Can I tell you that meal planning is a true game changer for our family? Planning meals ahead of time has so many benefits. It saves us money, ends up being healthier, and helps us decrease our food waste. Best of all, we are all less stressed in the evenings. Let's take a look at how to get started with a simple meal planning process. It really is easy.
Meal Planning vs. Meal Prepping
First, let me start by easing your minds. Meal planning is not meal prepping, which is a whole different thing. Planning your meals ahead of time simply means you are thinking about the different meals you are going to have and the different recipes and ingredients you will need. It allows you to get a grocery list together and consolidate your shopping trips. It means when you are tired after a long day of work, you don't have to worry about what to cook. It means you don't have to run to the store on a last minute shopping trip for one missing ingredient. Meal prepping, on the other hand, involves prepping food ahead of time and putting it into containers or baggies for eating later. This can be a real benefit for some families, but it is a much more involved process.
How to Get Started
The key to meal planning is to find the best process for you and your family. Here are some questions to keep in mind when deciding on your meal planning process:
How much time do you have each day for meal prep and cooking?
How fancy or simple do you want meals to be?
How much money is in your budget for dining out vs. cooking?
Do you want to plan meals for 1 week at a time or longer?
How often do you want to go shopping?
If you don't have a lot of time during the week, pick meals that will be simple to prepare. Incorporate ideas that will simplify your prep and cooking time like using a crock pot or making one-pan meals. If you like fancy meals too, try scheduling those for the weekend when you have more time. Depending on your budget, you could have one or more eat out/take out nights.
Once you have the answers to the questions above, you can start looking through your cook books, online recipes, and Pinterest for menu ideas. We like to keep things pretty simple so we just focus on our dinners. We know what we all like for breakfast and lunch so when we need to re-stock those things, we just add them to our ongoing grocery list.
Next, decide on a day for planning your weekly menu and grocery shopping. Every Sunday we take 10-15 minutes to decide on our dinner menu for the week and add all the ingredients we will need to the grocery list. For our list, we use a free app called Our Groceries. This app allows us to add items to the same list from each of our phones - so handy! Then, we usually plan to go shopping either Sunday or Monday. I also like to post our menu up in our kitchen for the family to see.
Have Fun with Weekly Themes
We are not foodies - although we love good food. We don't love to cook - although we enjoy it and like to try new recipes every once in a while. We like things simple but not too boring. So, to avoid falling into a food rut, we decided to come up with a fun weekly dinner rhythm. Every night is a different theme. We currently use:
Meatless Monday - Italian pasta night
Taco Tuesday - Mexican food night
Wacky Stir Fry Wednesday - Asian food night
YOYO Thursday - You're On Your Own leftover night
Friday Pizza Night - Family movie & popcorn
Sizzling Saturday - Dad's night to grill
Sunday Night Off - Eat out or buy take out
We usually have 3-4 favorite recipes we rotate through for each of the themed nights. When we feel creative, we throw in a new recipe for fun. My husband and I trade off primary cooking duties, and we like having the whole family help with veggie chopping when we can. If you have kids that really enjoy cooking, you can have them help more often or even let them plan and cook one night a week. The strategy here is brilliant - I end up only have to cook dinner 3 nights out of the week at the most! Figure out what will work for you and your family, try it out, and change your plan as needed.
Go Ahead and Start Today
When you incorporate meal planning into your routine, it won't take long before you fall into a rhythm that works. It won't take long before you start to appreciate the benefits of meal planning and notice how your week is changing for the better.