Looking for ways to eat healthier, save money, and enjoy more homemade meals with your family? Meal planning is the answer! Meal planning is the one thing I make sure to do each week to make sure my fam is off to a good start.
Grocery shopping: there is no love lost between me and grocery shopping. Gone are the days before babies when I could go to the store and wander around the aisles, waiting to be inspired with a dinner idea by the beautiful fresh foods. Now my shopping trips are a little, uh, louder. More chaotic, filled with “outside voices” and straggling children begging for donuts.
That’s why meal planning is my saving grace. I carry out the meal planning for our family like it’s a special ops mission: with precision and skill to get me in and out and not headed back for another week. Once a week I sit down with my menu planner, our family recipe binder, and my favorite cookbooks to plan out our meal for the week. Let me tell you why.
Why Meal Plan:
Meal planning is one of the questions that I get asked about the most. I am a faithful meal planner for a few reasons:
- Save money: Taking the time to meal plan every week ensures that we don’t waste food. Everything that I buy I have a plan for, so at the end of the week, I’m not tossing out spoiled food. Meal planning also saves us money because I can plan for which meals make great leftovers or can be used as the base of the next night’s meal, which really helps stretch a dollar.
- Save time: Taking 10-15 minutes each week to sit down and plan out our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners makes the rest of the week run smoother. I know that I will not need to run out to the store mid-week if we are running low on something, which saves me time and money.
- Feed my family better: Eating whole, minimally processed foods is something that I strive to make happen for my family. Thinking about which snacks and meals to make for the week gives me time to think about what prep work I need to do to make sure that we are eating a mostly whole foods diet. This avoids the last minute scramble of throwing junk in lunchboxes. There is also no more wandering in from work or a sports practice and peering in the fridge, looking hopefully for something magically to appear for dinner and, finding nothing, piling in the car for dinner out.
How to Meal Plan:
Every week, usually on Thursday or Friday, I set aside 10-15 minutes to meal plan. I make some tea, pull out my recipe binders, and my family calendar. I also like to pull up my good ‘ole Pinterest board with tons of ideas, and take out my weekly Menu Planner to get started.
These are my top favorite cookbooks that I use each week:
100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake – Lisa’s journey into eating whole, unprocessed foods changed the way I feed my family. Her cookbook is full of easy meals and snacks that are free of processed foods.
The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Dinnertime by Ree Drummond – there are some seriously good dinners that I have added to our rotation.
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from my Frontier – I can’t pick just one of hers! I love them all for the delish factor and the feast for your eyes with her photos.
Ina Garten: Back to Basics – I love Ina’s simple, rustic dishes. I’ve never had a bad meal when cooking with her recipes
Giada at Home by Giada De Laurentiis – Simple, flavorful, and quick! My kind of meals.
Ellie Krieger – The Food You Crave – Ellie focuses on healthy, whole food recipes. Her homemade sloppy Joe recipe is one of our favorites.
Melissa d’Arabian – 10 Dollar Dinners – need I say more? Perfect for quick, healthy, and inexpensive family meals.
First, I like to take a look at our calendar to see what nights we have activities or events so that I know what type of meal to plan for that evening. If I know that we have sports or Tom or I have something going on in the evening, I plan easier meals like a crock pot meal, or I plan to have leftovers.
After marking those events on the Menu Planner, I think about dinner themes. Using a loose dinner theme helps me to not feel overwhelmed when looking at seven empty spaces on my meal planner. Although I have been known to toss out the dinner plan and cook whatever we feel like or even go out, this is what our week generally looks like:
- Saturday: Saturday Special – Saturdays are the day that I try to make a new recipe, or I will make something special that the kids love since I have the extra time.
- Sunday: Double Batch Sundays – On Sundays, I make a double batch of whatever we are having: meatballs and sauce, lasagna, a big pot of soup. We eat and then freeze the rest for a leftover night later on down the road, or I save the other half for Monday.
- Monday: Leftover night – This could simply be the same meal that we had on Sunday again, or I will use the leftovers to make another meal. For example, if I make meatballs and sauce on Sunday, I will make meatball subs, meatball pizzas, stuffed peppers, or even chili with the leftovers.
- Tuesday: Taco Tuesday – This is a favorite around here. To keep it fresh, we don’t just stick to tacos. We like to do burrito bowls, taco salads, fajitas, nachos, or quesadillas.
- Wednesday: Pasta or soup and salad – by Wednesday I’m usually ready for a break from cooking, so I try to keep it really easy with a quick pasta dish like a pasta bake or a crockpot meal with crusty bread and a salad.
- Thursday: Breakfast for dinner – This is my favorite night because Tom usually makes us dinner. We most often clean out the fridge to make veggie frittatas with any leftover veggies and use up the fruit we have left on the side. Other times we have egg sandwiches, pancakes or waffles, hash and eggs, or quiche.
- Friday: Pizza Friday – And we made it another week! Fridays we like to make homemade pizza, calzones, pizza bread or we go out or order in as a special treat.
Around the end of the month, I go back and write down any dinners that we tried that are good enough to make it onto the rotation again. I put these in a monthly calendar grid and keep it in my meal planning binder to make it especially easy to remind myself of any seasonal meals that we like to eat, like Greek chicken kabobs in the summer or pasta e fagioli in the winter.
Sitting down with this formula in mind and an arsenal of recipes, meal planning is quick and easy. How about you, friends? What method do you use? Can you share a tip to make meal planning even easier? I love hearing your ideas!
Check out these other meal planning posts:
Please note that some of the links provided are affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission if you make a purchase through them. This does not cost you any extra. I personally use everything that I recommend, and I very much appreciate your support of this blog!