Do you dream of serving your family well-balanced meals, staying on budget, and reducing mealtime stress? Yeah, me too! Why is this so hard for us parents to achieve? There are nights when I am able to feed my family a well-balanced meal, but I had to sacrifice my remaining sanity for the night to get it on the table. And my idea of reducing mealtime stress consisted of ordering out or eating taquitos and waffles from the freezer, which my kids loved, by the way. Our daily lives have become so hectic that quite often dinner time suffers. But don’t despair, you can do it. Investing about thirty minutes for weekly meal planning will help you get well-balanced meals on the table every night, stress-free without breaking your grocery budget.
Weekly Meal Planning Advantages
Let’s look at some of the advantages to meal planning:
- Weekly meal planning saves you money. When you plan each of your meals in advance you are less likely to order out. Instead, you’ll have a game plan for each night’s dinner, regardless of whether it was a hard day or good day. Meal planning also helps you avoid throwing random grocery items into your cart while shopping just because it looks good. You can cut out the impulse buys by sticking to the grocery list of items needed for next week’s meals. The impulse buys not only put a dent in your grocery budget but often times those impulse buys go bad before they ever get used and end up in the trash. Weekly meal planning helps you reduce the unnecessary food waste that this causes. I ashamed to tell you how many times I have thrown produce away because I forgot about it or it no longer sounded good.
- Weekly meal planning saves you time. When I don’t follow a meal plan, we end up going to the grocery store several times a week to pick up something for lunch or dinner, or ingredients needed for a spur of the moment recipe. But, when I plan a week’s worth of meals, I create a grocery list to go with all of the recipes and will only need to make one trip to the grocery store.
- You have more control over what your family is eating and can choose healthier options. If you know what recipes you plan to make and you have the ingredients on hand, you won’t need to resort to the not so healthy fast foods. I mentioned this above, but making a grocery list and sticking to it will help you avoid those impulse buys in the grocery store.
- Weekly meal planning reduces mealtime stress. If you take the time to plan and shop for all of your family’s meals, you are eliminating the stress of needing to figure out meals at the last minute or having to run to the store to pick something up. When mealtime rolls around you will already have your plan and you will already have everything you need to put dinner on the table. Easy-peasy!
Setup Your Weekly Meal Planning System
OK, hopefully, I’ve convinced you of the benefits of meal planning. So now let’s talk about setting up your weekly meal planning system. It took me several hours to gather all of my recipes together and consolidate them into one brilliantly helpful and time-saving source. I took all my recipe books and made a copy of the recipes we liked out of each book. I then gathered all of the hand-copied recipes and printed recipes I had collected over the years and threw away all of the recipes that I would never actually make and the ones that I did make and we didn’t like. I sorted what was left into categories, put each recipe into a page protector and put everything into one binder. If you are interested in more details on how I consolidated all of my recipes into one source, you can read about it here.
You need to have a master list of meals for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and dessert. Ask your family members which meals they would like to include on the list. Include your family’s favorite recipes, store-bought items, and even take out meals on your master list. If your family likes to eat bagels for breakfast, taquitos for lunch, goldfish for a snack, take out pizza for dinner, and ice cream for dessert, you should include all of those on your master list. Our family occasionally does Little Caesars for Friday dinners, so I have included that on my master list of meals. Be sure to include all of the past meals that your family has enjoyed and would like to have again.
Weekly Meal Planning Printable
Next, you need to pick a method of recording your weekly meal plan for the week. If you prefer easy and simple without all the fluff, you can go old school and use a spiral notebook to write it all down, an easy basic method. Or if you’re a techie, you may choose one of the many meal planning apps such as Paprika. Keys to Inspiration has a great tutorial on how to use Paprika for meal planning here. Or, if you’re like me, you can use a pretty weekly meal planning printable and hang it on your refrigerator door. This the one I use.
