Ah, meal planning.
It’s a love-hate relationship, isn’t it? I love feeling organized, having one less decision to make come meal time, and having the things that I need to make a delicious, nutritious meal for me and my family. I do not always love the actual sitting down to brainstorm 21 meals, every single week, plus snacks. I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it.
I’m certainly no expert, but over the years, especially since adding littles to our family, I’ve found a few ways to make the task of meal planning less daunting, more efficient, and dare I say, even somewhat enjoyable.
I think no matter where you fall on the organization spectrum, meal planning is a must. You are welcome to pull out the white board and plan out every single meal, snack, and side dish if that is your jam. Or maybe start with planning dinners for a week. Shuffle days around as needed. If you are not currently planning your meals, I want to challenge you to try it in some capacity. Give it a month, take it one week at a time. It really doesn’t need to be overcomplicated, fussy, or stifling. You can adjust as necessary to make it work for you, your family, your schedule.
Today I want to share with you some of my very best tips and tricks for meal planning. I hope you can try something here that will help your home run more smoothly when it comes to meal time.
Shop your stash first.
This is where I always like to start. Take a stroll through your food storage and see what you already have. Make note of anything that needs to be used up right away and plan meals for the next few days around those items. Write down any other ingredients you have that could add up to a meal. If you have ground beef in the freezer, and noodles and canned tomatoes are in the pantry, you’re just a few vegetables away from an awesome spaghetti dinner. Shopping your own fridge, pantry, and freezer before you set foot in the grocery store will save money and reduce waste.
Check your schedule.
Look ahead at the week (or month) and decide how many meals you actually need to plan for. If you have a commitment every week on the same night and you know you’ll just pick something up, account for that. Take into consideration that there will be nights where you will have more or less time to spend in the kitchen. Plan accordingly. I even like to check the weather sometimes to see what night would be best suited for chili, or if its going to be so hot that I’m not going to want the oven on.
Get into a rotation.
Just in case you didn’t know, you do not have to try 30 new, different recipes each month. If you love to cook and try new recipes all the time, by all means. Have at it. But you really don’t have to. Find a rotation of meals that you enjoy making, that your family enjoys eating. And repeat them. So simple. Honestly this took me way too long to figure out. Half the reason why meal planning was so stressful was because I was trying to come up with something new every. single. night. For some reason I felt like there was an unspoken rule that I couldn’t repeat meals, dinners especially, more than once or twice in a month. One day, I realized we were eating the same few things for breakfast and lunch over and over again with no complaints. Why should it be any different for dinners?
One way I’ve implemented this is with theme nights. For example, you could have Taco Tuesday, breakfast for dinner on Wednesdays, or pizza every Friday night. Some families have a different theme for every night. Right now we do just a couple. I think you’ll find that your family enjoys knowing what to expect on certain nights, and you’ll have some direction when you’re brainstorming meals.
Roast a whole chicken every week.
If this is something you’ve never done, don’t be intimidated. Its actually way easier than you may think. One of the easiest ways you can do this is the spatchcock method. I’ll link the recipe I follow here: https://natashaskitchen.com/spatchcock-chicken-recipe-video/ If you don’t have time to roast a chicken yourself, picking up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store will give you practically the same results.
Getting into the habit of doing this is a total game-changer. First, it is extremely economical. Whole chickens usually less expensive per pound compared to buying boneless chicken breasts, thighs, etc. I am actually able to buy chicken of better quality this way than I would be able to just buying separate parts and pieces.
This can also save a ton of time and effort. We usually get 3-4 meals out of just one chicken! On the first night, I roast vegetables with the chicken and we typically have a side of rice or sourdough. That night I shred the remaining chicken and it makes for a super simple meal later in the week, think tacos, enchiladas, barbeque chicken sandwiches. Then I use the chicken carcass to make some bone broth in the crockpot, which is a beautiful base for soup another night. There are so many variations on this, plenty of ways to change it up and keep it fresh as needed. But it has really simplified dinner time in our home.
This has been another very helpful shift for me. I used to (and sometimes still do) meal plan and prep on a weekly basis. It was beginning to feel like as soon as I had made a plan, bought the groceries, and prepped the food, it was already time to start over again. I was starting to feel burnt out on it all.
I have heard people talk about “batch-working” in the business world, which is basically where you group similar tasks together and do it all at once instead of switching gears between smaller, different tasks. I thought this made total sense, and have been trying to apply it to home-making. One area it really works with has been meal planning and prepping.
When possible, I try to plan, shop, and prep for meals a month at a time. It may seem daunting, but for me it has saved me so much time. Instead of setting aside a smaller block of time each and every week to do these things, I just take a little extra time on the front end, and then I don’t have to revisit it for another month. I sit down and plan out a months worth of meals, which really isn’t too bad if you use a rotation like I’ve talked about. Then, I shop for all of the main things at once. If you know you’ll go through 4 things of half-and-half in a month (please tell me we’re not the only ones?) then why not pick them all up at once, while you’re already at the store? Of course, there are things that won’t keep for a whole month at a time. I do usually go about mid-month for things like fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, and eggs. And I try to keep some frozen, canned, and dehydrated fruits and veggies on hand to get us through if we run out before then. Once again, super helpful if you are on a budget. The less trips you make to the grocery store, the better for your wallet.
Once I have all of my basics on hand for the month, I do my best to meal prep in bulk as well. Again, if you’re already going to make a mess in your kitchen and fill up the sink with dishes, you may as well get as much prep done as you can so that you don’t have to clean up that mess twice.
Meal planning is really one of the primary ways I manage my home. Everyone’s home, family, and schedule is unique, but there are so many ways to make this fit into your life and, ultimately, make it run more smoothly. I’ve made a free printable meal plan for you to use, along with an example of what a typical week of meals looks like for us. I hope you are inspired to try meal planning if its not something you do already, or to revamp your system if its no longer working for you.