Meal Planning 101

I don’t know about you, but that 4-6pm time isn’t exactly my favorite time of day. It’s the witching hour for my kids, I’m ready for my husband to get home from work, and on top of that, I’m trying to get dinner made. The last thing I really want to think about is what we’re going to have for dinner. This is where meal planning saves the day.

When meal planning gets mentioned, it seems like a common response is that people get overwhelmed by the idea. It's like they want to do it, but they can't figure out how or how to combat some of the struggles they have with it. But here's the thing -- I think meal planning often gets way overcomplicated. It doesn't have to be difficult; don't make it difficult. The way I meal plan, for example, is nothing fancy or elaborate. My meal planning almost always includes flexibility and simple meals. My meals and dinners are not from the Martha Stewart or Pioneer Woman cookbook. I’m talking meals that have simple and minimal ingredients, they’re typically prepared in less than a half an hour, and they’re usually family friendly. Don't overcomplicate it!

I want to briefly walk you through the steps that I take to meal plan. You can take them or leave them, but if you’re totally clueless as to how and where to start … this could be a good place. And remember - I don’t make it all complicated and spend hours on it. I’m all about simple.

How I meal plan:

  • Each Sunday, I take about 20-30 minutes and plan 5 simple dinners for the upcoming week. I have several recipes that are family favorites, and are constantly in rotation. Then, I usually try to incorporate 1-2 meals each week that are new to us, which I find from my trusty BFF, Pinterest. I just search dinner ideas, and I look for recipes that are less than 10 ingredients, simple to make, and don’t take a long time. Feel free to search my Pinterest page for some of my favorite Pinterest recipes!
  • I write down our meals on our handy dandy little chalkboard that I keep in my kitchen, which also works for some cute decor.
  • Along with writing out our meals for the week, I write out my grocery list at the same time. This helps me ensure that I don’t forget anything and that I have everything I need for the recipes or meals that I’m going to make that week.
  • I usually go to the grocery store that same day or the following day and stock up for the week. Some weeks if I have time, i go to the grocery store, other weeks I do grocery pick-up, which is pretty much the BEST thing that was ever created. Can I get an amen? 

Feel free to be more flexible with your meal planning or more rigid. Some people love to have the option of choosing from a handful of meals (like we do) each week, others like to have a "theme" for each day (i.e. Monday is Crock Pot day, Tuesday is Mexican food day, etc), while others designate a meal for each particular day. The key is to do what works for YOU and your family so that you'll actually stick to it.

I asked this question on my Facebook page the other day:

Is meal planning difficult for you? If so, WHY? What sorts of tips, info, advice do you need and want to make it easier for you?

I wasn’t surprised by the number of people who commented and said they struggled with it. Some of the top reasons women said that meal planning is difficult for them:

  • Lack of time
  • They spend more money
  • Too tired after a long day
  • More variety in meal ideas that will please everyone

Let's address some of these struggles...

1. It’s more expensive.

I actually find I spend less money when I meal plan. I plan better, which enables me to stay on track better financially. I don’t know about you, but how many times do you go the store and end up with a few “extra” items in your cart that you never intended to get? When you have a grocery list in hand and only hit up the store once per week, you’re less likely to spend money on the extras. This way, you can also shop the sales and plan your dinners around sale items. It’s also wise to check out what produce is in season and plan around that, because the produce that’s in season is likely more tasty and more affordable. You’re also less likely to get take out or go out, which we all know that adds up big time.

2. It takes more time.

Maybe you'll feel like the actual planning part takes a little more time in the beginning as you get started, but once you get in a groove and find what kind of method works best for you, I actually believe it takes less time. Because for me, meal planning means less trips to the grocery store, less going out to eat, less sitting in the drive through line, and less thinking about what i’m going to feed my family. When I don’t meal plan,  I waste so much of my thoughts trying to figure out what we’re going to have for dinner and if I need to go to the grocery and what I need to get it. It’s so much more freeing when I have it all laid out for me.

3. You can’t meal plan with picky kids. 

I want to preface this by saying that every family is different and chooses to go about this a little differently. Once again, do what works for you. But, I’ll just kind of share what we do if that helps. My four year old has always been picky, so I get it. But the way it works in our house is what I make is what we all eat. Sometimes that means my kids eat half their plates, sometimes it means they eat it all, and sometimes it means they eat none. And usually, if they eat none, they’re hungry and come back and eat it later … because we save it for them. If it's a new food to them, I usually serve it alongside a couple other foods that I know they enjoy. Honestly, I think encouraging our picky eater to try new foods and recipes has actually helped him to become less picky. There are, of course, nights that I'll make a meal that's spicy or not kid friendly, so I will give them an alternative like a sandwich or chicken nuggets. It happens, right? So, do what works for you, but that’s kind of how we deal with it all so I’m not making multiple meals for everyone each evening.

Moms, you should know this: It’s nearly impossible to make a meal every.single.night that will please every person in your family. Don’t even try to put that pressure on yourself! Once we release that expectation of ourselves, that in itself makes meal planning less challenging. Dinner time is a tricky thing, I totally get it. But, I think the key is that we as parents implement some family guidelines and stay consistent with them.

Meal planning definitely takes discipline! But, when you get in a good groove with it, it really has the potential to be very beneficial. Generally speaking, it can help save time and money and encourage healthier eating.

Do you meal plan? Why or why not?

What are some tips or tricks that you have to make meal planning easier?

Ashley Wiseman