I’ll confess. I hate planning. Why plan when you can just do? I’ve learned the hard way that there are times where planning actually does save you a bunch of headaches. A good plan can keep you on track when you are frazzled, too tired to think, rushed, and yes, hungry.
Why meal planning is a blessing to you and your family
Making a meal plan for your family is an act of love. You will be taking the time to determine how to best meet the nutritional needs of your family. In my case, we follow the ketogenic diet for health, weight loss, and optimal nutrition. You may have a different way of eating. It really doesn’t matter. Having a meal plan will help you avoid grabbing the nearest food that comes from a box, freezer tray, or drive-thru window. I think everyone agrees that eating fewer processed foods is a great place to start when pursuing health.
Meal planning saves you time. I know what you are thinking. I’m too busy to do this. Once you get into the swing of it, it won’t take long at all. I actually look forward to it. And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week. You can reuse them. More on that later. Plus, I find that I make fewer trips to the grocery store and spend less time shopping while I’m there.
Your evenings will be much more relaxed and enjoyable. You’ll always have the answer for “What’s for dinner?” There was a time when I was “triggered” by this phrase–resentful, really. “Seriously? I can’t do everything! Why can’t someone else figure it out!”, I’d think. Now, whenever my dear ones ask, I lovingly direct them to the calendar! Instead of feeling stressed, I actually kind of feel organized and proud.
You can delegate. Just because you planned the meal doesn’t mean you have to make it! Because you are prepared and have everything you need, you can easily hand it off to another family member.
Meal planning tools
So lets’ get on with it. I love tools, so let’s start with them. A lot of folks like to use paper calendars, notebooks, pencils, etc. I am a gadget girl who prefers typing over handwriting. Use what works for you!
- Google Calendar. I have a calendar called “Meal Plan”. (Clever, right?) I create an all-day event entry for what I want to make for dinner that day. You do not need to have a separate calendar for your meal plan, I’m just weird that way.
- ChefTap. This is how I store and organize my recipes. I can access them from a tablet, smartphone, or PC. I love, love ChefTap and consider it a bargain for the 19.99/year paid version.
- Wunderlist. Wunderlist is a list-making app for tablets, smartphones, and PC. I have a “list” for every aisle/area of my favorite grocery store. These lists are in the order I move through the store. I place all the items I need in their proper aisle list. As you can imagine, this greatly speeds up the amount of time I spend in the store. I run through that store at breakneck speed…well, not really…but I have gotten very good at steering the cart with one hand while holding my smartphone in the other.
- Alexa. Thank heavens for Alexa. How many times have you returned home from shopping to hear “Did you get any <insert your favorite condiment here>?” UGH…I swear there was half a bottle yesterday! Anyway, with Alexa, anyone in your family can add items to your Alexa shopping list. Of course, you will need to train them to do this :). Whenever I am cooking, and I use something up, I can tell her right then and there. I have been doing this for a few years and I’m still geeked out about it. Anyway, you can then set up Alexa to send your items to Wunderlist, where you can organize your items into the aisles of your favorite store. You will need IFTTT and this IFTTT applet to set up your Alexa-Wunderlist connection. If you need help setting this up, leave a comment at the bottom of the page and I will post instructions.
How to make a meal plan for your family
- Select a day to do your meal planning every week. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Start with the day you want to shop. Create the meal plan that day or a day or two prior to that day. Experiment and find what realistically works with your schedule. I tend to grocery shop on Saturday or Sundays. I make my meal plans on Fridays.
- Check your family calendar. Consider what you (and your dear ones) have got going on during the week. This is key. How much time do you have for food prep? Cooking? Clean up? If you enjoy cooking like I do, it is easy to fall in love with a recipe that is just way too involved for a weeknight. Save those for the weekends. Keep it simple during the throes of the week.
- Have some fun. Consider creating some fun themes. For example, you’ve probably heard of “Meatless Monday”. This is not only fun, but it narrows down the choices of what to make on Mondays…get my drift? We don’t do Meatless Mondays anymore…but we do have “Taco Tuesdays”. I have my standard taco recipe and then change it up every once in a while with a new recipe or variation like Taco Pie. If your family like to eat out, you can mark that on your meal plan as well. We like to eat at BurgerFi on Saturday nights. We all look forward to it, and I get a break!
- Be flexible. I have a tendency towards perfectionism. If you happen to be in that boat as well, please do not succumb to it. When you start something new, you will likely fail or otherwise come up short. It’s OK. Plan for it by building some flexibility into your week. For example, I have established at least one night a week called “Kids’ Choice”. This was preferable to “make your own darned dinner”. We almost always have leftovers, bacon, eggs, sausage, salad, deli meats, cheese, etc. in the refrigerator for them to work with. Just make sure your shopping list includes healthy options for this night. The kids are responsible for making their meal and cleaning up (still working on cleaning up, BTW). The unplanned night is valuable, because if things go pear-shaped (my favorite Gordon Ramsay phrase) on any given day, “Kids’ Choice” is ready to pinch hit for me. I just flip my days around on the fly. Obviously, if you have very young children, cooking may not be an option. You may have to make their plate, but they will still enjoy making their own choice on those nights. Maybe instead of Kids’ Choice, you can have “Breakfast for Dinner”…eggs and bacon make it to the table pretty quickly.
- Do not reinvent the wheel. When I try something new that my family loves, I tag it a “Winner”. That way in the future I can quickly find the recipes I know my family will enjoy and look forward to eating. You can also reuse a complete week’s worth, or month’s, or year’s meal plans for that matter. On the flip side, if we think something is just meh then I delete it from my app and it is never to be seen again.
- Mix it up with some variety! Plan some new things once in a while. Try a new veggie or cut of meat. Try a different cuisine. A few years ago, I started introducing more Indian flavors and recipes into my repertoire and it has been well received. I also try to make sure we consume a variety of proteins and vegetables. For example, I shoot for two chicken dishes, one pork dish, two beef dishes, one seafood, etc. When you are looking at the entire week at once, it makes it much easier to make things well-balanced and healthy.
- Don’t forget the sides. Plan your vegetables. I often overlook this part. Make sure dinner is the best nutritionally balanced meal your family eats all day. Prewashed salads are your friend. Keep some frozen veggies in the freezer as back-ups.
- Plan for leftovers. Having soup one night? Consider doubling the recipe. Eat the leftovers a couple nights later. Or, freeze the leftovers for a rainy day.
- Use your tools. Make good use of your slow cooker (must have) and pressure cooker. Look into to sous vide.
- Make your shopping list as you go. As I choose my meals for each day, I immediately add the items I need to my shopping list. Whether you are using a handwritten list or an app like Wunderlist, it is always a good idea to order your list in the way you move through the store. Get in and get out!
If you are already a meal planner, I would love to hear what works and doesn’t work for you! Leave a comment below.
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