It’s the age-old question that every child asks: what’s for dinner? Oh, the joys of having your dinner planned!
Creating a meal plan is a great way to save time, money, and possibly your sanity. If you have a meal plan in place, your waistline and your wallet will thank you. You won’t be as likely to dine out or raid your pantry for Oreos. You also won’t hit panic mode at 6:00 when everyone’s starving and there’s nothing in your fridge to throw together.
I know that meal planning seems like a lot of (very boring) work, but meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult. With a little thought, it can be a simple way to get food on the table every night.
Get started meal planning in four easy steps.
1. Create a list of your favorite meals
To simplify meal planning, start by making a running list of your family’s favorite meals. Include everything, even seasonal meals like burgers and brats that you make on sunny summer days or chili that you make on cold winter nights.
When you make your list, you can choose to include sides or only list the main course. I only include the main course because I like to buy produce based on what’s in season and on sale.
Also, feel free to create a running list of breakfast and lunches that your family loves, too. I choose to only include dinner because I stock my pantry with breakfast “staples,” like applesauce, oatmeal, etc., and then my kids get a choice every morning (if they think about their choice for more than ten seconds, Mommy makes the choice). Lunches are always leftovers in our house (boring, I know, but it works for us).
2. Add some new meals to your rotation
Next, flip through your cookbooks or Easy Recipes Pinterest boards. Are there any meals that you could (or would like) to make? Add these (with the cookbook name and page number or website where you found it) to your running list.
If you’re looking for healthy recipe inspiration, check out the Ultimate Healthy Meal Planning Bundle. With options for budget meals, freezer cooking, Instant Pot and slow cooker recipes, and diet specific recipes, like paleo, vegan, and gluten-free, it’s an amazing resource to eat better this year.
3. Make your meal plan pretty
If you want to make your list zen, feel free to make it pretty and fun. Download a pretty printable meal plan or even find a magnetic dry erase calendar that you could stick to your fridge.
Choose a layout with enough space to include upcoming events in addition to your meals. You may even want to write your grocery list on your meal plan and then bring it with you to the store.
4. Create your meal plan based around your season of life
As you’re creating your meal plans, try to think about the your current season of life. The last thing you want to do is get overwhelmed by a restrictive meal plan.
I used to meal plan on a monthly basis, which was convenient, but I found that I was more likely to stick to my meal plan if I planned it on a weekly basis.
Depending on the season, monthly plans may not be feasible. For example, monthly plans work well for us when I need to plan large meals to take to the field (lots of pulled pork and meatloaf sandwiches), but when we’re outside enjoying the summer weather, we’re more likely to stick to a weekly plan that can be easily changed.
As you’re creating your meal plan, think about the following:
Start with the staples that you have in your pantry and fridge. What do you need to use?
Next, what’s on sale at your local grocery store? Can you buy items on your next shopping trip to complement what’s already in your pantry? Plan your grocery list around your meal plan.
Refer to your running list and plan your menu for the week based on what’s in your pantry and what you can cheaply buy at the grocery store. Then list your meals in your planner each week as you create your grocery list.
Remember to check your meal plan every day! As I check my planner before bed, I remember to defrost the meat or lay out the ingredients for the next day’s dinner.
Planning your menu can seem like a daunting task. I’ve stopped and started countless times and tried so many different planning strategies that I wanted to tear up my “menu” and go out to eat every day.
The important thing is to figure out what works for you. By creating a running list of your favorite meals and planning your meals as you create your shopping list, you can take a lot of the guesswork out of meal planning.
Make meal planning simple, and you’ll be able to easily answer the “what’s for dinner” question every night!