Family Meal Planning: 7 Tips for Getting Started

simplify life Oct 24, 2023
Meal planning image with food around the meal planning sheet

It's 5 pm and your husband will be home from work soon. The kids are crazy, and you're trying to figure out what you're going to make for dinner. You think of a favorite meal, but realize you're missing a key ingredient. Frustrated, you look at what ingredients you have and eventually figure out something to make.

Now, let's check out the contrast. You have a plan of what you're making, so you know what time you need to start cooking. You know you have every ingredient you need. Yes, the kids may still be doing their thing, but at least you don't have the added stress of figuring out what in the world you're going to make! Maybe this sounds too good to be true, but it's exactly why you need to learn family meal planning.

What is Meal Planning?

Are you familiar at all with meal planning? Have you ever tried it? Meal planning is basically planning out all or some of your meals ahead of time. You then shop just for what you need for the week (or you can do two weeks or a month). Some also choose to do meal prepping after buying their groceries in order to cut down on time making the actual meal.

Benefits of Meal Planning

There are some really great reasons to consider learning to meal plan. It's really not even that hard, but it does take a choice and a commitment. By nature, I'm not an incredibly organized person. I'm definitely a type "B" personality. However, I've learned that there are certain things that can really simplify and streamline my life, and meal planning is one of them. Now, here are some fantastic benefits of meal planning!

Saves money

You will be less likely to have impulse buys or buy random things that you don't actually end up using. You will only be buying things from your list.

Saves time

No longer will you waste time looking through your cupboards, fridge, and freezer trying to figure out what to make . . . and then having to thaw something out! Instead, you will know exactly what your plan is.

Decreases food waste

Meal planning certainly will decrease food waste. You will buy what you need for the week plus pantry staples. You won't be throwing out fresh food that you didn't end up using.

Encourages you to eat healthier

You can plan balanced and healthy meals if that's how you'd like to feed your family, but pretty much any home-cooked meal will be more nutritious than fast food or takeout. Find some simple and healthy recipes to rotate in your meal plan.

Increases variety in your diet

You do have to plan for it, but by menu planning, you can serve your family a variety of healthy foods in all the different food groups. Strive to feed your family all the colors of fruits and vegetables.

Decreases stress.

You don't have to stress about what's for dinner. You already know, and you know you have a couple of backups if needed. What's not to love about that?

Know what to buy

You won't spend time aimlessly wandering the aisles deciding what to buy or grabbing things impulsively. You will know precisely what to buy for each meal that you're making that week.

Decreases meals out

You have made a plan and you stick with it more often than not. If you are out in the late afternoon, you can plan for a crockpot meal. It will be waiting for you when you get home! If your plans are sabotaged, you can use one of your backup meals.


How to Meal Plan

Now, how do you start a meal plan? As with many things, you just need to choose to start. I will walk you through the basic process, so definitely grab the free meal-planning printables below and check out the tips listed as well.

Fortunately, family meal planning isn't too difficult, but it does take some effort and intentionality. Trust me though, it's totally worth it!

Meal planning for beginners

If you have never meal planned before, you may be feeling intimidated. Is it possible? Will it work for me? Definitely! If I can do it, you can do it, too. However, you will need to know a few things before you dive in. It may be different from how you have been doing things, but I promise you that it's not hard!

1. Have a weekly meal planner

First, print out the weekly dinner menu template below or use a premade meal planning pad. You can even use an app such as Mealboard. You will need something to actually write your plan on.

2. Choose a meal-planning day

Do you already have a day that you look over your calendar for the week? If so, you may want to add meal planning to that day. Perhaps you'd prefer to meal plan the day before you go grocery shopping. Pick whichever works best for you and stick with it.

3. Check your calendar

Now take a look at your calendar and see what you have going on each day. This will help you see what type of meal would be best that day. If it's a day that you're out most of the day, you will want to plan something super easy and quick. If you're home in the morning but not in the afternoon, you may want to choose something for the crockpot that day. Perhaps you're home all day with not as much to do, then you may want to cook a more time-consuming meal that your family enjoys.

4. Keep it simple

Next, keep it simple to start. This is not the time to revamp your repertoire of dinners. Write in some of your family's favorite meals that you already make on the days they make sense. Plan to use foods that need to be eaten more quickly first such as fresh produce or ground beef soon after you shop.

5. Create your grocery list at the same time

While you're at it, add the ingredients you need to make the meal to your grocery list. This will save time later. Side note: I use the AnyList app to make my lists and love it! I have a list for each store that I go to regularly, and I can save my favorites or see recently listed items. You can even store your recipes in it!

6. Put breakfast and lunch on autopilot

Choose a few breakfast and lunch options for the week. You can rotate between these. Alternatively, keep things easy by having the same type of breakfast on the same day of the week. For example, waffles on Mondays, eggs on Tuesdays, oatmeal on Thursdays, etc. Lunches could be leftovers, sandwiches, or quesadillas with some veggies and fruit. Keep it simple.

7. Stay consistent

Now, try to stay consistent. Pick a consistent planning day and shopping day. For example, if I shop each Tuesday, I will work on my family meal plan and grocery list on Monday.

You will also need to stay consistent each week until family meal planning becomes a part of your weekly routine. Once it becomes a habit, you will reap the benefits!

Meal planning tips

Whether you're a beginner or not, check out the meal planning tips below. If you don't see a favorite tip listed, please let me know in the comments.

  • Cook what you want to eat. If you don't enjoy eating it, you'll find an excuse to not make it.
  • Keep meals simple. There are many simple skillet meals, crockpot, or freezer-to-crockpot meals you can plan.
  • Refrain from more than one new meal per week, and don't be afraid to cook your favorite meals often.
  • Plan for leftovers. This gives you something for lunch or an evening of no cooking!
  • Keep a well-stocked pantry.
  • Make double batches when you can. It doesn't take much extra time to brown extra meat for the freezer or make two casseroles instead of one. The extra gets popped into the freezer for a busy day.
  • Have at least two quick and easy backup meals in your pantry or freezer. Things don't always go as planned, right??
  • Check your plan daily. You may need to remind yourself to put together your crockpot meal early in the day or get something out of the freezer to thaw for the next day's meal.
  • Keep your meal planning worksheet so you can look back on what you've made in the past. Trust me, this is so helpful when planning each week.
  • Consider a master file to have favorite meals and ingredients written down. This will help when putting together your plan and grocery list. There is a FREE weekly dinner menu template and meal option sheet linked below.
  • Have several breakfast and lunch options planned, or feel free to plan every meal if that's better for you.
  • Keep Mondays simple. There's something about a relaxing weekend and then being thrown back into the week that makes this helpful!
  • Simplify with themes such as Meatless Monday, Taco (or Mexican) Tuesday, Fish Friday, Soup Saturday, etc.
  • Consider meal prepping after you get home from shopping, things such as cooking meat, washing and cutting veggies, etc. This will cut down on cooking time later.

Free Weekly Meal Planner Template

Now you're ready! Give it a try for a few weeks and see the benefits of meal planning for yourself. I hope you can see that family meal planning is simple but takes some commitment to get started. Definitely print out the free weekly meal planning templates below to get started. I'd love to hear your tips in the comments! Also, if you like what you see here, I'd love to have you subscribe.

Clickable picture of free menu plan. Meal planning worksheet pdf.

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