I am not here to tell you how much time meal planning will save you or how it will help your budget or help you eat better, etc.. I think most people know this, right? If you're like me, the struggle was in the how to get started, how to organize it and where to find inspiration -- anyone else? So, I'm going to get right to it!
I have been meal planning for several years; There have been some breaks in there where I sort of took a hiatus and when I started it back up this last time, I vowed to never drop it again. My stress levels are lower when I do it regularly, I spend less money and we eat better too. I enjoy the peace it gives me to have this under control and right now, having some control over any aspect of my life is a win!
So, here we go!!
Set aside some time to do it every week or every two weeks, or monthly -- whatever floats your boat, sister! For me, I generally do it on Saturday or Sunday depending on which day I have some time to focus on it. At first, it will take you a while. I'd set aside a couple of hours. You need to find your favorite sites for inspiration (book mark them for easy access each week!), browse cook books (or buy a few for inspiration, ideas and recipes), check Pinterest, etc.. I can now find meals (or think up one), write down my grocery list and do my shopping (if needed) since I use Instacart most of the time in under an hour. Every so often I will take some extra time and browse websites or books for new inspiration. **If you have a teen in your home that drives, pay them a few extra bucks to go shopping for you! If they purchase something NOT on the list you gave them then you dock their pay! It's a life skill and gives them something to do plus it helps you out!**
I get most of my ideas from Yummly, I can find just about anything on that site and even make a grocery list! The site, or app, adds it for you and you can even print it out! It is amazing and such a time saver! Their free service is enough for me and they even send me emails based on MY preferences which helps me find new things to try or new ways to use what I have on hand. You can even choose the number of ingredients you want to use, with/without meat, gluten free, keto, etc.. and find meals to fix in under 30 minutes too!
I share a lot of what make on my Instagram account --most of these are my original recipes and ideas inspired by my browsing on websites, looking at cook books or thinking of new ways to make something my family loves by putting a new spin on it! You can follow me here. If I use a recipe from someone else, I'll let ya know and provide a link!
Pinterest is also a great way to get inspired, find easy recipes and save them for later. I can search for what I'm looking for whether it be gluten free, keto, grain free, one dish meals, etc.. I just save them all on a board and then I can find it pretty quickly when I need some inspiration.
Cookbooks are helpful too. I rarely follow a recipe but they do give me ideas and ways to fix something we love in a new way. Some of my favorites are from Pioneer Woman. She doesn't have gluten free recipes, but most are easy enough for me to modify and also find healthier ingredients if I'm not a fan of something she uses. Here are the two I like the most:
Pioneer Woman Cooks!
I also like Danielle Walker's books, this one is my favorite.
You need an undated planner (or a dated on if you prefer). I like the undated one by bloom planners, they have this one which is updated to include a calendar as well. I started with this version and loved it! I can have my to-do list for the day, reminders of appointments, keep track of my daily water and exercise... BUT the best part, is the "Meals & Snacks" section. I write down my meal for that evening and then put a "star" or a sticker beside it if it was a hit with the fam! I have been saving them too so I can just repeat weekly meal plans from last year or months back and it keeps my meal plan fresh and exciting (well as exciting as meal plans can be!). By re-using past meal plans it saves a lot of time and I know my family will love it because they have already had it and told me so! I'm telling you -- hanging on to my old ones has been a huge help in meal planning!
So, this tip is a new one for me as I just recently started doing this and it has made meal planning almost a breeze! I decided to have themes for every night of the week! How does this help??? Well, for starters we like mexican food, asian, italian, sandwiches and good ole' american classics so I choose meals that fall under one of these categories. It alleviates boredom from having the same thing over and over too. I write these themes down at the top of my page and if I'm struggling to find something I just look for recipes that fit that theme! It makes finding what I want a LOT easier and I can switch them up each month if I want! One night is reserved for leftovers -- this is important for me -- it gives me a break and helps prevent some food waste too.
Here are my nightly themes:
Sunday: American Classic OR Asian dish
Monday: Pasta Night
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday/Mexican/Tex-Mex
Wednesday: Sandwich Night (this is a busy night for us, so this makes it quick and simple to pull together)
Thursday: Salad/Bowl (we love burrito bowls, etc.. and loaded salads too BUT a lot of favorites dishes can be made into bowls... you just gotta use your imagination a bit!)
Friday: Sheet Pan meal or Take Out
I can't even tell you how much easier and faster this makes meal planning!
Write down your meals in pencil. That way if you change your mind, something comes up or whatever.. you can erase it and make adjustments. I make a list in a notebook, in pen, but on my planner, it's written in pencil. So much easier to change it up, fix a spelling error, etc...
Start with planning out 7 meals. You don't have to assign them a specific day right now. Just plan out 7 main meals and then make your grocery list. Go shopping, or order through Instacart --huge time saver there! Plus, you don't impulse buy when using Instacart since you see the total before checking out! Use my link and save $10 on your first order! Once you've done our shopping, you have what you need for SEVEN different suppers and you don't have to rush or try to figure out what to make because your kitchen is stocked up on what you need. It takes a lot of the stress out of the equation and gives you and answer to that age-old question that we all dread: "Mom, what's for dinner?"
Shop online. Once you have your meal plan made, using Instacart saves you time and, like I said, you don't impulse buy as much. Whether you use Amazon, Thrive Market, or Boxed.com, you can often avoid large trips to the grocery store which frees up your time for other things -- like spending time with family, reading, relaxing, or some other project around your home. This post I did a while back, shares what I stock my kitchen pantry with and how I do most of my shopping online and where too. Links are provided that save you some $$$ on your first order.
Meal planning doesn't have to complicated, full of fancy meals or even 100% made from scratch. I focus on health first and use as many whole foods as I can but I also don't want spend hours and hours in the kitchen making a huge meal from scratch -- and a huge mess that I have to spend more time cleaning up! I want to eat something delicious, good for me and that didn't take much more than an hour to prep and then cook (most of the time I spend less time than that!). So, it's ok to "cheat" a little. What do I mean by that? Well, I don't have any qualms about using something that makes my life easier. I use cream soups from the store if I need to. Now, they are made with organic ingredients because the other brands are full of some nasty stuff that I don't and won't put in my body or that of my children. I might dress up some gluten free chicken strips for a meal but there will be whole foods with it, like some fresh, organic veggies or a salad, some mashed potatoes or organic rice. I want to eat whole foods but I'm not a glutton for punishment either; I use jarred spaghetti sauce and dress it up with Young Living Vitality Oils, or the cream soups from Pacific Foods, I might use organic frozen veggies instead of fresh... You get the idea. I make the best possible choices, but I'm not trying to be perfect.
I hope these tips have helped! I'm going to be doing a weekly post with my meal plan on it starting in September -- so book mark my blog so you can check back weekly to new ideas for your family!