3 Steps to Creating an Effortless Family Meal Plan
Do you know what I hate? What I absolutely stall working on…?
Which is funny, considering how much I love grocery shopping and eating.
It feels like SUCH a daunting task. I have to somehow come up with multiple meals that everyone wants to eat, that fit into our budget and our busy schedule for the week. Oh — and it’s always helpful if they are meals that I enjoy cooking, that way…you know…I’ll actually cook.
Over the years, as our budget has fluctuated and our preferences on how we eat have changed - there’s a really important lesson I’ve learned.
MEET YOURSELF WHEREVER YOU ARE….
What do I mean by that? Well, if you KNOW you’re about to have a crazy week because your kids are out for the summer and you’re running them to all kinds of activities or you just had a baby or you’re working super long hours at work to hit an upcoming deadline…maybe that’s not the best week to try a bunch of new meals or to attempt going Paleo or Vegan. Maybe that’s even the week you haul your little booty over to Trader Joe’s and get some “healthy-ish” frozen meals and move on with your life. That’s ok—that’s not something to waste time feeling guilty about.
These 3 steps can be used for ANY kind of week and ANY kind of “diet” and ANY size of family…it can all be customized to fit your family, your needs, your life.
Come up with themes for each day of the week. You know…”Taco Tuesday” kind of thing. This seems way too simple, right? But seriously, if you’re like me, you get trapped on Pinterest looking for a great recipe and you end up looking at pictures on how to DIY pallet lawn furniture.
If you have themes—you’ve already narrowed down your search when looking for new recipes and by doing so, you can hopefully be a bit more efficient in your meal planning.
And if you have any picky eaters, themed-meals make it easy to accommodate them, without making an entirely different meal. Like, on a taco or Mexican cuisine night you could do black bean tacos and quesadillas…because what picky eater doesn’t like some version of bread and cheese?!
These themes can change as often as you like. We usually change them seasonally (nobody wants chili in the middle of summer), but do whatever works for you and your family.
Once you have decided on nightly themes for your dinner, start considering what your week is going to be like. Do you need to come up with meals for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner - are you responsible for all of that? Or does the rest of your family snag a bowl of cereal and head to work or school and dinner is your only meal together? Do you have a dance recital on Thursday, so you need something quick when you get home or for everyone to inhale on their way out the door? Do you have guests coming over on Saturday?
It is best to try and think through all of the challenges the week is going to bring NOW - then you can plan ahead. Remember…meet yourself wherever you are. If you are new to meal planning—just start with dinners and worry about the other stuff as you ease into this. Another simple solution is to use leftovers as lunch, prepping them in serving size containers before putting them in the fridge. This is supposed to be helpful, not ANOTHER THING ON YOUR LIST THAT STRESSES YOU OUT.
Head into your kitchen and see what you have leftover from the previous week. If you are on a budget, this is a crucial step. Make a list of what items you have and reference that as you move onto the next step. If you have zucchini that’s about to go bad - make a meal using that zucchini on the first day of the upcoming week. You get the idea…
Also - don’t let things like forgetting to pull meat from the freezer or forgetting to soak beans overnight throw a wrench in things. I have added a “notes” section on each day for you to remind yourself of those little tasks that don’t impact dinner tonight, but they will impact the following day if you forget to do them…
(The extra Monday on this next template is intentional…even if you go shopping over the weekend—Mondays tend to be hard for a lot of people. This just allows for a small “buffer” going into the following week. And for some reason, 8 days has been my sweet spot as far as using up produce before it goes bad).
Now it’s time to make your grocery list. Remember that list you made of items you already have in your kitchen? Keep that handy as you review the recipes for your meals this week - this way you don’t end up buying more brown rice when you already have 2 lbs of it in your pantry.
There are so many different ways I’ve seen people make grocery lists, but the ones done by category have never been helpful for me. Not all “proteins” are in the same area and sometimes the bread and grains are separate as well. And I ALWAYS forget to bring a pen to mark-off items I’ve already put into my cart, so I need a way to just go down the list in order…
Because of this, I’ve left categories off this template. Write your list in the order YOU go through the store. I do not know what store you shop at, nor do I know how you shop…
There may be a little trial-and-error here as you find what works best, but you’ve got this!
Also - if you’re on a tight budget—remember to write down the prices of items as you grab them. This will make it easier to stay within your budget each week and know which store to go to for the best deals.