Tuesday, October 22, 2013

5 Strategies to Make Meal Planning a Reality

I've been meal planning for a few years now. It's just one of those things I do every Sunday as soon as the new grocery store sales ads come out because:

1) We're on a budget, so I need to see what meats and vegetables are on sale in order to plan our meals for the week; and

2) I like having a plan in place so that when Monday afternoon rolls around, I'm not scratching my head and scanning the pantry shelves trying to decide what's for supper in the midst of children and a home that need my attention. 

Having a meal plan makes life a little easier for me. 
If it doesn't for you, then DON'T do it.

That being said I know there are lots of people who don't meal plan because (1) they think it's too much work; (2) they like to be spontaneous; and/or (3) they don't know how. 

In a previous post, I explain how meal planning works if you fall in camp #3. If you're in camp #2, I can only say that you can meal plan and be spontaneous. I'd much prefer to have a plan in place first, and if I want to change it, then I can. 

For those of you who think it's too much work, here are 5 strategies that might help make meal planning a reality:

1. Don't think you have to plan every meal. 
I know some people plan breakfast, lunch, dinner, even snacks. I've tried that in the past, and it just didn't work for me because we eat the same things for breakfast, lunch, and snack every day or I let the kids choose among what's available. I simply make sure we have those foods on hand each week. 

2. Repetition isn't boring; it can be good. 
I like variety in my menu, but my children do not. Perhaps yours don't either? I think mine would eat spaghetti or macaroni every night if I'd fix it. We have about 10-12 meals that we all like, so I fix them frequently because my husband and I like to eat our meals in peace. Trying to convince a child to "just try it" is not conducive to peace in my opinion.

3. A master list of your family's favorite meals will save you time & lots of heartache. 
While I like to try new recipes, I do not like to be the only one who will eat them, and, as mentioned above, new recipes often lead to headache. It frustrates me to no end when my family finds the food I've prepared repulsive. So, I stick with tried and true family favorites most nights of the week. I do, however, try to take one night each week to experiment with a new recipe. 

Right now, most of our family-favorite recipes are on my Menu Plan and Pinned Recipes I've Tried boards on Pinterest and in various cookbooks I own. Simply make a list and keep it handy for meal planning.

4. A different meal idea for each night of the week can be a lifesaver. 
At our house, I rely on this schedule:

Sundays = Leftovers or Daddy cooks
Mondays = Try something new
Tuesdays = Pasta or Stir-Fry
Wednesdays = Meat-less (usually beans)
Thursdays = Mexican (usually fish tacos)
Fridays = Pizza Night
Saturdays = Dinner Out

Consider the foods your family loves, and devise a similar schedule {if it works for you! If it doesn't work, then don't do it!} For me, meal planning is so much easier when I have a schedule to rely on.

5. Find new recipes to add to your repertoire of family favorites. 
I recently made this black bean sweet potato enchilada dish, and my husband requested that we add it to the rotation. The kids agreed. So, now I have another recipe I know my family likes. If you get tired of fixing and eating the same 5 meals, then try out something new. You'll discover quickly if it's a keeper or not.

Meal planning does take a little time and effort, but the rewards are amazing. Not only will you save money by eating out less and buying what's on sale, but you'll also feel good knowing you're fixing meals your family will eat. 

I encourage you to have a meal planning day and set aside 30-45 minutes to do the following: 

(1) Make a list of your family's favorite meals.

(2) Devise a "schedule" for each night of the week.

(3) Peruse grocery store sales ads to find out what's on sale.

(4) Plan your menu for the week according to your family's favorite meals, your meal "schedule", and what's on sale. 

(5) Find 1 new recipe to try each week.

Of course, do what works for you in your present season. After having a new baby, I stopped searching sales ads for deals and relied on easy-to-fix meals. 

Overall, though, if you commit to meal planning, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Do YOU meal plan? Why or why not? If you do, what advice would you give to someone new to meal planning?

Blessings to you, homemaker, as you manage your home and take good care of the money God has blessed you with!

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  1. Thank you for this, because I am always stuck on how to really meal plan. Great tips!!!

