One of the best ways to ensure healthy eating is MEAL PLANNING! You know I love to sit and think about what delicious foods I’m going to eat all week long!
Why Meal Plan?
Meal planning saves time.
No more looking in the fridge, wondering how on earth I will combine all the random things into one meal.
Meal planning saves money.
If I know what my family is eating during the week, I can make a list of exactly what I need. When I have a list, I’ll buy only what I need and avoid impulse buys. No more accidental $400 Costco trips.
Meal planning discourages waste.
I have three children, and one of my biggest annoyances as a parent is how much food goes to waste. Meal planning helps me feel a little less guilty when my children drool on their dinner without taking a single bite and we have to throw the entire meal away.
Meal planning encourages healthy eating.
It is much easier to eat healthy meals, when I have planned to eat them. No more “Guess we should order take-out tonight because our fridge is empty” moments.
Meal planning makes your children sit at the dinner table quietly and eat their dinners with forks & knives, behaving like little grown-ups, every single night, without any complaints.
Ok that’s not true at all. Meal planning will not turn my little monsters into civilized beasts. I just wanted to make sure you were really reading. 🙂
How to Meal Plan
Some people like to meal plan a month at a time, some people meal plan two weeks at a time, and some people (like myself) meal plan weekly. Some people plan out all their meals, while others just plan dinners.
The beauty of a meal plan is that you can do it whatever way works for your family. Try out different schedules and see what works best for you. Trial and error are the only way to know!
How I Typically Meal Plan
For my family, I don’t meal plan for breakfast. We typically eat the same few things for that meal – some variation of eggs, oatmeal, or toast – all items that we keep stocked regularly.
Every once in a while, I get on a kick where I want something fancy for breakfast. If I want to do something different than the norm, I plan to make that on a weekend. I have more leeway in preparing a morning item when my husband is around to entertain the small people.
Lunches in my family are pretty simple too. Usually leftovers, sandwiches, salads, or a snack tray of finger foods. I don’t typically plan these because again this is stuff we always have on hand.
For this month, I’m going to start meal planning lunches for my oldest daughter who is in school 5 days a week and my middle daughter who is in preschool 3 days a week. I’ll be interested to see if this helps me during the morning rush to get everyone ready and out the door to catch the bus on time!
That brings me to dinners, which I do plan weekly. I check my calendar to see what’s going on the following week, then I jot down dinners that make sense time-wise. For instance, I’ll plan to make a labor-intensive dinner on Sunday when we don’t have any extra plans rather than on Tuesday when my time is limited due to a Girl Scout meeting.
I don’t have any cool system to guide me on what type of recipe to choose. I just go with whatever sounds good at the time.
The Meal Plan In Action
Once I’ve settled on a meal plan for the week, I write the meals down on an index card. I include any additional meals I want to make. Sometimes this meal is a fancy breakfast, a fancy dessert, or a meal for a friend with a newborn or a friend in need.
On the back of the card, I write my grocery list based off of those meals. And I add in anything else that we need for the week. (We have a running list on a whiteboard on the fridge to write down items that we use up and need to replace.)
While grocery shopping, sometimes I see an item is on sale that would work as substitution for something in my menu plan. Then I’ll buy the substitution and make note of the change on the menu side of the card. For example, if I was planning to buy green beans for a side but broccoli was on super sale, I would buy the broccoli and jot down the change to my side for that meal.
Meal Planning Tips
I try to do my grocery shopping early in the week. However, just in case I can’t make it out to the store for some reason, I always plan at least one meal with ingredients I already have on hand. This little tip has saved me on numerous occasions!
I keep the menu plan index card with my calendar planner. That way I remember what I’m making for dinner all week. And I can plan for any prep work that would make dinner go smoother.
I also try to remain flexible. Not sure how everyone else’s life goes, but around here, things pretty much never go as planned. I often end up making dinners out of the planned order, swapping them around as needed. That flexibility keeps me from being overly stressed when something unexpected foils my intended dinner plan.
My biggest tip is to SAVE YOUR MEAL PLANS. You can make notes about who liked what and if you need to make any adjustments for the next time you make that meal. Plus, some days I draw a complete blank while meal planning as if I’ve never cooked a meal in my life. Having the meals we’ve enjoyed before in one place is very helpful for inspiration.
One fun idea that you might find worth trying is to set up themes for each day of the week and choose corresponding recipes, so a week would look something like this:
Monday – Meatless: Lentils & salad
Tuesday – Crock Pot: Slow cooker roast with vegetables
Wednesday – Pasta: Spaghetti squash with marinara and meatballs
Thursday – Breakfast for dinner: Hash with eggs
Friday – Pizza: Homemade cheese pizza and margarita pizza
Saturday – Burgers: Turkey burgers and sweet potato fries
Sunday – Soup: Chicken and rice soup with garlic cheese bread
Theme possibilities are limitless: Mexican, Italian, Asian, Grill/BBQ, Beef, Chicken, Pork, Seafood, Soups, Salads, Casseroles, New Recipes, Child’s Choice, Mom’s Favorite, Sandwiches, Pressure Cooker, Finger Foods, etc.
I’ve tried that method, and it didn’t work for us during this busy season of our lives. I still think it is a fun way to go about meal planning, so I wanted to throw it out there for you!
What I’m Doing Differently This Month
Since I’m focusing on healthy eating this month, I’m starting to plan ALL my meals instead of just dinners. My goal is to create a meal plan that:
- Incorporates protein at each meal
- Swaps less healthy fats for good fats
- Includes at least one gut-friendly food daily
- Includes at least FIVE servings of fruits and veggies per day
I’ll share my meal plan on Monday along with lots of ideas for healthy desserts so we can satisfy any sweet tooth cravings that come our way! Can’t wait!
Share any meal planning tips you have in the comments!