Getting dinner on the table is hard to do for busy families. I’ve put together seven meal planning tips to help simplify your life.
Life is crazy.
There’s always so much to do, right? We’re all juggling work, extra-curricular activities, helping with homework, trying to get the teenager to take a shower, getting the bills paid on time, and trying to have some kind of a social life.
Some days, it feels like it’s all going off the rails. However, there’s one tried and true life hack which always helps me feel like I’ve got a few things under control: meal planning.
You’re probably thinking that meal planning is hard, time-consuming or takes too much time. It can be all of those things if you aren’t prepared. But it doesn’t have to be any of those things.
The goal of meal planning is to simplify your life and it really does, when you know what you’re doing. I’ve put together some meal planning tips to help you get started.
7 Meal Planning Tips
1. Join Pinterest
If you aren’t already on Pinterest, you should be. Did you know the average family eats less than thirty recipes per month? That means you’re eating the same thing month after month.
It’s no wonder that going out to dinner sounds great when you’re feeling tired. You’ve probably already gone through most of your family’s favorite recipes. Pinterest is a goldmine of recipes.
Need family-friendly recipes? Pinterest has those. Is someone in your family on a special diet? Pinterest has recipes that will fill that need. Are you on a strict budget? Pinterest can help.
2. Use What You Have
Chances are, you have bits and pieces of more than a few meals in your pantry. A jar of pasta sauce you bought but then forgot to buy ground beef or Italian sausage. Some frozen chicken. Twelve boxes of pasta. Oh, wait. Maybe that’s just me.
The point is, if you have a jar of pasta sauce in your kitchen, plan to have spaghetti this week. Head over to Pinterest and search for “chicken crockpot recipes” to find something you can put into the slow cooker that evening you have to work late.
3. Check Out the Sale Ads
Every Wednesday you probably get sales ads from your local grocery stores in your mail (Walmart’s comes on Sunday with your paper). Using the sales ad to plan your meals is great if you’re on a budget.
If you see that ground beef is on sale, you can plan meatloaf, goulash, and tacos for three inexpensive meals. If you have space, buy a few extra pounds of ground beef for next week’s meals to save money then, too.
I go to a minimum of two stores every week. One is the store I buy sales items from, one is the store I buy my staples from. It sounds like a pain, but really, I save a lot of money shopping that way.
4. Try One New Recipe Every Few Weeks
If you’re stuck in a rut, then trying out new recipes can help you expand your menu. Trying a new menu teaches your family to try new things. Who knows? You may end up trying something that becomes a family favorite!
5. Plan a Time to Meal Plan
Many people simply don’t take the time to sit down and meal plan. They go to the store without a plan (or list) and end up missing items they need. Coming home with a bunch of stuff that sounded good but without enough food to actually last through the week.
Putting together a meal plan helps you to make a grocery list that includes everything. You’ll spend less time on last-minute grocery runs. You can buy a pad that keeps your meal plan and grocery list on the same sheet of paper, making things super easy, or use a dry-erase meal planner and write your list in a notebook.
Either way, you’ll be more organized, and you’ll always have an answer when the kids ask “What’s for dinner?”
6. Let the Family Help
Every week, as I sit down to make my meal plan, I ask the kids “What do you want for dinner this week?” If anyone has been having a craving, they know to speak up then. Surprisingly, my most requested meal is meatloaf.
As the kids have gotten older, I’ve let them take over meal planning and prep on certain nights. This way they are learning to cook, and some of the burden is off my shoulders! Plus, if they are contributing ideas, I don’t need to spend as much time figuring out what to cook.
7. Keep Your Day Planner Handy
When you’re meal planning, make sure to keep your Day Planner or calendar nearby. You don’t want to plan a meal that’s going to keep you in the kitchen for an hour on a day when there’s play rehearsal or a dance class.
Meal planning does not have to be a complicated thing. In fact, used correctly, these meal planning tips will help simplify your life!
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Keisha K. Page is a freelance writer, mother of five, and a grandma. She’s trying to embrace the chaos of working full time, chasing a giant dog, living in the mountains of Colorado, and supporting her two youngest children through chronic illness.