If you dread hearing the question, “what’s for dinner?” this article on meal planning for families is for you!
If you’re a busy parent, the last thing you want is another item added to your to-do list. However, what if I told you that adding meal planning into your routine is one thing that can save time and energy next week! Imagine this: you can save money, save time, reduce food waste, decrease mealtime stress, and improve your efficiency in the kitchen with a few simple steps that work for you.
I hear you asking, “What’s the catch?” Well, you must be intentional about it. But when you do, meal planning can be incredibly helpful for your family. Read further to learn what meal planning for families means, learn tactics to make it easier, and find simple ways to make it a sustainable habit.
What Exactly is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is simply what it sounds like – a plan for meals. It can be as simple or complex as you need it to be, but most importantly, it must work for you and your family.
Some people prefer to plan a whole week of meals, while some plan only a couple of days at a time. Some may find the need to plan each meal throughout the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) while others may plan only dinners and find freedom to figure out the other meals around pantry staples, leftovers, and school meals. You get to do what works best for you and your family. There aren’t any “musts” with meal planning other than it must work for you.
Meal Planning is a Guide not a Rigid Schedule
It can be helpful to think of your plan as an outline or guide, that also allows for wiggle room when the schedule changes, a family member becomes ill, or you’re just not feeling like eating what was planned. Flexibility is a key component of meal planning for families.
How to Create a Meal Plan
Meal plans for families should be individualized to each family, their budget, and their needs and preferences. Additionally, parents should consider the time they will dedicate to making meals within their schedule. Practically speaking, it will make sense to match the meals you plan to make with your ability in the kitchen as well.
Speaking of getting in the kitchen, I have great advice for you about cooking with toddlers in my article here! It is so helpful to bring your kids along into the kitchen with you!
Also, if you are hoping to plan snacks in your meal plan, check out my article on healthy snacks for kids and toddlers.
Top 7 Tips for Meal Planning for Families
As you think through how to organize your meals throughout the week, consider what will work best for your family. First, consider whether it will work best to plan for a whole week or a few days at a time. Then, make sure to decide whether you will plan all meals or just the dinner meal. If planning a whole week is overwhelming, try planning a day or two to practice, and ease into the process.
Next, review my top 7 tips for meal planning for families to create your plan:
- Keep pantry staples on hand
A well stocked pantry will help make meal planning easier! Here is a comprehensive list of pantry items!
- Check your pantry
Plan your meals around what you already have on hand. This can help use what you have that you may have forgotten about. Also, you might prevent buying something you already have.
- Make a master list of family favorite meals
When planning your meals, pull from this list regularly, and rotate through these favorites frequently.
- Check your calendar and plan for busy days
Figure out when it makes sense to spend time preparing ahead of time, find when you will do the actual cooking, and know days when you’ll be short on time. Will everyone be eating together, or are you balancing multiple mealtime schedules? It can be helpful to think through these logistics prior to planning meals.
- Make a double batch of a meal and save half for later
You can use the second half for another meal later in the week, or freeze for use in the future. Your future self will thank you!
- Plan a night to use up leftovers or clean out the fridge
This can help reduce food waste, and is a day when you don’t need to cook! Double win!
- Keep fruit and veggies on hand to add to meals and snacks
Adding fruits and veggies to meals is a great way to add variety and flavor to meals. Having some on hand also makes snacking easy and healthy.
Tips for Buying Groceries
When it comes to purchasing the food you need, use the method that makes the most sense for your family whether that is in person at the store or through an online grocery delivery service.
Make sure to understand your grocery budget. When you shop for groceries, keep an eye out for sales and buy in bulk for items you use frequently. If you can, plan meals around seasonally available produce. This can save money and is a fun way to try new foods.
Make a Plan, and Keep it Flexible
Create your plan and remain flexible when you need to. The guide of the meal plan can be so helpful when you have organized your week with the meals in mind. However, life happens, and it is equally important to be able to shift plans around.
Let’s face it, parenting during a pandemic continues to throw curve balls our way. Sometimes our grocery delivery gets messed up and we don’t get an item we planned for, or the whole delivery is delayed. Sometimes we need to wing it, and on those days, you will be so grateful that you have created a plan that has a few backup options if the need to use them arises.
Throw Together Meals
It can be helpful to keep a few quick and easy backup meals on hand if a meeting comes up or a schedule change happens. These are meals you know the ingredients for and can throw together off the top of your head.
Here are some favorite “throw together meals” from our house:
- Grilled cheese with tomato soup, plus a side of fruit and veggies
- Snacking charcuterie tray – a fun way to combine multiple small servings that build into a meal
- Frozen pizza + frozen veggies
- Breakfast for dinner
Just because it is a meal plan does not mean that it needs to be healthy all the time. Meals are meant to be enjoyed and to bring the family together. There is room for ordering meals or going to a restaurant to enjoy a meal in your meal plan. As I mentioned above, a meal plan is what it is – a plan for meals!
Organize, Plan, and Remain Flexible
My best tips for meal planning for families is to prioritize what is important for you so that you can use meal planning to your advantage. You won’t dread it when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?” because you’ve got a plan!
To sum up:
- Organize your kitchen with pantry basics
- Plan your meals around what you have on hand and what your family enjoys eating
- Remain flexible and adapt to changes when they arise
- Lastly, and most importantly, enjoy meals with your family!
In my work with families, I often teach parents how to create a meal plan for their family. If you are interested in learning more about this process, you are welcome to be in touch. I would be happy to learn more about how I can help bring more calm to your family’s meal times!