1. Do it Weekly
Don't make it harder than it needs to be. A monthly plan looks great on paper, but in reality trying to come up with that many meals at one time can be super daunting. The more daunting the task the more likely you'll quit, so just make it a weekly thing. If you're a once a week grocery shopper this should be pretty easy to do. And only plan dinners! Sure, I have a running idea in my head of what I'll be preparing for breakfast and lunch, but I don't write out a plan for every single meal. The point is to make meal planning a regular thing, so I only make a weekly dinner plan because that's just a lot more do-able for me. Some may not agree with this, but I'd rather take little bites I can handle than choke by biting off more than I can chew. Does that make sense?
2. Create a "Favorites" Book/List
When you're first starting out with meal planning actually figuring out what to make can seem impossible.......let alone figuring out 5 or 6 meals at one time. I recommend keeping a "favorites" book or list to help you get over the "what should I make" hurdle. Having a quick reference guide of favorite meals your family enjoys helps to make the planning process less time consuming.
3. Put Your Phone to Work
I've seen lots of free printables online that can be used to keep track of your weekly menus helping you to avoid eating "repeater meals" (eating the same thing every week). What I personally find most helpful is taking a phone picture of my weekly menu and then when I sit down to plan the next week's meals I pull that picture up to use as a reference. This keeps me from getting into a meal rut. Pinterest is also a great place to keep favorites. Get specific with your boards like "slow cooker meals" or "dinner in 20 minutes".........the more specific, the easier it will be to find exactly what you're looking for when it's time to make your plan.
4. Schedule Meal Planning Time
Make meal planning part of your weekly routine. Set up a day/time that you can sit down to write down a plan. Maybe even set up an alert on your phone to remind you to do it if you're new to meal planning so that you won't forget. I make my meal plan for the week on Sunday at the same time I make my weekly grocery list. If your schedule seems too crazy to actually set up a time for meal planning, figure out a time where you can squeeze it in - like during your lunch hour or maybe while you're sitting on the side of a soccer field or you're in the lobby of the dance studio. Somewhere in your busy schedule you can find 10 to 15 minutes to write out a weekly meal plan, and that 10 to 15 minutes will save you loads of time and stress in the long run!
5. Work Your Plan Around Your Life
Meal plans go out the window if they don't work with your schedule. It's important to plan dinner around things like after-school activities, meetings and appointments. When you write out your weekly plan be sure to check your calendar first so you can plan accordingly.
6. Be Realistic
It's easy to let Pinterest recipes and beautiful cookbook photos carry you away. I'm not saying that you shouldn't try new recipes, just that if you've planned a weeks worth of recipes you've never made before you may end up feeling overwhelmed. Be realistic about your skill level in the kitchen and about the time you have to prepare a meal. I typically leave the new recipes I want to try to the weekend when I have a little more time to play in the kitchen........and time to recover if something doesn't turn out well. ;)
7. Get the Family Involved
There's nothing worse than taking the time to plan out a weekly dinner schedule just to have the rest of your family moan and groan over the menu. Most weeks my husband helps with the meal planning, and I typically let my kids choose a dinner they would like me to make once a week. This way everyone gets something they like. And the bonus is I don't have to think up every meal on my own!
Meal planning is kind to the budget, encourages healthy eating habits and takes the stress out of meal preparation. With school getting ready to start back up there is no time like the present to make meal planning a part of your regular routine. Honestly, meal planning has also made cooking feel like less of a chore and more of something I actually look forward to doing for my family. It also makes busy school nights feel less chaotic!
Are you a meal planner? Do you have any meal planning tips to share?