When I was single, my meal planning consisted of making 2 medium-sized containers of food and happily eating from them ALL week.
When I got married and became the primary cook for my husband and I, I encountered the shock of my life! This man was VACUUMING through our food!!
The food that I thought could have lasted over a week was gone in like 2 days.
I started cooking more often, grocery shopping more often and overall just thinking about meal prep way more than I anticipated or wanted to.
Daily meal preparation while juggling a full time job and various other responsibilities got stressful and tiring really really fast!
Thank God for a wise mother and an awesome sister in law. Incorporating some of their great tips, I can confidently say that I have now developed a meal planning system that works for our small but busy family.
Below, I’m sharing some tried-and-true tips for successful family meal planning.
What is Family Meal Planning?
I’m assuming that no one reading this has a personal chef.
I sure don’t. So that means if I want to eat, I must cook.
Meal planning consists of all the steps that are needed to have a meal hit the table every night: brainstorming, shopping, food prep, cooking and serving the food.
The whole process can take up a lot of time and thought.
Seeing as how most families today are busy busy busy, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t appreciate some tips on how to spend less time over a stove and more time with their family.
Why You Need To Meal Plan
- Meal Planning Decreases Stress
“Tonight I’ll make pasta, darn we’ve ran out of noodles, ok I’ll make enchiladas, darn it, no more cheese.” Sound familiar?
Indecision is stressful!
The last thing you need on a busy week is to come home and start trying to figure out what you should cook and with what ingredients.
- Meal Planning Saves Time
If you’re already short on time, these hacks will guarantee that you spend less time at the grocery store. Eliminate repeat trips to the store and shorten the time needed to get meals on the table.
- Meal Planning Saves Money & Decreases Wasted Food
By meal planning, you buy exactly what you’ve planned to eat. Cut down on random buys and expired, forgotten food.
- Meal Planning Helps You Eat Out Less
Which also saves you money and encourages healthier eating.
10 Meal Planning Hacks For Your Busy Family
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1. Meal Plan On A Calendar
(& save them up for reference)
First, decide how often you want to meal plan (monthly, weekly or every 2 weeks) and then set aside a day and time to do so.
Right now, I am meal planning once a week.
Every Saturday, I sit down to plan what we will eat for each day of the coming week.
You can then save each month and easily look back to remember what you made and when. Reviewing your old calendars is also a great way to get ideas when you’re stumped for meals.
Finally, use the calendar to make quick notes on what your family loved or what did not go over well.
pro tip: schedule meals based on your plans for the week- easier meals for busier days, etc.
For example: some people will choose to schedule an easy meal on Mondays (because you know, mondays ew). I, on the other hand, prefer to schedule ambitious meals on Mondays because I’m usually full of motivation (and also coffee). Fridays, on the other hand, are off days because I’m usually out of steam.
Don’t be afraid to swap meals on the schedule depending on how the week is going.
2. Adopt a Recipe Organization System
Keep your recipes ORGANIZED! I repeat, keep them up to date and organized.
I’ve already made the mistake of losing a recipe we enjoyed and then hunting it down for five days, so that you don’t have to.
Keeping track of your recipes help you find them faster and also documents them in a familiar format so that you can scan them quickly.
I use a recipe organization app called ChefTap.
I like it because I can clip recipes from any website into the app.
However, it’s not always user friendly so I recommend you check out The Best Recipe Management Apps to find one that works best for you.
3. Compile a Family Food List
(for fast brainstorming!)
At any given moment in time, and WITHOUT looking in the fridge, I can rattle off 3 different meal options that can be made from the ingredients we have at home. They might not all be tasty but they will be edible!
My husband on the other hand? I laugh while I type this but he can be looking right in the fridge and still go “what’s there to eat around here”!
So what I did was to compile a list of all the things that we eat, categorized by food group.
It looks something like this:
This way, whenever it gets hard to brainstorm, we can grab the list and just go across each category to identify a protein, vegetable and side.
pro tip: make sure to list foods that your family actually eats, not what you think you should eat or what you wish you ate more of.
