Meal planning is something I do every week. Now. 🙂
Before I started meal planning dinners, some nights it would be mentally exhausting figuring out what was for dinner. Again. And again. Every single night.
Add that on top of the witching hour, when my girls are super impatient and whiny and loud and hungry. Dinner time can be really chaotic in our house, so meal planning is key for me to keep a little sanity. 🙂
And I know myself well enough now to know that that’s when I’ll choose the unhealthier option. When I don’t have a plan, that’s when I give in too many times to frozen dinners, take out, quick but unhealthy options.
Now, I sit down once a week and plan out our dinners for the upcoming week. So what’s for dinner is a decision I make once a week, not 7 times a week. And it’s not a decision I’m trying to make while my girls are hangry and whiny. And I’m more likely to make healthier dinners when I have a plan. That’s why for me, meal planning has been so helpful.
Meal planning has helped me enjoy making dinner more too. (I share more tips for how I enjoy and simplify making dinner more in a post HERE).
I know that not everyone is a fan of meal planning, but if it’s something you’re curious about I wanted to share how I meal plan and how I’ve simplified it over the years to save me time and energy.
How I meal plan:
Usually on Saturday or Sunday, I meal plan. You can see my dinner meal plans HERE. Here’s what my meal planning looks like:
First, I grab a pad of paper, pen, laptop and/or a cookbook or two. My meal planning weeks run Monday through Sunday. So, I jot down the days of the week, starting with Monday.
Take inventory of produce I have. I look in the fridge and note anything that we need to use up, like produce, cheese, etc. that’s about to expire. That way I try to include dinners that use up those things.
Plan dinners around evening schedules. This is such a simple thing but makes such a big difference. Looking at our family calendar, I’ll write down anything we have going on that week that might affect dinner. Here’s how I plan our dinners around our schedule: (These don’t apply for us right now because of social distancing but during normal times when we have sports, school, etc. they would!)
- Plan quick and easy dinners for busy nights. For nights when we have sports practice or something at school or anything that’s happening around dinner time, I plan for:
- The easiest and quickest dinners. I have a pdf of our 7 of our favorite simple and quick dinners you can grab HERE! (You can also grab it by entering your name and email at the bottom of this post and you’ll get it in your inbox!)
- Breakfast for dinner, like pancakes (we love Kodiak Cakes), egg burritos, etc.
- Make-ahead dinners I can put in the oven when we’re ready.
- Crockpot and Instant Pot recipes.
- One-pot dinners
- I also buy some veggies pre-chopped because it helps cut down on some of the prep time.
- Healthier Trader Joe’s freezer items I can use to make a quick dinner.
- Use dinner themes for days of the week. This also makes planning so much easier! For us, this looks like:
- Monday: salmon and veggies (or meat-less Monday)
- Tuesday: tacos, fajitas or taco bowls
- Friday: pizza night
- Saturday/Sunday: try a new recipe, or date night, or dinner with friends
- Leftovers once a week
Make a grocery list as I go. As I’m choosing dinners, I make a grocery list of everything I need. I’ll add the ingredients into my Instacart cart as I’m going too. (I’ve been using Instacart for Sprouts Farmers Market delivery for almost 2 years now and it is SO helpful! I’m working on a post all about Instacart and why I keep using it.)
Keep the dinner plan out. I keep my dinner plan handy so that I can easily find it when it’s dinner time. Sometimes it’s taped inside our pantry door, or next to our keys for easy access.
Meal Planning Tips:
Keep your meal plan flexible. I think one of the things that can turn people off meal planning is that it seems rigid and what if you’re not in the mood for the chicken and potato dinner you planned for Tuesday night?
When I make a meal plan, I keep it really flexible. Because some nights I won’t be in the mood for what’s planned, or something comes up and we need to swap things around. (You can find all my dinner meal plans HERE!)
Use your schedule to plan dinners. On busy nights, I plan dinners that are quick and simple or that I can make ahead and stick in the oven when we’re ready, or use the crockpot. The weekend is typically when I try a new recipe because evenings aren’t so rushed. I typically leave 1-2 nights open to use up leftovers or for take-out, last-minute date night, etc. (This applies more to pre-coronavirus!)
Have dinner theme nights, like meatless Monday, taco Tuesday, pizza Friday, etc. We change up the type of tacos and pizza but having theme nights makes meal planning a little simpler.
Have groceries delivered (if you can). I use Instacart to order and have our groceries delivered. This has been such a time saver! I’ve been using Sprouts Farmers Market through Instacart about once a week or every other week for a about a year an a half and it has been such a game changer. I used to spend at least 1 ½ every week grocery shopping (plus shopping with kids isn’t always fun, haha!), and now I have that time back.
Keep back-up dinners for when you don’t feel like cooking. I keep quick back-ups for busy nights or when I don’t feel like cooking, like Trader Joe’s freezer items (see a bunch of my favorites HERE), breakfast for dinner, etc.
Why I meal plan: More perks to meal planning
- Meal planning saves me time and energy. Once a week for about half an hour, I meal plan and our evenings run so much more smoothly. I’m not spending time every night figuring out what’s for dinner, if I have the ingredients, if I need to go to the store, etc. I’m not looking in the fridge trying to piece dinner ideas together every night.
- It saves us money too. When I make daily trips to the market, or go when I’m hungry, that’s when I’m more likely to pick up things I don’t need but sound delicious in the moment. By meal planning, grocery shopping once and having groceries delivered, I’ve saved money because I’m not buying those little extra things (that can add up!).
- We eat healthier when I have a meal plan. When I have a plan, I’m WAY more likely to stick to healthier eating. It’s easy to grab for the easier, convenient foods instead of roasting up veggies, but if I have a plan I’m more likely to follow it.
- Meal planning helps cut down on stress during our witching hour. When my girls are “starving” and whining and bickering at each other just as I begin making dinner, having a plan helps me so much.
- We aren’t wasting as much food. At the end of every week I take inventory of what we have left so that we can plan to use it up the following week. We’ve cut down a ton on our food waste by doing this.
- We get to try new recipes and foods. If I haven’t planned out our dinners, I’m more likely to get into a routine of eating the same dinners over and over again. We do have our favorites we eat a lot, but I get really bored if I eat the same things every day. And I enjoy trying new recipes. Meal planning helps me try new recipes and not get bored with our dinners.
You can probably tell that I’m a big fan of meal planning. 🙂 It has helped me so much, especially with enjoying making dinner a little more. I hope that you find this post helpful if you’re thinking about meal planning. 🙂