    1. You're welcome, Ashley! Planning meals shouldn't be a headache. They should be a time saver for us busy homemakers. Hope the tips help!

  2. I used to be so good at menu planning and I totally fell off the wagon! Thanks for the encouragement to get back on. Our schedule is crazy right now and it would be so helpful to not have to add "What's for dinner?" every night to the crazy!

    1. That is TOTALLY why I meal plan! I am already scatterbrained and running here there and everywhere that I need something that I don't have to think about :) I'm glad this post encouraged you and hope you can find some normalcy again, even if it's just in having a plan for what's on the table :)

  3. This is something that I've struggled with for years. I don't know why it's been so hard for me. I guess partly because our schedule is all over the place and we have meals at different times everyday. But I definitely see the wisdom in planning ahead. There's a lot of head scratching and staring at pantry shelves over here! haha!

    1. I don't know how you do it NOT meal planning with a large family. Share your secrets :) I only five to feed but having a plan in place helps me keep my sanity especially in the afternoon when my brain is on the fritz :)

  4. Love menu planning! It's a life saver. If I had to come up with meals day to day we'd spend a lot more and not eat near as well. :-)

    1. I agree, Deanna. We would definitely hit the drive-thru more often without a plan in place. For me meal planning is one way I can at least attempt to feed my family a healthy meal even if they choose not to eat it :)

  5. I do my meal planning in a very similar fashion. At first it seemed like a daunting task, but it didn't take long to get into the swing of things and now it helps life flow along so much more smoothly.
    I have a theme for my days too -- Monday is Mexican, Tuesday is Chicken, Wednesday is Crockpot, Thursday is Date Night so Kids make their own and Friday is Pizza Night. We do chili, beans or burgers on Saturday. I heartily agree with you when you say 'do what works for you'. This post is a very helpful summary, thanks for putting it together!

    1. Linda, I too was very overwhelmed when I first started meal planning because I wasn't sure where to start, but an excellent book I was reading really helped me: Linda McCoy's "Miserly Moms." A lot of the information in it is outdated but the crux of that book has really stayed with me. Now, meal planning ain't no thang. You just have to find what makes life simpler for you.

      Thanks for commenting and for your encouragement!

  6. Great tips for meal planning! I tried it for a while, had a cute little spiral that I kept things written in, but sadly it faded like other attempts at being too organized (lol). I typically shop for 2 weeks worth of meals, taking into account some leftovers and meals out, and so far it's worked pretty well for us.

    1. Well, Shannon, if that works for you, then go for it! I would have ditched the spiral (I'm not that organized :) ). Now all my meals are written on our menu board. That way everyone knows exactly what's for dinner, and I don't have to wonder myself :)

  7. I canNOT surivive without a meal plan! It makes every aspect of life just a little bit easier for us, especially grocery shopping. But what I need to do is keep a master list and rotate it frequently in the way that you do. I often have a hard time remembering what I cooked last month! Our pizza night is usually on Wednesdays, when we have AWANA at church. It's a really quick turnaround so we need something quick & easy. We do pita pizzas. The kids eat a traditional pizza & my husband and I eat pesto pizza (homemade pesto). It's a really low calorie way to do pizza.

    1. Gabby, you're doing better than me because if I didn't have my meal plan written down, I wouldn't know what we ate last week! My goal is to continually add to the master list so I don't fix the same meals every other week or more frequently.

      Pesto pizza is delicious! Sounds great!

  8. I found your post on Growing Home's Teach Me Tuesday. Thank you for sharing! I keep thinking about meal planning, and I really need to get more organized in that area, but I haven't done much about it yet. Your post inspired me to think about it and do something about it! Thank you!

    1. Good luck, Missy. I firmly believe meal planning saves money and sanity, helps me cook healthier foods, and allows me more creativity in the kitchen. If I can do anything to help you get more organized, please let me know. Best wishes!

  9. Awesome post, Keri. I'm trying to give this meal-planning thing a whirl now there's two of us and we both have such different schedules, and your insights and experience are very helpful!