to cross-contaminate in the kitchen. Others have special needs children and limited time to devote to self-care and nutrition, so they opt for one-night-a-week meal prep. That way they’re spending less time in the kitchen throughout the week when they’re needed elsewhere, but they aren’t sacrificing their health for it.
Meal prep services? That’s a whole other level of meal planning. My friend Brandye has it down to a science with her Whole30 dishes at Platelee. Everything she uses is clean, organic, crazy delicious, and either ready to eat, or ready to cook when you pick it up. The amount of time and knowledge she puts into her planning is well-worth her services!
Is it complicated?
It doesn’t have to be, honest! And if you put in a little bit of work, you can make it work for you – saving you time and money. Because let’s face it: sometimes if I don’t plan well, we’re eating fast food on our way to the soccer fields. Not healthy, not budget-friendly.
You can make this as simple or as in-depth as you want! My personal meal planning method is simply to crank out a menu, take stock of what we have, list what we need, and make a grocery order for delivery. That’s it. And even just that takes my mind off of what needs to be done during the week.
But I am a planner. Enneagram 1. Type A. Control freak. Should’ve prefaced that. I love a good spreadsheet and list that I can check off. I know. Annoying, right?
But the good news? You don’t have to be as rigid/scheduled/routine as me to make meal planning work for you. Do what works best for your family! And if you want to piggyback on my OCD, I’ve got you covered. Free menu planner, grocery list, and what-we’re-almost-out-of printables just for you – ready to throw on your fridge or desk.
What my meal planning looks like:
Ask Nathan and the boys what they’d like for dinner in the next week or so.
It never fails that Tobias will ask for sushi, Nash will ask for homemade mac and cheese or chili, Nathan says he’ll think about it (and sometimes makes a suggestion), and Milo loves everything so he’s happy regardless.
There’s a method to my madness here, too. First, it saves me from getting stuck in a rut; if I blank on ideas or keep making my favorites over and over, this helps to snap me out of it. Second, asking them for input guarantees that everyone gets something they like for dinner that week. It limits any whining that may ensue, and when they DO whine, I kindly remind them that their night is coming.
Write down my menu.
This may sound unworthy of mentioning, but I assure you it is paramount. The moment I fail to write it down is the moment I forget what I need to buy. Or is the cause for my waking up at 3am in a panic because I forgot to thaw out that roast. Or we get to Thursday when I thought I’d just fly by the seat of my pants only to remember at 4pm that someone has a game at 5:30.
I told you: I’m a planner, not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-er. I will lose sleep if I don’t have a written plan. And if it’s not written down, I will deviate out of necessity and panic, and that will inevitably cause produce to spoil because of it. I’m not in the business of wasting sleep or money.
So I write it down to save my sanity.
Take stock of what we have and what we need for that menu.
How many cans of crushed tomatoes do I need this week? “Can someone go check the pantry for me real quick, please?… Oh, we’re out of peanut butter too? Got it... No, I’m not buying ANOTHER box of that cereal… Because I literally just bought one 3 days ago, and you’ve already eaten the entire thing, and we still have the other kind anyway.”
You get the idea. I imagine you have similar conversations.
And my favorite way to write all these menus and grocery items down? (because I avoid digital lists at all cost and love to just put pen or pencil to paper) My Rocketbook. It’s the best of both worlds: old-school writing combined with the new world of digital uploads.
I don’t have 3 different notebooks lying around the house anymore. And I get to reuse my Rocketbook over and over without losing what I want to save because it’s now in my email or Google Drive. It’s amazing.
Order that beautiful, magical thing called grocery delivery.
I actually don’t mind grocery shopping. I enjoy it most times. Talking to the stockers and checkout clerks and getting to know their names and stories – it’s important to me.
I wonder how the move went for Zhane? Mercedita is so quiet but always kind when I see her. Wonder if I could get her to talk more?
But there are also times where it makes more sense for me to take advantage of that annual membership we paid for to have them delivered. No matter how I shop from week to week, I love having a fully stocked kitchen, a menu in hand, a plan for the week, and a load off my mind.
Give myself permission to be flexible.
I always look ahead to see what we have happening when putting our menu together. If I know we have a particularly busy evening, I know I need a crockpot meal or leftovers for dinner. If there’s a leisurely weekend on the horizon, I can pick something that requires a little more attention and use it for intentional time with the boys in the kitchen.
And although I am not a flexible person (Enneagram 1, remember? I don’t like change, especially with my schedule or calendar.), if I give myself permission to move meals around during the week, I handle it a little bit better.
You know, like when that one soccer coach changes practice every week – or, worse, at the last minute – and it derails all our transportation and meal plans, even though I’ve asked multiple times that we keep our schedule consistent but inevitably get ignored and am still expected to be there at a moments’ notice? Yeah, like those times. (I doubt you’re reading this, but in case you are, I’m looking at you, Antonio.)
Those are the times I have to tap into that flexibility deep down and go for the takeout, fast food, or leftovers option. Permission is freeing, and backup plans are priceless.
So why bother with meal planning?
We’re all busy. And rushed. Sometimes the thing that takes a backseat to our crazy schedules is one of the very things that keeps us going. Meals aren’t just about nutrition (although obviously important), but they also teach us to slow down, to have conversations, and to simply enjoy the food and the pace of eating at the table.
Our work and activities can take up so much brainspace and time that we tend to overlook this crucial part of our lives. We end up grabbing whatever is quickest and easiest just to make sure we have something in our bellies, but in doing so, we miss out on so much more.
Meal planning may require a little bit of upfront time, but I promise you have it. And I promise that once you start designating time towards it, it will get easier to do with every passing week. The benefits of being prepared, well-fed, unhurried, and less reactionary all outweigh the energy it takes to meal plan.
Rather than spending a frantic moment of scrounging for anything, something to eat as you’re rushing to your next commitment, you can be confidently feeding yourself and your family – quality food and quality time.
All because you planned. Just a little.
Need some quick and easy meals to get you started on your meal planning journey?
Do you have a favorite meal planning tip? Or are you giving this a go for the first time? Let us know in the comments!
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