How to rock a meal plan

Whether you’ve already got meal planning mastered, or you’re vowing that this is the year you finally figure it out, we’ve got all the tips you need on how to make planning ahead part of your family routine this year.

Menu planning is a habit that can make a big difference to your time and your money—but with life on the go, how do you learn to rock a meal plan? We asked real families to share their meal planning techniques, and here’s how they do it.

Divide and conquer:

Developing a new skill takes practice—that’s why it’s a skill. So if meal-planning (or cooking!) feels challenging right now—you’re not alone. Instead of trying to do everything all at once, take a divide-and-conquer approach: when you start planning, pick just a few days out of the week where you’ll be planning to cook. To fill the gaps, consider batch-cooking and stocking your freezer and pantry with emergency supplies so that you always have food to fall back on—this quick pasta with chickpeas is a great three-ingredient option (bonus: it freezes well as a back up lunch!).

Pick your moment:

Quite a few of you meal plan on the weekends, either by pulling out a notebook and cookbooks or scrolling through sites like Pinterest, Epicurious or, ahem, our recipe archives—for inspiration. One mom shared this amazing weekend routine : “(I meal plan) every Saturday morning with my coffee when the kids watch cartoons. I typically plan five meals for the week. I do it using Notes on my iPhone. I have two ongoing lists. One for dinners (and school lunches). The other one for groceries. I can’t imagine not meal planning when you work full time and get home at 6!”

Put it down on paper (or your phone, or...)

Whether you prefer paper or digital, think about a method that will put your plan where you can see it. One family described how they use the white board on their fridge: there’s a box for their weekly shopping list, a list of the meals for the week, plus a list of all the meals they like to eat at the bottom for inspiration (and to make sure there are some sure-fire hits every week). If you have multiple cooks in your house, a shared calendar is another great solution: one parent commented, “I have a shared calendar on iCal that we plan meals in. I love it! Meals can be easily moved around and are searchable. In the notes I put where the recipe is (page number or url)—that way, someone else can cook if they are home first.”  Another family uses Google Docs: “We keep a list of meals in a Google Doc with recipe book or online references and a few categorizations...soup, easy, party, dip, difficult, pasta, etc. Then we make a week-long meal plan in Word by cutting and pasting or by hand, (suppers only) and draw up a grocery list. Voila.” And some of you suggested apps like Paprika that have meal planning/calendars built in so that all you have to do is tap to add your favourite recipes to your calendar, and then tap again to add the ingredients to your shopping list.

Take the pressure off:

Doing a smaller shop for fresh foods 2 or 3 times a week instead of trying to make one supply run count for the whole week means that you can stay flexible, and really use up what’s in your fridge while it’s fresh. Here’s how one family does it: “At home we do fresh groceries every second day, and dry groceries weekly. Generally, the big plan is not to waste foods and to eat loads of veggies/fruits. During winter, we cook soups and side dishes for dinner (soups are versatile and usually last for two days). Leftovers are taken for lunch to work.”

Theme nights

Some families swear by theme nights to help them divide up their meal planning in a manageable way without being overwhelmed by choices. Try Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Fish Friday, Soup Saturday, Breakfast for Dinner days...or these 20 other meal templates. Building in a Leftovers Day every week is also a great way to use up food you bought with good intentions but haven’t yet used—one family we heard from plans a stir-fry or casserole night every week to use up the last of their veggies. And if one night a week is a family games night or movie night, try the links for meal suggestions to go with the fun.

Delegate!

Getting your kids to help with your planning is a good way to ensure they’re excited to eat what’s on your menu (and you might be surprised at what they’ll pick out!) We’ve got more resources for you to meal plan here, and suggestions for kid-friendly cookbooks here. Plus, we have lots of advice in this tutorial for getting your tweens and teens in the kitchen and helping with meals. We’d love to hear more about how your family manages meal planning—talk to us on our Facebook feed, and follow us on Instagram and Pinterest for more menu planning inspiration!

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