Meal planning for your family may seem like a lot of work if you’ve never done it, but in actuality it can actually save you time and stress. Instead of panicking when your kids or spouse asks “What’s for dinner?” and then scrambling to throw something together, running to the grocery store last minute after a long day, or ordering a pizza, you will already know exactly what you’re going to make and already have everything you need to make it. Here are a few tips to make family meal planning as easy as possible:
Start by Brainstorming
Meal planning may seem intimidating at first, but once you sit down with a pad of paper and a pen (or your tablet or laptop) and start brainstorming, it will soon seem much easier and more useful. Think about your family’s unique needs and schedule and jot down notes. Do the kids have late sports practices twice a week? Maybe keep those nights simple by dedicating them to leftovers or soup (which you can make ahead), salad, and sandwiches. Decide which day each week you can dedicate a bit of time to researching recipes and meal planning, and when you or your partner will go to the grocery store.
Bookmark some of your favorite recipes, or new ones you’ve been wanting to try, and write down the names of meals you’d like to make over the next week or so. By the end of your brainstorming session you should have a good idea of what your meal planning and prepping schedule will look like and what you plan to make.
Use a Meal Planning App
Meal planning apps range from simple places to keep your grocery lists and dinner ideas, to elaborate apps that coordinate your lists with local grocery sales, search for recipes, and help you determine exactly how much of each ingredient to buy. This list of ten meal planning apps is a great place to start.
Try Theme Nights
One way to simplify things and also give you some new ideas for meals is to make each night a different theme. For example, Mondays might be weekend leftovers, followed by Taco Tuesdays, Italian food on Wednesdays, comforting classics like casseroles on Thursday, family dinner out on the town on Friday, etc. Having the same basic pattern to follow each week will help keep things simple.
Save Printable Grocery Lists
Most families tend to buy the same main grocery items each week, with some additional items for new recipes or staples you’ve run out of. A time-saving way to handle grocery shopping (and ensure you stick to your list and budget) is to type a master grocery list with the items you buy regularly categorized by section of the store. Then, each week you can simply print a copy, quickly highlight the stuff you’re out of this week, add anything new, and head to the store.
As an added bonus, this method cuts down on those incidents when you get home from the store and realize you forgot something you really needed.
By spending some time each weekend planning and prepping meals for the upcoming week, your weeknights will go much more smoothly, and you may get to enjoy regular home-cooked meals with your family more often.