Does the idea of meal planning stress you out? I think far too often we as homemakers complicate meal planning more than we should simply because we just don’t know how to meal plan.
But I’ve got great news! There isn’t a right or wrong way to meal plan.
You may choose to do it once a week or once a month. You might like to follow theme nights or you may not. Maybe you use freezer meals or you might pick up a rotiserree chicken once a week.
There are a lot of different ways that you can make meal planning work for you and your family! Over the last ten years I’ve learned some tips that will help anyone no matter how you choose to meal plan. So today, I’m sharing my favorite meal planning tips!
1. Don’t try to pull meal ideas out of thin air.
We’ve all done it. We sit down to make a plan for the week and all of a sudden our mind is empty! Save your time and brain power by referring to a list of meal ideas instead.
A few years ago, I sat down and wrote out every single meal my family eats. To create the list I referred to previous meal plans, looked at my Pinterest recipe board, and looked though my cookbooks. Now, when I meal plan, I don’t have to spend a bunch of time looking for recipes on Pinterest or through my cookbooks. I just refer to my list of meals.
I also have meal lists for lunch, breakfast, and snacks. The lists are super handy to refer to when I’m out of ideas and I avoid having the same snack over and over again.
If you need dinner inspiration, check out my What to Cook for Dinner printable.
2. Don’t shop without a list.
If you go to the store without a shopping list, you will come back with items you don’t need. I know from first hand experience!
I used to buy duplicates of things in my pantry because I didn’t check on the food I already had before shopping. Almost every week, I would purchase way too much produce and half of it would go bad. This was such a waste of money simply because I hadn’t taken the time to write out a list before shopping.
When you write out your grocery list, look over your meal plan and then see what you have on hand already. Check your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator for ingredients that you will need for each meal. And don’t forget breakfast, lunch, snacks and side dishes too!
Your grocery list will then consist of what you don’t already have.
3. Simplify as much as possible.
When I became a wife, I was sure that I was supposed to make new meals every night with elaborate sides. I spent way too much time searching cookbooks and Pinterest every. single. week.
It wore me out!
Finally, I decided to simplify the meals I served and my meal planning process.
Here are some ideas for simplifying.
~ Limit the number of new recipes that you make.
I aim for a new recipe about twice a month, but maybe once a week is good for you. If you are making new recipes multiple times a week, think about cutting back.
Those new recipes often cost you extra time and money because you may take more trips to the store getting specific ingredients. You have to follow a new set of directions and may have to learn new skills.
Don’t get me wrong, learning new cooking skills and trying new recipes is a good thing! But doing it multiple nights a week can be frustrating. So keep the new recipes limited.
~ Stick with simple sides.
In my What to Cook for Dinner printable I shared three pages of simple side dish ideas. We like to stick with fruit, veggies, rice, potatoes, or rolls.
You can add variety with seasonings or preparing them in different ways. But all of these sides are simple and do not really require a recipe.
~ Use frozen veggies.
I love having a few frozen vegetables available in the freezer because they are a healthy side that can be prepared in less than 10 minutes. Frozen vegetables are also easy to throw in casseroles or add to rice or quinoa.
~ Take time to food prep.
I don’t meal prep with freezer meals, but I do love to prep specific foods each week. After coming home from the grocery store, I will wash, peel, and cut up a lot of the produce. Usually, melons, grapes, berries, carrots, celery, and lettuce.
These are all great for quick side dishes or to put together a salad without having to chop a bunch of vegetables every meal.
~ Serve simple meat dishes.
One of our favorite ways to serve meat is to marinate chicken, pork chops, or steak. We love Dale’s marinade*. It tastes great on every meat, but there are literally endless options for marinating.
Then the meat can easily be pan fried, baked, grilled, or even put in the crockpot. So easy!
~ Have quick and easy meals on hand.
Let’s face it, there are days you have no energy to cook or your family just needs a meal pronto. That’s why it is super helpful to keep easy meals on hand. No, that is not cheating!
There is no rule that says you have to cook a made from scratch meal every night. Some of our favorite quick and easy meals are tacos, frozen pizzas, chicken tenders, quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese.
Quick Step by Step How to Meal Plan
- Look at the week ahead. Is there anything going on that you need to take into consideration? Guests? Events? Out to Eat?
- Refer to your master list. Pick 4-7 dinners depending on your schedule, 2-3 lunches and breakfasts that can be rotated, choose side dishes and snacks.
- Write (or type) it all out. Don’t rely on your brain to remember it all!
- Check your fridge and pantry for any ingredients that you will need.
- Create a grocery list of all the items you do not have on hand.
- Save time shopping with Walmart grocery pick up! You can read more about it here Walmart Grocery Pickup Review.
I hope this series has inspired your meal planning whether you already meal plan or not. Remember to stay flexible and do what works for you and your family. You may not use all meals that you plan each week, just save the meal for next week. Things come up, so don’t feel like you have to keep a rigid plan. Make meal planning work for you!
Don’t forget to purchase the What to Cook for Dinner printable for dinner inspiration! It’s on sale through the end of today at 40% off!