When you look at the meal plan above, you’ll notice that I didn’t schedule a day for each meal. I prefer not to because when I’ve done that in the past, there were too many times that I didn’t feel like or have the time to cook what I had scheduled for that day. Instead, I would pick a quick and easy meal from another day and cook that. So, rather than scheduling a day for each meal, I list all of the meals planned for that week and cross them off when I cook them. This is what works for me. I also don’t plan for leftovers anymore; I plan seven meals for each week. If we end up with a dinner or two that didn’t get cooked that week because we ate leftovers instead, then I will carry that meal over into next week’s meal plan and cook it one day next week.
Once I have planned out the meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus snacks and a couple of desserts, I go through each recipe and make a shopping list of items needed. I “shop” my pantry, fridge, and freezer first and mark off anything I already have and no longer need to buy.
Your Shopping List
I’ll either take a picture of the shopping list with my phone’s camera if it’s not too long, or I’ll enter each item into my favorite grocery list app, OurGroceries+, if the list ends up being a long one. I’ve tried a couple of different apps but I always end up deleting them and coming back to OurGroceries+. I bought the premium version to get rid of the ads. It’s simple and easy to use. It keeps a master list of all the items you’ve added to your grocery list. Creating your grocery list is as simple as long pressing the item on your master list and if it’s not on your master list you can quickly add it. You can sync and share the list, add pictures, use barcodes and voice to add items. The only thing I wish it did is to allow you to add prices to your items to keep a running total of your list, but when I asked the creators about that, they said they preferred to keep the app simple. That’s ok, it’s still my favorite.
Tips to Make Weekly Meal Planning Easier
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind when putting together your meal plans each week:
- Always take into consideration what you and your family have planned throughout the week and plan accordingly. If you know you’re going to be super busy on a particular day, you can plan to have a simple and quick meal for that night.
- Take stock of what you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer first and plan meals around what you already have to save some money.
- Choosing recipes with the same ingredients can minimize how much you need to buy. For example, you could pick tacos with all the fixings for one night and use the remaining ground beef for spaghetti with meat sauce on another night, along with the leftover lettuce and tomatoes to make a salad to go along with it.
- By making your meal plan visible, you will hold yourself more accountable to following it. I put mine on the refrigerator where I see it every time I open the fridge doors.
- If you’re going to experiment with new recipes, you may find it less stressful to only pick one or two new recipes each week, checking your schedule to make sure you’ll have a day with enough free time to devote to making the new recipe.
- Try to make meals with perishables at the beginning of the week, if possible, to make sure your ingredients are still fresh and to avoid spoilage. Have your salads at the beginning of the week so your veggies are still fresh, rather than the last day when they are starting to wilt.
- You can check to see what’s on sale that week and plan your meals around the sales. You can plan your meals around seasonal items, as well.
- Try to prep your food as soon as you get home from the grocery store. Wash, chop and even roast your veggies if you want. Buy your meat in bulk and cook it as soon as you get home. Brown your ground beef (unless you’re planning meatloaf), bake your chicken or throw it in the crockpot. If you are planning to marinate your meat, go ahead and put your meat into a gallon size freezer bag with your marinade and throw it in the freezer.
- If you have the time, plan to double some of your recipes, making half for dinner that night and freezing the other half.
- Keep all of your weekly meal plans to use for another week, tweaking where necessary to remove recipes that didn’t work and replace them with something that you know will work. Once you get a couple, you’ll have enough meal plans to start a rotation, saving you valuable time in the future.
- I also spent a little extra time when making the weekly meal plans to create a master shopping list with all of the ingredients needed for each meal for that week. Now, when I pull out one of my meal plans, I look over the master shopping list and make a new list of only the things I need after “shopping” my pantry.
- Stick to it! You can do it and you’ll thank yourself later!
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For more information on making mealtime easy and stress-free, check out my other posts:
Get it? Got it? Good,
Melissa (avoiding-those-impulse-buys) Shantel