Editor’s Note: I confess I am a 30-something year old who has never done meal planning. And, boy do I need to! I am always crazy hungry right before dinner. When I am hungry stay out of my way, and expect bad choices to be made. I would say my meal planning strategy is mental, like keeping it all in my noggin, but I will admit we are usually short 2-3 dinners. So, I have to shop again mid-week. Angela, from Joyously Domestic, is here to save the day. You bet I will be using her tips below from here on out!
We’ve all been there. It’s 4:45 p.m. The kids are complaining that they’re hungry. You’ve just spent an hour helping your children with homework and you haven’t even thought about dinner. Panic sets in and you scramble to find something quick, but hopefully healthy to make on the fly.
With only 30 minutes of preparation each week, you can take away much of the stress and hassle involved in getting dinner on the table each night. I’ve created a list of helpful tips (along with a handy printable) that will make dinnertime run a little smoother in your household. The key is planning in advance, writing out a weekly menu plan (and grocery list) and doing your best to follow it through.
Set aside some uninterrupted time each week to plan out the following week’s menu and grocery shopping list.
Keep all the supplies you’ll need together in one area – maybe in a basket or binder. Some supplies to consider:
- A pen
- Paper and/or printed menu planner (the FREE menu planner at the end of this post helps make planning a breeze)
- An ongoing list of your family’s favorite tried-and-true recipes
- Printed/clipped recipes that you’ve collected online or in magazines that you may be inspired to try
- Weekly store circular ads (if you price-compare or want to check sale prices)
- Any cookbooks or cooking magazines you may want to browse for inspiration (your public library is a great place to pick up cookbooks and cooking periodicals to browse without making the financial investment of purchasing them)
- Welcome input from family members for dinner ideas or suggestions for the upcoming week. Visit Pinterest’s recipe category for inspiration. Bookmark recipes on blogs and cooking sites as you discover possible dishes you’d like to try.
- Take inventory of your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Doing this each week before my planning session has totally helped me in many ways. I take note of ingredients I have on hand that may need used up and am often inspired to base some of my meals around what I already have. This is an essential tip with regards to perishable items, like fresh herbs, vegetables or meats. Often I find that I’m lacking only an ingredient or two needed to pull together a complete meal, so I end up spending less at the grocery store, because I’m using up things that I already have on hand.
- If desired, you can plan specific dinners around sale prices that you’re aware of through store circulars or around coupons you have to use.
Consider Your Family’s Schedule
- Look at your family’s calendar for the upcoming week to pinpoint nights that may be filled with activities. Plan your meals based on the time you’ll realistically have to cook based on scheduling issues. Some days may be more-suited for say, a slow cooker meal that can be ready when you get home. While other days may allow for assembling a lasagna.
- This is a good time, too, to think of prepping some freezer meals on a less-busy day to keep on hand for those busy nights when time is limited.
- Also, consider making a meal or two that can be turned into something else for another evening’s dinner. For example, if you make Slow Cooker Mexican Shredded Pork for tacos, plan to make enough to utilize the leftovers in a quesadilla on another night when time is limited.
- Consider doubling a casserole or soup recipe – use one batch during your current week and freeze the second for the following week.
- Be honest and realistic with yourself as you plan for the week. If you need (or want) to have a night of ordering pizza or take-out due to a super busy schedule, plan for it. Planning in advance for eating out, if necessary, will prepare you to factor that expense into your weekly budget.
Put Your Plan into Action
- Even when using a menu planner template (like the FREE one below), consider jotting down your meal ideas on a scratch piece of paper until you’ve set everything in stone. List all ingredients needed. Cross off the ones you already have on hand. Once you have everything planned out, transfer it all to your menu planner and shopping list. (This is a good time, too, to paperclip any printed recipes you’ll be using to your menu planner.)
- Once you’ve decided on your meal plan, you’ll want to create your grocery list. Besides the main ingredients for each meal, include any spices, herbs or other ingredients you may need to purchase to execute each dinner. Don’t forget the side dishes! You’ll be more prepared for dinner each evening, if you plan for every component of your meal.
- Once you’ve written down what’s needed for your dinner menu, continue adding items to your shopping list that you’ll need for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Then, finish with any other household items you need.
- Think of ways to reduce the amount of time you’ll spend in the kitchen come actual meal-prep time.
- Consider jotting down any notes regarding prep work next to each night’s planned meal. For example, if you’re planning to have meatballs one night, maybe plan to mix them up and prep them the night before. Store them in the fridge and they’ll be ready for dinner without much hassle.
- Or, if a meat needs to marinate overnight, write this step down on your meal planner the day before to remind yourself to do it.
My final words of advice:
- Have fun with menu planning. Commit to trying one new dish each week. Have themed dinners. Maybe try a meatless meal each week. Need ideas? Check out the my recipe library.
- Get older kids involved in the planning and cooking.
- Know that all of your prep work will make for less stress and more enjoyment in the kitchen.
- You will also find that you save money by following a menu plan and will be less inclined to eat out throughout the week (or make poor food choices).
- And, you will waste less food by planning your dinners each week in advance, using up ingredients you have on hand, and not over-buying.
FREE Weekly Menu Planning Printable
I’ve created a weekly menu planning printable that you can print for free. To print, just right-click the image below to save the full-size image to your computer. Remember to print as a full page.
Need some new recipe ideas as you embark on planning your family’s weekly meals? I invite you to check out Joyously Domestic for lots of family-friendly recipes that are sure to inspire.
Great post with great tips! Love the printable, too!
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Thanks, Michelle! :)
Thanks for the printable. I find it helpful to designate a day of the week either by meat (chicken, beef, meatless) or by theme (Italian, Mexican, etc.) otherwise we can end up with too much repetition. Also, while we typically eat leftovers for lunch, it is helpful to plan for a leftover meal.
Rachel, I love your idea about planning which meals will have enough for leftovers. I like to do that during the week, so my hubby can take the leftovers for lunch the next day…but sometimes I forget. Definitely adding that to my plan!
I’m a HUGE fan of weekly meal planning! I found that if I sat down each weekend and pulled together enough meal ideas for the week I was less stressed around dinner time. However, I realized that assigning a meal to a specific day of the week did not work for us. Because, let’s face it, there were days where I just didn’t feel like eating fried rice – even though I had it scheduled for dinner that night. So now I just pick 7 dinner ideas, purchase all the ingredients and list the 7 meals out on our kitchen chalkboard. That way we can choose throughout the week which meal we want to eat that night. I’ve also found that my hubby is more likely to make dinner because he knows there’s a recipe to follow and all the ingredients are on hand. (It’s SO nice to have a break from making dinner every day – so we keep to the weekly dinner planning.)
I just read your post. I love following a meal plan! I keep a printout with 4 weeks worth of meals that I grab when I make my weekly shopping list. They are all budget/kid friendly meals. Monday- pasta/meatsauce, Tues-whole chicken(slowcooker), Wed-frozen pizza/movie, thurs-chicken quesadillas, Friday-grinders, sat-mac&cheese casserole. That’s just one example of a week. Keep track of what worked out best for the whole week, write it down (including side-dishes), and soon YOU will have a months worth of meals, and you won’t have to plan anymore :)