4. Use a Joint Grocery List App
I talked about this on the post: 5 Essential Apps for Marriage Management and that is-
get a grocery list app that all household members can use together.
The ideal joint grocery app will sync changes across all phones instantaneously. This keeps your grocery list up to date and prevents that annoying drive back to the grocery store when you’ve forgotten something.
5 Shared Grocery List App Suggestions
5. Grocery Store Online Ordering
For Delivery or Pickup
Bless the day that online ordering was born.
This is one of my top 3 favorite family meal planning hacks.
These days, many grocery store offer the option to order online for store pickup or home delivery.
The minimum amount for free store pick up at our local grocery store is only $30! On the morning of my grocery shopping day, I add whatever is on my list to the cart. I write specific notes about how I want them to pick each item, then I select a time range for pick up. Finally, I drive by and pick our groceries up curbside.
On the weeks when we just buy our normal groceries, ordering pickup and avoiding the lines saves me so much time and energy.
Here is a list of popular grocery stores that offer delivery or pickup:
- Sam’s Club
- Safeway / Vons
- Food Lion
- Whole Foods
- Jewel Osco
6. Make and Freeze Homemade Sauce
(aka Stew Base)
This tip is especially useful for my West Africans who cook traditional food. We use tomato & pepper sauce to cook almost everything! Rice, stew, soup, meats! Something that has completely changed my meal prep is to make and store what I call- tomato stew base.
To make it, I blend a huge batch of tomatoes, bell peppers and onions.
- Then, using a big pot, I fry or boil the sauce down to a paste
- After that, I season it halfway like I’m on my way to making stew (non-Africans will know it as red sauce)
- To keep it flexible, I don’t season it all the way and I don’t add any broth
- Finally, I cool the sauce and freeze it in large mason jars like this
This hack streamlines my cooking process the most out of the rest.
Whenever I want to cook something requiring this sauce, I thaw a bottle before work and from that point, the dish is half made! I season it the rest of the way and voila!
The added benefit is that when we have a jar of this sauce in the fridge, my husband is able to help out and cook more often since he can make meals very quickly in between his studies.
7. Make an Oven Meal At The Same Time
As A Stove Meal
Pick a day when you have a little bit more time and motivation and knock out two (or more) meals at one time.
Prep a dish that can be cooked in the oven and stick it in there.
While it cooks, make the stove meal.
Serve one and save the other for another day. You just got yourself a free evening or two!
8. Cook A Double (or Triple) Portion
I wouldn’t suggest this when you are trying a new dish (just in case it’s terrible, hey it happens).
However, with your tried and true dishes, cook double or triple the amount your family will eat that day and voila- leftovers for another day.
9. Keep Pantry Backups
Have 2-3 backup meals for when things just don’t go right.
It’s bound to happen.
The makings for a sandwich, a frozen pizza or soup are all great as Plans B, C & D.
10. Pick a Night Off
A designated night for takeout keeps you from getting burnt out!
It also offers you flexibility because if something comes up unexpectedly, you can always switch your night off to stay on track.
One trick that I haven’t tried myself but have seen other people use is to implement themed days like “Tortilla Tuesdays” or “Seafood Sundays“.
The idea is to take the guesswork out of weekly meal planning but cooking something consistent with the theme on the appropriate days.
I hope that you’ve found one, two or even 10 family meal planning tips that help you save some precious time.
Remember that if you try something and it doesn’t quite work for you, change it up until you find your perfect fit!
For example, I used to meal plan monthly but found it stressful to brainstorm and organize so many meals at one time. I switched to meal planning for 2 weeks at a time and eventually settled on weekly menu planning. Right now, it is our perfect fit because it keeps us from stockpiling too much food in the fridge (which we hate) and it makes it easy for us to change up our menu if our cravings change.
There is no “right” way. You have to do what works best for your family. Family meal planning takes time and practice to perfect.
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