Meal planning can seem like such an overwhelming task, but I've found that once you get into the groove, it makes your week so much easier! I have been meal planning ever since I got married back in 2006, and I'm a true believer. Over the years, I've developed a little system that has helped me alleviate that last-minute dinner scramble.
1. Map Out Your Week
It's usually on a Sunday morning that I will sit down at our kitchen island with a cup of coffee by my side and plan out our meals for the week. I have been using my Mealtime Planner for years and find that it has become my trusty little sidekick that I refer to throughout the week.
The very first step I take when meal planning is checking our family calendar to see what events we have for the week. Whether it be football practice, a get together with friends, or a school function, I can know ahead of time what to prepare for. If there are no events that night, maybe I will have time to prepare a more involved meal. If there's soccer practice or a game, maybe I need to bust out the crockpot so dinner is ready when we get home. Or maybe things are just going to be too crazy that night so we treat ourselves to take-out from our favorite restaurant.
2. Gather & Select Your Recipes
I gather a majority of my recipes from Pinterest and blogs and keep a running catalog in the notes app on my phone that includes the link to the recipe. I also have a few trusty cookbooks I like to flip through and pull ideas from. Some of my favorites are the cookbooks from Simply Real Health and the Real Food Whole Life blog.
As I'm sifting through my recipe collection, I have a framework in mind to help me narrow down my selections:
Make-Ahead Mondays - It's one of the best feelings when dinner is ready by afternoon and you don't have to rush around in the early evening trying to cobble a dinner together when you're already exhausted from the day. Mondays for us usually involve some sort of soup in the colder months that I can let simmer on the stove, or when soup doesn't sound as appetizing in the warmer months, I try to find a crock-pot dish that can slowly cook throughout the day.
Taco Tuesdays - I mean, who doesn't love a good taco. You can change this up week by week by switching out the protein, toppings, or even the shell. So maybe salmon tacos one week, beef tacos another!
What's New Wednesdays - Much to the dismay of my family, Wednesdays are when I like to try out new recipes. I get a little giggle out of sneaking in unique ingredients to see if anyone notices. Some successes have been cauliflower rice and also coconut milk in place of cream for soups.
Thrifty Thursdays - By now, I'm tired of getting food on the table every night! I usually assign this day to use up any leftovers we may have accumulated throughout the week, or put together something quick with any ingredients we may have leftover.
Fun Fridays - We have developed a tradition over the years where we go out to dinner with my parents most Friday nights. My family really looks forward to these nights, giving us a chance to catch up from the week as well as providing a fun way to kick off the weekend ahead.
Seat-Of-Your-Pants Saturdays/Sundays - The weekends are really just a free for all and can include a mix of take-out, leftovers, or easy to put together meals. I don't really have anything planned on these days and just roll with it. I usually find that we have enough leftovers to feast off of, something I can pull out from the freezer, or we do breakfast for dinner - one of my kids' favorites!
3. Create Your Shopping List
Now that you have your meals selected for the week, it's time to create your shopping list. As I'm selecting my recipes, I take a quick look through the recipe's ingredient list and write down all of the items that I need to purchase, breaking them into categories. I find that this helps me organize the list in my mind and can make the shopping process so much easier as you navigate throughout the store.
As I'm making my list, if there are any ingredients that I'm unsure if we have, I will put a question mark next to that item as a reminder to check on our supply when I'm done making the list. I love creating the grocery list while sitting in my kitchen so I can just bop down from my chair and see if something is in stock or not. This helps me to purchase only what I need instead of being caught at the store trying to remember if we already have enough broccoli or bananas.
The past few months I have really taken advantage of ordering my groceries online. I find that it not only saves a couple of hours each week, but it is has also helped to keep our grocery bill in check. When I physically go to the store, there always seems to be add-ons that weren't on the original list, especially if my boys are along!
I have a couple of little bonus tips that I have implemented over the years that have helped to make meal planning even easier.
Batch Prepare & Freeze:
Pick one recipe each week or so that you can double. You're already going through the meal preparation process, you might as well make the most of it. By doubling your recipes, you can start building up a stock pile in your freezer that you can pull from when needed. I usually divide the extra into individual servings and store them in mason jars. It makes for a delicious, homemade lunch or quick dinner that takes minimal effort and time.
Plan Two Weeks at a Time:
Something I do on and off is plan two weeks at a time. When I'm already in the groove, I find it easy to whip out two weeks worth of meal plans allowing me to take the next week off. Then, you can even recycle those two weeks and use the same plan for the next two weeks. So, it's almost like you planned an entire month in just one sitting!
If you're interested in meal planning, we have some thoughtfully designed tools that can help. Be sure to check out our selection of Weekly Meal Planners in our shop and get to planning!