What’s the point of making a meal plan?!?
I can still remember her look of disgust like it was yesterday. Hands on her hips, my daughter scolded me. “Don’t ever do that again, Mommy.”
We had completely missed her swim class.
I tried to get a healthy meal on the table that night, but once again, my failure to meal plan had completely ruined the evening.
Instead of planning a simple, quick recipe, I decided to try a new gourmet dinner from Hello Fresh. While I love Hello Fresh, it’s not the best dinner to make when you’re on a time schedule.
If you’re struggling to make dinner every night for your family or start (or even follow) a meal plan, learn from my mistakes! These tips will help you create a simple meal plan that works for your family.
P.S. Get my free weekly meal planning template at the bottom of this post, or get my full printable meal planner bundle HERE (with slow cooker and Instant Pot recipes included).
How to Simplify Your Meal Plan
Know your limitations
Are you the slowest cook ever? Me too, so don’t feel bad. 😉
If a recipe claims that you need 10 minutes of prep work but requires you to grate three carrots, chop cilantro, and mince garlic, you might need more time (or maybe even a new recipe, which is why I only included simple recipes in my meal planner).
Be realistic with your expectations.
If you’re trying to prepare a healthy, fresh, from-scratch meal, you’ll need more time than if you substitute a few ingredients, like using minced garlic from a jar instead of trying to chop it yourself.
And if you do decide to mince the garlic yourself? Allow extra time. Better yet, double the recipe’s prep time!
Plan ahead for the week
Take some dedicated time to create your meal plan. That might sound simple, but it’ll make a huge difference.
Start by creating a list of your family’s meals. Then, on a regular basis, create a meal plan based on those meals.
Especially when you’re starting out, you might find that creating a weekly meal plan works best. If your schedule changes frequently, a weekly plan is a great starting point.
However, if you have a set schedule, like kids’ practices every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, a monthly meal plan might be a better idea because you can plan different types of meals, like 30-minute meals or slow cooker recipes on the days when you need to rush.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t need to take a lot of time. You can easily plan your meals for the week (or even month) in 15 minutes.
Once a week, spend a few minutes reviewing your upcoming schedule for the week. Then, create your meal plan and grocery list based on the week’s schedule.
By the way, create your meal plan in pencil or erasable ink. You’ll want to create a meal plan that’s flexible enough to change with your schedule.
You may also want to color code your meal plan so you can quickly see what type of meal you need to make. I base mine on the nights when we have different activities, like blue recipes for my son’s evening sports practices and green for the nights when I have to take food to my husband on our farm. These Frixion erasable pens are perfect!
As you’re planning your meals, make sure that you take your family’s calendar into account. Look at the week ahead and base your meals around your schedule. On nights when you have swim lessons, use your slow cooker or even eat leftovers (yes, leftovers can be part of your meal plan).
Prepare your meals ahead of time
In addition to following a sensible meal plan, start preparing earlier. If your family normally eats at 5, aim to have dinner on the table by 4:30. Even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll still eat (and finish) earlier.
Also, start chopping, precooking, etc. ahead of time.
Try batch cooking on a Sunday afternoon and cook enough chicken for the week. Or, try freezer cooking and prepare two meals – one for dinner and one for the freezer. Then, on busy nights, quickly prepare the frozen meal without the hassle of meal prepping.
Use simple tools
There are so many tools to make meal planning and prepping easier. However, if you really want to simplify, try using MyFreezEasy or Hello Fresh.
When you use MyFreezEasy, you can download a month’s worth of recipes. Your menu is already planned for you! Then, as you’re preparing your meals, make two – one for dinner and one for the freezer.
Another great way to simplify your meals with MyFreezEasy is to do all of your meal prep for the week on one day. Then, freeze everything! You’ll have a fully stocked freezer (and meals for the week) in no time!
You can also use the MyFreezEasy app and search for recipes by type. For example, if I planned on making Red Wine Beef Roast in the slow cooker but I forgot to thaw the beef, it’s simple to search for Instant Pot Red Wine Beef Roast, which I can make in an hour, even with a frozen roast.
Hello Fresh is a meal delivery service, so it’s a little different. Each week (or whenever you designate), you’ll receive a box with individual meals. All the ingredients are included. When it’s time to make the meal, you just follow the directions on the recipe card and viola – you’ll have a restaurant-worthy meal in your own home.
Hello Fresh tends to be a little more gourmet than your average recipe, so plan ahead and use those recipes for a Saturday night stay-at-home date night or a night when the kids don’t have evening activities.
I’ve also started using my Crock Pot and my Instant Pot for every meal possible. They take the guesswork out of cooking (no more burned dinners). Also, dinner is cooked without much effort on my part. 🎉
Find easy recipes
Part of what makes meal planning so wonderful is that it can be as simple as you want.
Make sure you include your family’s favorite recipes, but as you’re brainstorming your list, feel free to try new recipes.
To keep track of your recipes, add them to your “favorite meals list” with a note on where to find the recipe, including a page number if it’s from a cookbook. If it’s a digital recipe, print it for easy access and add it to your meal planning binder or save it to your “Easy Recipes” Pinterest board.
Getting dinner on the table is possible, even if you’re super overwhelmed. With a little meal planning, you’ll be able to make healthy family meals quickly and easily, even on busy school nights.