Why meal plan?
If you want to eat healthy and cook more at home meal planning is the key to being successful. If you get home from work, don’t know what you are making for dinner or not quite sure you have all the ingredients you are way more likely to give into takeout, unhealthy snacks or freezer meals.
When I get home from work I am tired and I only have a couple hours to spend time with my son before he goes to bed, get dinner ready, and get everything ready for the next day. I don’t have time to be screwing around with a big fancy new recipe or even the stress of trying to throw something together that wasn’t planned. For me, meal planning helps me to spend more time with my family, make my evenings go smooth, and makes it possible to put healthy food on the table and eat together as a family.
There are so many meal planning methods that you can look into online. There are some folks who prepare their entire weeks worth of food on one day of the week. There are other folks who do an entire meal plan for you including shopping lists. There are also tons of apps/sites where you can meal plan on a calendar and it will help you build your shopping list. I think all of these are awesome in their own way. What is important is which one works for you!
Unfortunately, none of the methods I found online or with apps worked for me, so I developed my own. The main reason they didn’t work for me is because they were not customized to what my family likes to eat, the days my family actually has time to cook, and not customized to the season. I also wanted a system where I could spend only 10 minutes per week meal planning.
The purpose of the meal planning method that I developed is so that you can customize it to the needs of your family and life and so that you can do it very quickly each week.
My Meal Planning Method
Part 1 (One time Prep):
First you need to do some prep before you can start doing my meal planning method because the idea is that this is customized for your own family. Once you have this part done you will never have to think about it again unless you want to change out your recipes/update once in awhile. For the steps below you will need something to write down and brainstorm. You can do this with pen and paper or on excel. I prefer using Google Sheets.
The steps below may look like a lot and daunting but the whole point is once you do the one-time prep work you will then only spend 10 minutes per week meal planning!
Write down all of your family’s favorite dinners to eat in the warm months of the year that you want to continue to eat regularly. For all the items on the list you only want to eat once a month leave as is. For all the items on the list you wouldn’t mind eating more than once a month put a star next to them. For all the items on the list that are very fast and easy to make (even on a busy weeknight) underline them. Label this as your spring/summer list.
Write down all of your family’s favorite dinners to eat in the cold months of the year that you want to continue to eat regularly. For all the items on the list you only want to eat once a month leave as is. For all the items on the list you wouldn’t mind eating more than once a month put a star next to them. For all the items on the list that are very fast and easy to make (even on a busy weeknight) underline them. Label this as your fall/winter list.
Think of your schedule on a normal work/school week. Then write down all of the days of the week that you actually have time to cook. Also mark down which days of the week that you do not have time to cook.
Think of your budget and how much you can spend on food. Can you afford to eat out once a week? Can you afford to get a subscription service so that you save time by not shopping at a store? Refer to my post on Sourcing High Quality Food for tips.
If you decide to do a subscription service, you can customize your box (let’s say butcherbox for example) so that you get the meats in it that you have already planned to use on your dinner template. This way you ensure you are using everything you are paying for and not letting meat pile up in the freezer.
You are going to type out the days of the week for 4 weeks and then make 2 copies. To explain what I mean, you will end up with something like this:
- For the days of the week you have time to cook start filling in all the recipes from your list (except leave out the underlined items).
- For the items you put a star next to because you would not mind eating them more than once, you can decide how often you would like to eat that meal, if you want to make different varieties of it, and then fill that item in.
- For example, you may want to do “Taco Tuesday” where you have some form of tacos every Tuesday. You could do pork tacos one week, chicken tacos the next, fish tacos the next, and taco salad with ground beef the last week. Doing something like that would completely take care of Tuesdays!
- Now for the days you do not have time to cook you have a few options: 1) you can plan to make a big meal the day before (or even a few days before) so that you know you will have leftovers for that day. 2) you can plan to get takeout that night 3) you can plan to do a super fast/easy meal from your list that you underlined.
- The idea of the list is not so that you are set in stone for the entire a month and can’t change anything. The idea is that you have a pre-planned list so you do not need to think about it and it makes your weekly meal planning steps a breeze! You can always customize that week to your liking or to your schedule and whatever events/birthdays/etc. may be happening.
Make a grocery list of all the items you normally get on a weekly basis from the store and/or order online. This will not include all the ingredients for your dinner lists you just made above! Don’t worry about that right now.
Just make a list of the items you always want to have on hand and never run out of (Example: eggs, bananas, honey, butter). Since I order the majority of my food with subscription services I have two lists: 1) Grocery list for Online 2) Grocery list for Store.
Here is what my grocery list for the store looks like:
Dedicate a day and a person to go to the grocery store. Set a re-occurring calendar reminder on your phone for that day.
At my house my husband goes shopping on Mondays. The calendar alert will remind him (because I will be busy at work and won’t remember to remind him). He already has the grocery list of items in his email (refer to Part 2 below).
Part 2 (Weekly, Ongoing):
Congratulations! You made it to part 2 and you are wondering was part 1 really worth it? I am here to tell you…yes it is! This is going to save you so much time going forward!
Now you will want to pick a day of the week that you can do your weekly/ongoing meal planning. Ideally you will do this on the same day every week to make this process efficient. You can also assign it to ‘the weekend’, so you know at some point over the weekend you will get to it.
Here is a list of the things you will do weekly:
Going through the list below to do the weekly meal planning items takes me about 10-15 minutes on average per week.
- 1 – Scan over your pre-planned dinners for that week and see if there is anything you need to change. Example: Cousin Lilly has a graduation on Friday when you planned to cook meatballs. You will want to sub that out for something easier or plan to do takeout. You get the point…basically a quick run through to see if anything needs to be changed around.
- 2 – Add ingredients for dinners to grocery list. Scan over your pre-planned dinners for that week and write down all items you need from store/online.
- 3 – Add regular weekly items to grocery list. Remember the list you made back in part 1, step 6? Scan over your list of items you get from the store regularly and see if you need to add any of those to your grocery list.
- 4- Send an email to yourself/spouse of the grocery list. What I like to do is copy and paste the dinners we have planned to eat that week to the bottom of the email. The top of the email contains the items from the store we need to buy. This helps so that we can quickly refer to what we have planned to eat that week.
Ta-da! You are done. Since you did all the prep work in Part 1, you now can efficiently meal plan in 10 minutes per week. You have a dedicated a specific day that you meal plan and have dedicated a specific day that you go to the store, so now you don’t have to think about food anymore! There is no need for any stress about what you will make for dinner. It’s done and you don’t have to think about it again until next week when you will only spend 10 minutes again!
I hope this post was helpful and I hope it inspired you to make your own customized meal planning method that works for your family.