I think we all could agree that feeding a family is a challenge. Today I want to share with you some things I’ve learned the past few years about meal planning. The benefits, the time involved, and how you can make the most of your cooking at home – whether it’s every night like us, or just one or two nights a week.
In the 3 1/2 years of marriage the greatest difficulty I have experienced is cooking dinner. I have struggled with what to fix, having time to fix it, eating the same thing over and over, I’m sure you can relate. Then there is establishing a food budget, sticking to it, weekly grocery shopping and more. I used to tell my husband the first thing I would do if we ever made it rich was hire someone to plan and shop for our meals. I love cooking, but I was loosing my mind trying to do all of the other stuff.
If you’ve read this blog much you may have caught on to a few patterns by now. One of which is that we don’t go out to eat very often. That means that unless we splurge and go out to eat or drive home to visit family we eat every meal at home during the month. It can get a bit daunting in planning for 30 dinners, lunches and keeping up with our cold cereal addiction. So I wanted to share some tips with you that I have learned over the past few years when it comes to meal planning and cooking for your family.
Somehow it seems to be that most often the meal planning falls to the woman’s responsibility. However, everyone in the family eats. That can make it a challenge to create a weekly menu or a even just a single meal that meets everyone’s needs and preferences.
Add to that trying to keep up with a busy family schedule, food that your child will only eat or refuses to eat, trying to include enough fruits and vegetables and you could make a full time job out of that balancing act. We haven’t even thrown in words like organic, whole grains, aesthetic guidelines, paleo or any other food term that could send your family heading for the nearest drive through.
So let me introduce to you a few simple ways to make meal planning a snap and you can choose the method that works best for you! When I tell people that I take some time every week or two to plan out are meals I usually get the response ‘oh that takes so much time’ or ‘what if what you plan doesn’t sound good the day you are supposed to eat it?’. Two these two responses I offer these benefits of meal planning:
- Meal planning takes a little time and effort to plan, but I never stand in front of my fridge or at the grocery store thinking ‘what should I make for dinner?’, I already know! The time it takes me to plan is greatly outweighed by this fact.
- I have never had a night that something doesn’t sound good. Quite the opposite actually, because I make the little effort to plan ahead I look forward to certain meals and when we will eat them.
- We eat at home, which saves us money, but we also enjoy being together, sitting down and having a real conversation over the table and not just eating food in the car.
- We try new foods and don’t eat the same thing every week. Planning out what you are going to eat adds a lot of variety to what you eat.
Now if those 4 benefits weren’t enough reason to get you to start meal planning, take a look at my 3 tips below to see just how easy it is!
TIP #1: Write Down Everything You Know How to Cook
Life gets a bit crazy at times and the worst feeling in the world is looking into a fridge or a pantry and thinking, I have no idea what to make for dinner. One of the first things I did after we got married was I wrote a list of everything I know how to make for each meal.
Over our first year of marriage I would add to that list as I learned how to make more things. Eventually I got a pretty good rotation of food going and it made it easy to not only think what should we have tonight, but what should we have this week.
Struggling for a few ideas? Take a look at some ideas:
- German Pancakes
- Cinnamon Rolls
- Egg McMuffins
- Breakfast Burritos
- Deli Sandwich
- Tuna Sandwich
- Personal Pizza
- Spaghetti & Veggies
- Korean Beef
- Taco Salad
- Ham Fried Rice
- Tortilla Soup
- Stir fry
- Veggie Enchiladas
- Lettuce Wraps
- Chicken Marsala
- Enchilada Soup
- Roasted Cauliflower
- Green Beans
- Steamed Broccoli
- Baked Potatoes
- Roasted Asparagus
- Spanish Rice
Now these are just a few ideas to get you going. Don’t be afraid of something seeming to simple, like PB&J or cold cereal. Write it down so on a day that you literally can’t think of what to make you have some ideas. Chances are you’ll realize you know how to cook more than you ever thought possible.
It is a baby step, but it put me on a path in the right direction. After I had that list I was able to start creating weekly meal plans and grocery lists. I was able to start having things on hand that I knew I could make something out of. I was able to cook foods that my husband liked. Writing down everything I knew how to make was the greatest thing I did until I wrote a master grocery list. (More on that another day.)
TIP #2: Choose Your Main Dish and Plan the Rest of the Meal Around It
This tip is a quick and easy one but makes my life so much easier. I used to overwhelm myself trying to get enough fruits and vegetables in our diet, trying to rotate what we were eating, and making sure it was perfect. Well I’m here to tell you dinners are rarely perfect. So this easy tip is a must in my book. Choose your main dish and plan the rest of the meal around it.
When meal planning I choose a main dish and then plan from there. Here are the quick steps I follow:
- Choose your Main Dish
- Choose One to Two Sides
There is my quick easy tips for planning a meal. Over the course of the week we may have two vegetables as sides with a meal or we may have a meal where none of the sides are vegetables. That’s ok. It’s all about balance. Meal planning became more enjoyable fore me once I quit stressing the very fine details about getting adequate servings of everything, also I was able to save more money at the grocery store!
Looking for an example of how I decide what to cook? Here are a few examples:
Main Dish: Street Tacos
Main Dish: Steak
Main Dish: Veggie Burgers
- Veggie Tray: Carrots, Celery, Humus, etc.
Main Dish: Breakfast for Dinner
- Fresh fruit: cantaloupe, peaches, or berries
Main Dish: Pizza
- Side Salad
Planning our meals based just on the main dish and looking at the week as a whole kept me sane. You should’ve seen the effort I would go to. We sure were healthy eaters but I hated planning, grocery shopping, and didn’t enjoy cooking trying to perfect every meal.
The nicest part of planning your meals this way is it makes writing your grocery list a snap. It also ensures that you don’t forget something like I often did. I’d plan for us to have steak but when I’d go to cook it I would realize we have no sort of vegetable to serve with it. A little planning really pays off!
TIP #3: Plan Your Meal Plan on Your Family Calendar
There is not use pretending that every night is perfect, that all of the family is home at the same time, enjoying a warm prepared meal and eating the recommended MyPlate servings. Not every day is like that, but we all have nights that are busy, soccer games, recitals, meetings, and more. One of the greatest tips I found when I started meal planning was to write my meal plan on the family calendar.
By writing my weekly meal plan on the family calendar I knew then what nights were busy and needed a quick fix or a something like a sandwich for dinner and I also knew what nights we’d be home to really eat something.
Using the list of all the foods I know how to cook I’m able to look at a week and plan what we are going to eat that week. Some days are PB&J or a can of soup days and other days we make something like Street Tacos or Flatbread Pizza. These two tips have literally kept me from going insane when it comes to cooking.
An added bonus is that once you are more comfortable with meal planning you can see patterns and realize how often you eat certain meals (like how often we eat Mexican). Another benefit to meal planning on a calendar is you can refer back to previous months for ideas. This way you don’t have to recreate your meal plan every single week. Just look back at what you did a month or two ago and do that same thing over again. Win!
I hope this helps you feel a little more comfortable planning meals for your family. I know it can be a challenge to cook for even just one but a little planning really goes a long long way! What tips or advice do you have about meal planning for a family?