Okay, so far in this series we’ve covered meal planning barriers and how to collect easy & healthy family meals. But now we are getting to the most exciting part of the series – concocting your weekly meal plan.
(I understand that my newfound passion for meal planning is a sign that I’m not nearly as hip as I used to be. If you know me, please stop laughing.)
I don’t claim to have years of meal planning under my belt. Being organized and cooking are not natural talents of mine. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that getting nutritious and tasty meals on the table takes planning. It’s the only time-saver I know of. And because I’ve been doing this for a while now, you can benefit from my mistakes. So I’ll share with you my meal planning secrets. And I hope if you have some of your own, you’ll share them in the comments below.
1. Pick a day to get it done: I take one day to plan the meals for the week and do the big grocery trip. (I’ll cover the grocery list and shopping in next week’s post.) I currently only plan dinner meals but I am going to start planning other meals and snacks. For me the best day of the week to meal plan and shop is Sunday. I’ve tried various days including Monday but have found Sunday is the best because it allows me to get stocked up for the week so Monday can be spent having fun with the kids.
2. Look at the week ahead: When it comes to picking meals for the week you’ll want to grab your calendar and consider what’s going on that week. I’m lucky that I have a regular schedule. For example, Wednesday and Thursday are workdays so I plan an 8-10 hour slow cooker meal for Wednesday. Thursdays are leftovers. Monday, Tuesday and Fridays I can make something in the oven or a slow cooker meal with a shorter cook time. Saturday we eat out and Sunday is dinner at my mother-in-law’s.
3. Let each family member have a say: My husband and I generally like the same things but I like to include his favorites (as well as mine!). My daughter’s favorite meal is Mexican food so we have that every Monday. There really aren’t a lot of dinner meals she’s guaranteed to eat, but meatballs and soup or stews with beans can be hits. When she’s older I’ll have her play a more active part in planning weekly meals. Recently when I asked her what she wanted for next week’s dinner and she said “cookies and apples.”
I also consider my 10-month-old boy who has recently started feeding himself (and will eat anything — gotta love babies!). A couple of our recent slow cooker meals have been soft enough for him to eat with a little mashing. I love that we are getting away from separate meals so early. He loves our food!
4. Ensure Balanced Nutrition: I think planning meals is the key to providing your family with a variety of nutritious foods. The three big picture nutrition items I look for are fish twice a week, beans 2-3 times a week (as entree or side) and at least one vitamin-A rich veggie and one vitamin-C rich fruit daily. For more details on nutrition for the week see 7 Must-Dos for Family Meal Planning.
5. Incorporate simplifying techniques: I have found that picking “theme nights” makes planning easier and more fun. For us, Mondays are Mexican night, Wednesdays are for the slow cooker and Fridays are fish. I leave Tuesdays and Thursdays open.
I try not to make too many complicated dishes at once – it stresses me out. If it’s a time-consuming entrée, for example, then the veggie has to be easy. A more complicated veggie or side has to be made with a slow cooker chicken or fish. When I first started cooking, I had my share of disasters. I think it’s progress that I haven’t had one in a while.
The last simplifying technique I use is pre-prep. Every night before bed I look at what’s for dinner and do pre-prep if needed. It’s either taking meat or fish out of the freezer, chopping fruit and vegetables, making salads or putting together slow cooker dishes for the morning. The key is to do most of the work ahead of time so the preparation part is easy.
Let me know how these tips work for you. Happy meal planning!