Family Meal Planning, My Method.

Are you a "plan in advance" type of cook or do you like to wing it? If I'm being honest, I sway sharply between the two! I have weeks that I feel totally on top of things and my meals are planned and grocery shopping has been done and others where - despite my best efforts - there's a whole lot of delivery happening.

I do my best to eat clean, whole foods and feed my family healthy meals, and I wanted to share some of the ways that I've been successful in that endeavor. Don't get me wrong, we also bake cookies, eat ice cream and indulge in burgers and bratwurst too; but like most things, balance here is key. These are just some tips and tricks that work for me.

I definitely notice a few positive effects of meal planning that really keep me motivated to stick with it:

  1. My family eats MUCH healthier.
  2. I don't feel panicked at 5:30 every day when I'm rummaging through the fridge, freezer and pantry to cobble together a balanced meal.
  3. We save a ton of money on groceries!

The money saving thing was a totally unexpected bonus when I started planning out our weekly meals. I guess I'm buying only what I plan to use - less waste - and I only need to visit the grocery store or co-op once that week rather than stopping multiple times like I usually do.

So here's how I plan my meals for the week. There's no magic to it, but it does force me to commit an hour once a week to really figure things out.

  1. ASSESS OUR SCHEDULE. Pull out my Google calendar and planner and make note of our plans for the week. See if I have daytime meetings that will make it hard to prep or evening plans that mean we should do something really simple.
  2. GATHER FEEDBACK. Sometimes the kids are really interested in telling me what they want to eat that week, other times they aren't. But it's always nice to ask - even if they say "pasta!!!!" again, at least that is one night sorted.
  3. RAID THE FRIDGE AND PANTRY. Check out what we have that needs to be used up - make a quick list of those things and work to incorporate them early in the week.
  4. PULL OUT MY MEAL PLANNING NOTEPAD, COOKBOOKS AND IPHONE. Based on ingredients we need to use up and meals that have been requested, I start to fill in my "Gotta Eat" section on my meal planner with recipes from my fave cookbooks and websites. We tend to keep it simple and consistent - for example, Taco Tuesday means some sort of tacos, nachos, quesadillas, burritos; and Friday is my day of rest, I NEVER cook on Friday! But I also like cooking, so I always have a new recipe to try out too.
  5. FILL IN MY MEAL PLANS. I only really plan out dinners. Leftovers often work for lunch and breakfast is usually yogurt, eggs, oatmeal or cereal. If I need to take something out of the freezer for the next day, I'll make a note of it on my meal planner. (It's the worst when I have something planned but forgot to take it out to thaw!) I also write down when I think we'll have leftovers to use up - that's a perfectly acceptable "plan" for at least one day each week!
  6. MAKE THE GROCERY LIST. I use the right hand column on my notepad, the "Gotta Get" section, to make my grocery list for the week. There are usually a few things already written down that I've run out of that week. I go through each recipe and figure out what we already have and what we need then jot down items we need on the list.

Bonus Clean Eating Tip!

I know a bunch of clean eating families who are really great at what they call "batch cooking," which is essentially spending a few hours one day a week to plan meals, cook a big batch of grain (quinoa, rice, etc.), chop fresh fruits & veggies, make a big salad, and roast chicken and/or veggies.

I don't do that. I probably should, but I don't. However, I KNOW for a fact that it really helps my friends stay on track with clean eating and it might work for your family, which is why I wanted to share it anyway!

I designed these meal planner notepads because I found myself naturally planning out our meals this way and wanted to have a cuter notepad to do it - I think cute paper motivates me to actually stick to my plans!  And in all honesty, I didn't want it to be more complicated than this - write down what you plan to eat and note what you need to make it on a tear-off sheet. Super simple.

Do you plan your family's meals? What's your method? Try out the new notepads if you think they'll help your family and let me know what you think!