Whether you loathe or love your role of being your family's food coordinator/kitchen CEO, meal planning isn't a task most of us can avoid doing forever.
Dinner is just an every day aspect of life. How you choose to approach it however, can make a big difference on whether or not meal times are cost-effective, convenient, and conducive with a clean eating lifestyle.
That's why I am outlining the meal planning side of achieving less meal time stress and more feeding success. Each post in this series includes a valuable freebie to help you apply each step, so be sure to find your free copy of the meal planning template at the bottom of this post!
Here are the first things you need to think through for more successful meal planning.
Things to Consider:
1. Consider your calendar
Take a look at your calendar, and answer these questions: What does your family have going on this week? How many nights will you need meals for? Who all do you have to feed this week (just the kids/in town guests/community group/etc)?
With your calendar before you, write down what you have each evening. Include obvious events like:
- Sporting event (game or practice)
- Work meeting (you or your spouse)
- Out of town travel (you or your spouse)
- Family coming into town
- Bible study
- Workout class
- School or work project deadline the next day (you,your spouse, or your child(ren))
- Everyone is home
- Company over
These may be activities that pertain to one or all members of your family. Regardless, list out any big items you know are in the week ahead.
2. Consider convenience
Based on your schedule, what kinds of meals do you need? Is it an especially busy week where you can get by with a lot of "cook once, eat twice" type of meals? Or, is it a week with numerous evening outings, making a demand for meals that need to be ready made to eat on the run? Will you be home to prepare the meals, or do you need to have items that are easy for someone else to through together and serve?
While you don't have to be this specific every night of every week (as shown below), it is good to get in the habit of thinking through what your week looks like. Listing out your dinner needs beside what you have each night helps you to properly pick meals that fit your family's real life. Being overly ambitious or under-prepared don't reduce your stress with meal planning. Getting a clear picture of what you will need each night however, helps you to pick meals that will serve you rather than leave you a slave to the kitchen...or the drive-thru.
Examples for each of the above calendar items include:
- Tutoring --> Everyone is eating at different times
- Sporting event (game or practice) --> Need something that’s already ready to eat when we get home
- Work meeting (you or your spouse) --> At the office late and spouse or babysitter to feed the kids
- Out of town travel (you or your spouse) --> Self, spouse, family member, or nanny to hold down the fort and feed kids
- Family coming into town --> Need a meal that can be scaled and served to more people than usual
- Bible study --> Eating on the go or at event (for self or whole family)
- Workout class --> Eating late/separate from family so food needs to be easy to self-serve and/or reheat
- School or work project deadline the next day (you,your spouse, or your child(ren)) --> Need something quick with no mess to clean up
- Everyone is home --> Have time for a family meal with a bit more time to cook
- Company over --> Potluck or to prepare a meal for multiple people
3. Consider kitchen time
Some people look to save time, others look to save money. Get realistic with yourself, your family's actual interest and efforts in the kitchen, and how you can best approach healthy meal planning with these factors in mind. This doesn't mean every meal has to be homemade nor scratch-cooked, unless that is something you make time for and can commit to on the given week. Map out what meals you think you will make ahead, the night of, or not at all given your calendar and needs for convenience (or not).
Some examples stemming from the above examples may include:
- Tutoring --> Everyone is eating at different times --> Crockpot meal that cooks itself
- Sporting event (game or practice) --> Need something that’s already ready to eat when we get home --> Prep ahead meal
- Work meeting (you or your spouse) --> At the office late and spouse or babysitter to feed the kids --> Simple meal, ready to serve
- Out of town travel (you or your spouse) --> Self, spouse, family member, or nanny to hold down the fort and feed kids --> Cook once, eat twice (or thrice!)
- Family coming into town --> Need a meal that can be scaled and served to more people than usual --> Eat out or make a large, family-style meal
- Bible study --> Eating on the go or at event (for self or whole family) --> Bento-box style dinner to take on the go
- Workout class --> Eating late/separate from family so food needs to be easy to self-serve and/or reheat --> Leftovers
- School or work project deadline the next day (you,your spouse, or your child(ren)) --> Need something quick with no mess to clean up --> Take out or ready-made option (picked up with weekly grocery run)
- Everyone is home --> Have time for a family meal with a bit more time to cook --> Take time to enjoy cooking and eating as a family
- Company over --> Potluck or to prepare a meal for multiple people --> Review menu needs and prepare meal accordingly the night of.
Things to Do
1. Start completing your own meal plan each week.
Adopting this new practice will save you time, energy, and your sanity, especially as it becomes habit. While it looks a bit in depth, it should only take 5-10 minutes tops to go through the above steps each week. Investing this time in advance will answer the question, "What's for Dinner?" without the usual uncertainty and angst to get something on the table.
2. Download your own free version of the Veggies & Virtue Love It, Like It, Learning It Weekly Meal Plan Template.
Fill in the top section of the download (below) according to what factors were discussed above. Use the initial row as your guide for what your calendar, convenience, and kitchen time will be for each night, so it becomes easier to "Pick" what you're actually serving. This is what I personally use to plan our family's weekly menu. Unlike most meal plan templates, this is tailored specifically for the family of a picky eater. It doesn't cater to short-order cooking, but it does help you work through the basics of how to make one meal for the whole family in a way that yields less meal time stress and more feeding success.
3. Please be sure to share!
Once you start putting this first step and meal template to use, please share this helpful, free resource with fellow friends and family you think it may help also.
Lastly, remember this:
Meal plans are meant to serve you and not the other way around.
Establish a weekly menu around what works best for your family, based on the time available and tastes preferred each night. Going through this initial step will set you up for less meal time stress -- no matter what you have going on. Then, in step two, you will quickly learn how to pick meals that fit your schedule and are your family favorites. Stay tuned for step two!