Do you have those things in your life that you do every week, or even every day, without fail? Those things that are so routine, so normal in your life that you don’t even think to talk about? I think we all do. I was talking to some people at work the other day, and I realized that for me, one of those things is meal planning, and that’s something that other people struggle with.
I’ve been a meal planner for as far back as I can remember. In high school, I cooked dinner most nights once my mom went back to work, and I followed my mom’s lead with the plans for the week. In college, I knew to always have staples around for quick meals, but I made a list every week and went to the store to cook my own dinners. Once I graduated, that continued, and to this day, I plan our dinners out every week. To be quite honest, I thought everyone did that… and it turns out I was wrong and they’re all asking me how I do it.
So today, I’m sharing my tips and tricks for successful meal planning – the whole process. People have told me that doing this seems daunting, but I can promise you it makes our lives (and grocery budget) a lot happier. I’ll be concentrating on dinner, since that’s what seems to need the most planning, but you can apply these tips to other meals too.
- Pick a consistent day to meal plan and grocery shop. These should be the same day or right after each other. Because both Chris and I work outside the home, that means meal planning on Friday night or Saturday morning in preparation to grocery shop on Saturday. It also works out logistically – if we want to make a big meal on Saturday or Sunday to have leftovers for the week, we’re able to get everything we need since it’s already planned to go to the store that day. You should be at home while you meal plan – that gives you access to check what you have in the house – the freezer, the pantry, the fridge. Most of our meals incorporate staples that I keep in the house, so it’s important for me to be able to check what we have while I’m planning.
- Have a rotation of meals that work for your family. This could mean SO many things, but for us it means that it’s easy to make, doesn’t take a ton of time, and our daughter will eat it – or at least part of it. We have a good 10 meals that we make often that show up on our meal plan consistently. I try to get a variety – chicken one night, pasta another, fish another, etc – so we don’t get bored.
- Cross check your calendar. When you sit down to meal plan, have your planner or calendar handy so you can see what’s going on for the week ahead. If you have a night out planned already on the calendar, write that into your meal plan. If you know one of you is going to need to stay late at work, plan an easy dinner for that evening.
- Allow yourself grace. You know what? Sometimes you know you’re not going to want to cook. Some nights you’ll get home after a crazy commute and it’s the last thing you want to do, or you know ahead of time that there just won’t be time. There’s nothing wrong with that! As a rule, I do not cook on Fridays – something I get from my mom. After a long workweek, I just want the night off, so we have easy things we can make quickly – scrambled eggs, a sandwich, leftovers. Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve also planned in one of those nights during the workweek since I’m so tired. We call it “Jump Up” – a term borrowed from my mother-in-law – as in, “jump up and get it yourself!” Right now Chris or I make Abbie’s simple dinner these nights, but as she gets bigger, she’ll be able to make a sandwich herself (and maybe for her little sister too).
- Plan to try any new recipes on a day you’ll have extra time. This is related to the above, but so, so important. We all get bored. We all want to try new recipes and meals we find on Pinterest, in magazines, and in cookbooks (I’m famous for my crazy cookbook collection – I have over 250 at last count). There have been countless times that a new recipe has become a family favorite, and I love trying to find those – but trying a new recipe takes time. During the week, we’re crunched for it, so all new recipes get tried on weekends. Pick days that you’ll have extra time for those new recipes so you’re not stressed if something goes wrong.
- Display your plan. We have a large chalkboard decal on the wall just outside our kitchen that displays the plan for the week. In addition, I write out the plan for the week in my planner, sometimes adding ideas in for the following week before I actually meal plan. Having it on the chalkboard makes it accessible to all of us – Chris can glance at it and know what we’re having, what he can help with, and have an idea of how long it will take. It’s a great visual to remember to take any meat I need to out of the freezer – I just glance at it the day before to make sure it has plenty of time to defrost in the fridge.
- Allow for flexibility. Things are going to go wrong in your week. Things are going to change, events may come up, you forget to do the prep work, kids get sick – life happens. Make sure your meal plan allows for it. Most things will keep in the fridge an extra day if you need them to. Keep a box of pasta and sandwich items on hand for those crazy days. Allow the plan to change as needed to fit your family!
So, those are my main tips, but let me ask – would you want to see my meal plan every week? A while back I used to share it every week, but haven’t in ages. Do you need dinner ideas and want to know what we eat? Let me know in the comments!