Here’s how to simplify meal planning so you can spend less time stressing about what’s for dinner and more time connecting with the people you love.
When it comes to simplifying, there are some things I’m good at and others I’m not. Meal planning would fall into the latter category. Choosing meals, grocery shopping, and actually getting dinner on the table feels overwhelming—but I’m trying to change that! The whole point of having a meal together is to connect with each other, and I don’t want that opportunity to get lost in the chaos of making the meal in the first place!”
On weeks I’m diligent about menu planning, I save money and help eliminate dinnertime stress. It’s a game changer, and that’s why I’m determined to make it work for me and my family.
4 Strategies to Simplify Meal Planning
Here are some practices I’ve put into place to help make meal planning a simpler and more regular part of my routine…
1. Designate a certain day of the week to meal plan.
For me, Sunday works best. I sit down and choose my meals and make my grocery list for the week. Having a certain day designated for menu planning has helped make it a more regular habit.
2. Enlist help.
Get the whole family in on planning, shopping for, and preparing food. My kids are much more apt to eat a meal that they’ve had a hand in making, and they’re actually excited to be involved in the process! I’ve started assigning a night to each of my kids to help prepare meals, and it’s actually been a lot of fun and has been a great way to spend some one-on-one time with them.
3. Grocery pickup.
I’ve recently started ordering my groceries online, and it has been life changing! You may think I’m exaggerating, but ordering from home and having someone do my shopping and load my car has simplified this entire process for me in ways I couldn’t have dreamed. I don’t know why I didn’t start doing it sooner.
4. A running list of favorite meals.
Scrolling through Pinterest to find recipes tends to overwhelm me and hamper my ability to menu plan. Keeping an ongoing list of favorite meals (ones I already know my family loves, plus a few new ones we’ve tried that were a hit) has made it easy to fill in our menu when I sit down to plan on Sundays.
Keeping a master list of favorite meals has really helped cut down on the time it takes me to menu plan. I can refer to this list and easily plug recipes into our weekly menu plan that I know my family will eat. To add some variety, I like to try one new recipe a week at the most—the rest of the meals included in our plan are tried and true favorites.
A few of our favorite meals:
4 Tools to Help You Stick With Meal Planning
There are a few tools that have really helped me stick with meal planning this time around. Be it kitchen gadgets, printable planners, or just a flexible mindset, I’ll take all the help I can get when it comes to planning and following through with our weekly meal plans.
1. A written plan.
Goals that are not written down are just wishes” –Fitzhugh Dodson
Recording my menu plan is essential. I use a combination of the reminders app on my phone, my cute 2019 calendar, and my meal plan/grocery list printable to record my plan for the week. The other thing that is helpful is having this plan displayed where I can see it throughout the week. Pinned to my fridge, inside my planner—it doesn’t matter where so long as it’s handy and I can refer to it often. Seeing it reminds me to pull meat out of the freezer on a given day or prepare a certain ingredient for an upcoming meal when I have a free minute. Seeing it often keeps me on track.
2. Kitchen gadgets that cut down on meal prep time.
There are two kitchen tools that have been key in cutting down on the time I spend in the kitchen preparing meals. My Instant Pot is one of them. It’s one of those appliances that I have sitting out on my counter because I use it almost daily. Not only has it cut down on meal prep time. but it has also helped eliminate the number of tools I store in my kitchen. My instant pot has replaced my rice cooker and my slow cooker and has definitely become a staple kitchen tool in my home.
The other tool is something I purchased recently, and I love how it cuts down on meal prep time as well. As our family is slowly moving towards a more whole foods-based diet, I find myself chopping and preparing more vegetables than ever. I use this 2-in-1 Alligator chopper regularly and I love that it helps me chop all kinds of veggies in a flash!
3. Utilize Leftovers.
Since I’ve been meal planning more consistently leftovers have become my new best friend. I actually create leftovers purposefully by making a bigger batch when I’m making a meal to be able to serve that meal again during the week or eat it myself for lunch. Leftovers are so useful when it comes to cutting down on your time in the kitchen.
I’ve actually set Wednesday nights aside as our official leftover night. It’s our busiest night with sports and church activities and it makes my life a whole lot easier to pull out a container of leftovers and reheat them for dinner.
Knowing that I will be utilizing leftovers regularly I’ve invested in some glass dishes that make reheating in the oven or microwave easy peasy. I love these glass dishes so much. I bought this set of glass divided containers that are my favorite color! I use them constantly.
4. A flexible mindset. Just because it’s written on my meal plan doesn’t mean things don’t shift around due to schedule conflicts or other things that may come up during the week. Be willing to move things around as needed. If you’ve already purchased all your groceries it’s easy enough to bump a planned meal to another day. Having a plan but not being so rigid that I have to stick to it at all times has helped take some of the pressure off when it comes to meal planning.
Finally, Focus on the Important Stuff
Without a clear plan, our intention to make healthy meals and enjoy dinner together as a family can quickly be derailed.
Having meals planned in advance and grocery shopping done means I can look forward to the time I have to focus on my family, help the kids with homework, and hear about their day instead of stressing about what meal to throw together at the last minute on busy weeknights. Meal planning starts out as a way to feed my family, but it really ends up being a way to feed relationships with the people who matter most to me.
If you have any tried-and-true tips to help simplify meal planning, I’d love to learn more! And if this is something you want to get a handle on, too, rest assured that we’re in it together, friend! Let’s do this!
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