Meal planning can be daunting and feel impossible but it doesn’t have to be! It can be quick, easy, strategic and it can make everyone in your household much happier. After years of meal planning for a busy family of 5, I have come up with these 10 time-saving and crucial tips to make meal planning a simple process. Practicing these 10 Best Meal Planning Tips for Busy Families has created an avenue for me to bless my family, happily welcome dinner guests, and has made sitting down for dinner a much more peaceful experience. 😉
The 10 Best Meal Planning Tips for Busy Families
TIP #1: Make meal planning just a 15-20 minute process.
If you are new to meal planning or if you are just busy like me, it is going to be a lot easier to stick to meal planning if it doesn’t take a lot of time. Don’t get all wrapped up in some 45 minute process because that just isn’t going to sustain itself. Spend 15-20 minutes meal planning and you will actually do it each week. These tips will help you simplify your meal planning process to keep it short and simple!
TIP #2: Meal plan with your calendar or planner next to you.
Having your week’s schedule out next to you as you are meal planning makes the process so much faster and much easier. You will immediately be able to see what nights you will need a fast and easy meal, which nights everyone will be home, which nights you will have company over, etc. Then you can easily meal plan accordingly.
TIP #3: Keep a binder of quick and easy recipes, family favorites and new recipes you want to try.
This will make your meal planning process VERY fast. As I stated in my Meal Planning 101 post (if you haven’t read it, you definitely should!), I keep a binder of recipes containing those three kinds of recipes (quick and easy, family favorites, and new recipes to try). I keep the recipes in plastic sleeves so they are easily to pull in and out. As I meal plan, I simply flip through the binder and pull out a balance of all three of those recipe categories. Then I put those recipes in the front pocket of the binder in the order I plan to make them that week.
If I make a new recipe and my family doesn’t like it, then I get rid of it, never to be seen again in my meal planning binder. 😉 This totally streamlines the meal planning process and I can get it all done in 15 minutes, easy!
TIP #4: Plan meals according to the expiration of your ingredients.
In other words, use the ingredients that spoil quickly, first. Don’t save those quick, expiring ingredients for the end of the week.
The first reason is because the ingredients could spoil before you ever get the chance to make the meal.
The second reason is because you may have a random pizza delivery night in place of a planned homemade meal during the week. We all have evenings that we are exhausted and even a prepped meal feels like too much work. So the ingredients for that last planned meal will be spoiled before you get to make that meal. Make sense?
TIP #5: Meal plan based on which vegetables and fruits are in season.
Why? Because those are the fruits and vegetables that will be on sale! Buying produce that is “in season” also gives you the chance to buy local items that are more fresh and therefore have more nutrients. This strategy could also be used as the “side item” of your meal if you have one (it is not necessary).
For example, if you have a meal planned like Cauliflower Soup and it is Spring time, then maybe plan for a side of asparagus. Asparagus is “in season” in the Spring and will be on sale at most grocery stores.
TIP #6: Have a list of your family’s favorite meals.
This is a very important list to have on hand. That way, you can always incorporate a couple of your family’s favorite meals into each week’s meal plan. This is great for a few reasons.
First, these meals are probably ones that you are familiar with and can make fairly quickly.
Second, you don’t have to search for new meals all the time and not even know if it’s a good one. And third, you know you are going to make your family happy by making their favorite meals! It’s really a win-win. 🙂 And this leads me to my next tip…
TIP #7: Ask your family what their favorite meals are a few times a year.
If you realized after reading Tip #5 that you don’t know which meals are your family’s favorites, then make sure to ask each member of your family what their favorite meals are! Remember to ask your family this question a few times a year in case there are any new favorites. And don’t forget to write those meals down.
Try your best to get in at least one of everyone’s favorite meals over the course of a month. It’s a great way to show each of your family members that you are thinking of them, you heard them and that you want to make them feel special.
TIP #8: Write down your meal plan according to each day and post it visibly.
This may seem like a no-brainer but if you don’t write down what meals you plan to make each day then you may forget (at least I do!). Or you may make a meal on a day you actually planned another one. Then later in the week there may come a scheduling conflict that prevents you from making that original meal. Having a visible “menu” also helps your kids and husband know what to expect for breakfast, lunch or dinner each day.
TIP #9: Quickly make your grocery list and put it in your purse.
Making your grocery list should take less than 5 minutes of your meal planning process. All of your meals are planned so you can simply write down the ingredients you need from each of the recipes. Add anything additional you need from the store (i.e. toothpaste, paper towels, batteries, etc.) to your grocery list.
*A trick that saves time for me is to always have a piece of paper on the fridge to write down anything you run out of or that anyone in your family mentions they need that week. You can do this on the Memo app of your cell phone too.
And don’t forget to stick the grocery list in your purse right away (so you don’t forget it when you go shopping)!
TIP #10: Only try 2-3 new recipes each week.
Just because Pinterest shows a ton of gorgeous, healthy recipes, doesn’t mean all of your meals need to look that way. If your family loves spaghetti, then make spaghetti! If your family loves macaroni and cheese, then make macaroni and cheese (even if it’s from a box – I prefer Annie’s Organic Mac n Cheese!).
Use meal planning as a tool to show your love to those around you. If your husband hates cumin (like mine does! ha!) then don’t make recipes with cumin, or just omit it from the recipe. It’s great to try new meals but remember that meal planning is about making your week easier, your meals a little healthier and your family happy, so don’t get too crazy 🙂
If you plan to make too many new meals in a week, you will be more stressed. Not only will it take more time out of your day, but your family will probably complain and you probably won’t make all of those meals that week. This means you will throw away a lot of food and will have wasted money. Make your meal planning process SIMPLE and QUICK because that will make it a sustainable practice for you.
These 10 Best Meal Planning Tips for Busy Families have really changed the way I plan and cook for my family.
I am able to fit in my 15-20 minutes of meal planning each week SO easily. My weeks (especially my evenings) go much smoother too, which makes everyone happier! I am also able to prepare and plan for healthier meals. And I am cooking meals that my family and friends will truly enjoy throughout the week.
The next step in this process is to meal prep.
If you are wondering if I meal prep, the answer is yes. However, I simply don’t have the time to meal prep for an hour or more on a Sunday afternoon. If you share this dilemma with me then I have a Meal Prep 101 post that you will enjoy, where I share my strategies to meal prep in 30 minutes or less. This quick meal prep process is crucial for my meal planning success.
If you are looking for clean-eating recipes to begin your meal planning process, feel free to follow me on Pinterest to gain access to a variety of clean eating meal options and recipes. You can also view all of my recipes on my website by clicking here.
I hope these 10 meal planning tips have helped you feel equipped to begin to meal plan. I would be happy to answer any questions if you would like to shoot me an email at autumn@ahouseahappyhome.
Are you ready to meal plan for this week now?
I hope so! If you’re feeling encouraged but are still not quite ready to plan your week of meals, I would love to help you by giving you a FREE gift of my “One Week of Dinners” eBook! What could be a better way to launch your meal planning strategy than for someone to provide your first week’s meal plan for you?! It’s the perfect way to get your feet wet.
All of the recipes in my eBook have tons of flavor and fit “clean eating” preferences, AND to make your week of meal planning even easier this eBook comes with a complete printable grocery list! All for FREE. 🙂
And as always, feel free to share this post with a friend! If you know someone who is stumped on the meal planning process, use the sharing buttons to share this post.