As a Mom, I am always looking for more organized ways to meal plan for my family. I have now been a stay-at-home Mom for six years, and during that time I have meal planned A LOT. Meal planning is a tremendous help on busy nights, and on nights when I would otherwise have no idea what to cook. Through the years I have found many ways that work. Today I am going to share with you some of the ways that I meal plan and the tricks that have worked for my family. Hopefully some will work for you, too!
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The Struggle For Oraganization is Real
I’m not sure if it’s just how my brain works, but I truly struggle to stay organized as a stay-at-home Mom. One area that I do tend to have better control over, though, is meal planning. While my plan is not always perfect, I do a pretty good job at making dinner plans and sticking with them.
I’ve been planning dinners ahead for at least five years now. Nothing is more annoying than being tired, busy and not knowing what you’re going to make for dinner. One of the first methods that I used involved a plain ol’ notebook. It was not one of the most organized ways to meal plan, but it did provide me with a system that worked….until now at least.
Life has changed and our needs have evolved since my days of the notebook. What was once my most organized ways to meal plan has now become a struggle. It’s just not enough for our family.
Over the last few weeks I have been researching meal planners, thinking about what we need and have been trying different ideas. While these might not all work for you, it is always nice to have some fresh perspective. And so without further adieu, here are some organized ways to meal plan for a busy family.
The Basic Meal Plan
The basic meal plan (as I’m going to call it) is pretty simple. Buy a notebook or a planner to start. Pick one day each week to sit down and plan out your meals. Just start with dinner so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. This is how I started my own meal planning journey. I would first look to see what we already had on hand. From there I would plan 5-6 meals each week, and then would leave at least one night for leftovers. Under each meal, list what ingredients you need to make that dish.
Once I had my 5 to 6 meals planned, then I would look in our pantry, fridge and freezer to see what I needed. This was when I started to create my grocery list. In my grocery list I would include what I needed for the meals that I had planned, and then I would add anything else that we needed for the week.
This method is pretty simple, and it worked for a long time. I would make it my goal to only go to the store once a week, and most of the time I was able to stick to that. It also worked great with our budget. I only bought what we needed…there was no buying in bulk. Most of the time I visited 2 to 3 grocery stores to make this happen, often paying attention to sales and coupons.
Kick It Up a Notch…Meal Planning for All 3 Meals
Currently this is partially where I’m at with my family. Now that my kids are at home during the summer and packing lunches during the school year, I find myself needing to plan ahead for all 3 meals. My husband also takes lunch to work on most days, so I have to plan accordingly for him as well.
Planning for all 3 meals is much like planning solely for dinner. Here are a few tips for planning ahead for all 3 meals:
- Plan ahead for dinners like you would in Basic Meal Planning.
- Have 2 to 3 items on-hand for breakfast that your kids will eat each morning. In our house we always have cereal, breakfast bars and oatmeal/grits in our pantry in addition to fruit, cheese and yogurt.
- Prepare ahead for lunches by having items such as bread, peanut butter, lunch meats, etc on-hand. When my kids are in school I like to rotate between sandwiches and bento boxes each day so that they don’t get bored with their food. In the summer we keep things like chicken nuggets and spring rolls in our freezer in addition to everything else we already use during the school year.
- Don’t forget the snacks! Yes, there are 3 meals but snacking is important, too. Always plan to include snacks in your weekly planning.
When planning ahead for all 3 meals, your list will be long. Don’t get overwhelmed! Take your list with you to the store. It will keep you focused on what you need, and it will get you out of the store a lot faster.
When The Organized Meal Plans Get Super Specific..
In addition to meal planning for all 3 meals, I find myself needing a very specific way to meal plan as of late. As my daughter continues her Occupational Therapy for feeding, I need to add new foods into our plan that aren’t always part of a normal meal. I personally am trying to avoid certain foods that my body is sensitive to. And of course, there’s the whole budget thing. There are so many specific needs within our household that my list now needs to be more specific.
When you get to this point of meal planning, chances are you’re searching for a planner or an app of some kind. I’ve found myself looking for that perfect planner that has everything that I need for my family. I ended up making one (you can find it in my Etsy shop) because I needed specific pages such as savings & rebates, and daily breakfast/lunch planners for my kids.
When you get to this level of meal planning, here are a few tips that are helpful:
- Plan all 3 meals as you would above. If needed, plan individual breakfasts and lunches for each member of your family.
- Write down any sales and coupons that you want to use when you go to the store. Make sure to note which store each sale/coupon is for. Take it a step further and organize your coupons in an organizer such as this one.
- Create separate sections on your grocery list if you plan to go to multiple stores. I always write down where I’m getting my items from so that I don’t forget anything.
Other Tips for Organized Meal Planning
There are several other things that I do to make sure that our meal planning is as easy and as organized as possible. We are only a family of 4, but if I don’t stay on top of things it makes meal planning harder on me. As a stay-at-home Mom, I’m all about making my own personal day-to-day tasks as simple as possible.
Some of my other tips and tricks include:
- Keeping a list of our favorite meals in my planner helps on the days when my brain really doesn’t want to do much planning. I can look at the list and say, “Oh…we haven’t had chicken salad in a while. Let me add that to my list!” I know that a lot of Moms get stuck in a rut of making the same things over and over again. Keeping that list of favorite meals close by is such a life saver in those planning moments.
- Keep open pantry items separate from unopened pantry items. I can’t tell you how many times I quickly glanced in the pantry and said, “We have that!” Then the night comes to make a certain dish and guess what….there was only a small amount of that item left. If you know which items are opened then you’ll know to double check and see how much is left.
- Pre-portion out the snacks! I can’t reiterate this one enough…I try not to buy the pre-packaged snacks in the summer because they can be so much more expensive than the single unit boxes and bags of snacks. Pre-portion out the snacks if you can. It’ll keep your kids from snacking endlessly, and you’ll be able to keep a better eye on quantity when meal planning.
- Plan around your family’s schedule. Don’t plan a bunch of meals that take a long time to prepare if you know you’ll be extra busy that week. Instead, plan meals like takeout, leftovers or slow cooker meals for busy nights.
- Don’t feel like every meal that you plan has to be fancy or complicated. When meal planning for the week, I always make sure to plan one or two quick and “lazy” meals. As a Mom you’re busy! Don’t burden yourself with gourmet meals every night. If your family is eating a salad with chicken on it and a side of plain rice, your family is still fed and it’s a healthy meal. Planning a pizza night with frozen pizza works, too. Just do what works best for your family.
Other Organized Ways to Meal Plan
There are so many other organized ways to meal plan. Whether you plan once a month or once a week, all that matters is that it works for you. I know so many Moms that say they wished they meal planned more often. It might not be your favorite thing to do, but it can be done. And it doesn’t have to be hard!
For those of you that meal plan, what tips or tricks do you have? Let me know in the comments below!
Now that I think I’ve mastered meal planning for my family, the next step for me is meal prep. Wish me luck!