Meal planning may seem like a crazy amount of work, but in the long run it saves you time and money, in addition to ensuring that you are making healthier choices.
If you have never meal planned before, the idea of it can be a little overwhelming. However, we've broken it down into several small steps so that you can start meal planning—without stress—as soon as you're done reading this blog post.
First things first, check your calendar. Depending on the week's activities, you'll want to schedule your dinners around what you're doing. For example, if you are juggling several kids' activities one evening, you might want to get something in the crockpot that morning. The same goes for breakfasts and lunches. See what's going on that week and work around it.
If you have a backlog of leftovers, always be okay with pushing one of your planned cooking days into the next day. The calendar is a little bit flexible in this way. Call it a buffet, reheat everything and let your family or friends eat what they want.
Involve your family in the meal planning process. There is no point in making food that no one is going to eat. Gather everyone together and write down a long list of things that they will enjoy. If your family is adventurous, have them find a new recipe they want to try every few weeks—making sure everyone in the family buys into it.
Go through your pantry and freezer to see if anything is about to expire. If your food has a looming expiration date, find a way to incorporate it into some of your meals for the upcoming week. If you are "stuck" and can’t find recipes that use a specific item, do a quick search for "dinner with garbanzo beans" or whatever it is you're trying to add to your meal.
If you are focused on staying within a certain budget, way to go! Consider shopping for fruits and vegetables that are in season. Also, look through your grocery store's mailer or website to see what the deals are that week. Focus on those items in your meals. If any of your staples are on sale—and have a good shelf life—stock up on them.
Keep track of your meal plan for the week. Write your meals down on a calendar somewhere to know what you are cooking and refer to your meals in the future. Often, you can reuse a lot of the same ideas down the road by subbing out a meal here and there. For variety, we recommend that you wait 4-8 weeks to reuse a meal plan, but every family is different. Do what works best for you!
Make a grocery list and head to the store. Only leave your house once you have your breakfasts, lunches and dinners all planned out for the week. Check your drinks and snacks beforehand to see if you need to add those items to your list. Organize your items by section, so it's easier to keep track of your list while working your way through the store.
Prep the weekend before, or don't. Some people love to meal prep everything on Saturday or Sunday by cooking meat and slicing the produce they need for that week. Other people like to prep immediately before meals. Try out both options and see which one you like better.
Download a PDF of our weekly meal planning template.
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