Meal planning has been a game-changer for my husband and I when it comes to making healthier choices for our meals. We have been setting up weekly meal plans for about 3 years now. Before we started meal planning, we found that we were spending a lot of time every evening just trying to figure out what to eat. It has also helped eliminate a lot of last-minute trips to the store to get ingredients that we don’t have on hand. We’ve also started saving money by eating more at home instead of going out to eat (which we usually did due to lack of a better idea).
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Over the years, our process of creating weekly meal plans has vastly improved. Part of this is because we have had a lot of practice doing it now, so much so that it is really second nature for us. The other reason that our meal planning has improved is that we have tried and tested a few different tools – which I will share more details about later – to make the process more smooth.
We are especially dedicated to our weekly meal plans now as we are due to expect our first baby in a few months 🙂 With this in mind, I am working to create meal plans over the next few months that also involve creating freezer meals. This way, we can just take out, heat and eat a healthy meal during the first couple of weeks with our new little one. With this in mind, I am working to continually evolve our meal planning process to fit our soon to be even busier lives.
How-to Meal plan
1. Look at the schedule for the upcoming week.
The best meal plans won’t work if they do not match up with your schedule for the week. Before planning any potential meals for the week, my husband and I sit down together and review our schedules for the upcoming week. We both have jobs that can involve evening meetings or travel, so the frequent check-ins help us both know what’s upcoming for the week ahead. The same is true if you have kids that have evening sports practices or activities.
Knowing the schedule allows you to plan healthy meals that you can fit into the time available. This way, if you are only at home for an hour in the evening, you know not to plan for a meal that needs to bake for an hour in the oven. We also try to bring a packed lunch to work with us every day. We know that by bringing our meals from home, typically, they will be healthier then what we would buy out. This is also where it is beneficial to know the weekly schedule so we can plan what meals will have leftovers that we can bring with us for lunch.
2. Ask for input.
While having a weekly meal plan helps save you a ton of time, the last thing you want to hear after working hard to prepare a meal is, “I don’t want to eat that!” To keep the meal planning family-friendly, I ask my husband if there are any requests for meals that week. Sometimes I get a more generic response like “anything with salmon,” and sometimes there are specific meal requests from him as well. This is great for two reasons: (1) by receiving input it is not all on me to come up with everything we are going to eat for the week and (2) I know at least a few meals from the plan will be exactly what my husband is looking for.
If you have kids, it’s also great to get input from them as well. While their responses may not always be what you are looking for in a meal, getting kids more involved in the selection of meals can help them become more interested in trying new foods in other meals. Having your kids involved can also help them make healthy food choices in their future.
3. Look for inspiration.
I have something to admit…
I am totally a Pinterest junkee. I can get lost scrolling through my homepage for more time than I care to admit. But it really has become a great resource for new recipe ideas. To avoid spending too much time endlessly scrolling through pins, I have started searching for more specific ideas, such as grilled chicken recipes.
After quite a few years of trying new recipes, I have a number of recipes saved that have become go-to’s for our weekly meal plans. One of my favorite things to do after trying a recipe is to then tweak the recipe to make it more for our tastes or to try and make it a bit healthier. Perusing websites such as Pinterest, or looking at recipe books are great ways to expose yourself to new foods and flavors. I’ve found that adding 1 or 2 new recipes each week keeps things exciting, but still allows my meal plan to be well organized.
Since trying a lot of new recipes, I have started to experiment with making up my own as well. I have become more familiar with ingredients and flavors that go well together to make a complete dish. Stay tuned to the posts here, I will be adding some of the recipes I’ve created for my family.
4. Write it down.
Once you’ve decided on the meals you would like to have for the week, have a spot to write them down. This way, you may even avoid the inevitable question, “what’s for dinner?” By having a written plan, when the week gets even busier then you think you can, you can quickly whip up the meal you have planned for that evening.
Writing down the meal plan also makes it easier to adjust when a last-minute schedule change happens. And let’s be honest, we all know that no matter how well you plan, sometimes things happen that we need to adjust for. When this has happened to us, by having our meal plan written down for the week, I can look at what other options are available and swap days to make it all fit again.
5. Make a grocery list.
After you’ve finalized your weekly meal plan, make a grocery list for the items you need to make the meals. I’ve found that by knowing what meals I’m going to prepare for the week, it’s quick to survey the pantry to determine what items I need to buy.
Having a list at the grocery store also makes it a lot easier to get in and out quickly. This is particularly important while we are practicing social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
I know for me, at least, having a list also helps limit the impulse buys as I pass through the snack aisle (which is also getting harder as I get further along in my pregnancy). Avoiding impulse buys has been key to keeping healthy food stocked in our house.
Tools to help you meal plan
1. Google Calendar
This is the calendar app that I use to help keep my family organized. It has been a lifesaver to knowing who is where at what time. I’ve chosen this particular calendar app since it is easy to sync across any and all of my devices. And when you are running around crazy busy, I am so grateful for the reminders on my Apple watch about what meeting or activity I need to get to!
Another great feature that I take full advantage of is the ability to color-code the events in my calendar. This is beyond great for knowing who each event belongs too. Once all of the events are entered into the calendar, it is easy to see how much time is available for meals in the evenings.
2. Weekly Meal Plan Notepad
Notepads are wonderful for jotting down all of the little to-do items that you have during a day. The same is true for writing down your weekly meal plan. I’ve gone through a few different notepads to find my favorites. One great option is a notepad that contains a tearaway shopping list, This way, you can write down your meal plan and create the grocery list all in the same place.
After years of bringing a list with me to the store, I have transitioned to putting my grocery list in the notes app on my phone. The reason for this is two-fold. There is nothing worse than getting to the grocery store and realizing you left your list on the counter. And now, putting the list on my phone (which is with me at all times anyway), I can run to the store at any time without having to stop back at home for the list. Since I no longer need a list on my notepad, I have transitioned to using this meal plan notepad from Knock Knock. I love the mint green color. And if you haven’t seen the Knock Knock notepads previously, they have a huge selection for anything you might need that have a sense of humor to them.
3. Weekly Meal Plan Board
I’ve always found a meal plan board to be a great addition to kitchen decor. And it is a great way to have the whole family involved. Kids can write up the weekly meal plan and decorate the board. The board is also a great help in eliminating the “What’s for dinner?” question.
Let me know how your weekly meal plans are turning out, and if you have any other tips you like to use!