So, you’re brand new to meal planning and are ready to get started, right? Before we get down to business, you need to do a little pre-planning work to get your system set up. I often see people jump into meal planning on a given week and do a great job of it for that week, but they aren’t really set up to make the next week is any easier. It’s almost like they’re starting at zero every week when they sit down to meal plan. And…week after week…this starts to play with your mind, to the point that you start not sitting down to do it at all because it requires TOO MUCH THOUGHT…a hot commodity for busy moms.
Here are the decisions that must be made before you start meal planning. If you are crunched for time (most likely), I’ve listed these in order of decreasing importance. Although, I firmly believe biting the bullet and doing all 4 of these will increase your chance of sticking to a meal planning program ten-fold.
1. Which day and time of the week will you do the following?
Meal Plan-This is totally up to you and often dependent on your family’s daily and weekly schedule. When I worked full-time outside of the home, this task was delegated to Sundays. A couple of months ago, I switched to Saturdays because I liked the idea of getting this weekend chore out of the way soon. And, over the last month, I’ve actually been doing this on Wednesday or Thursday and I heart the feeling of knowing this part of my life is planned and done. My weekends are so much more relaxing. And…even if you work outside of the home–it can be done during the week. I actually planned and placed my online grocery order this week while my hubs took the kids to soccer practice. Score!
Grocery Shop-I usually grocery shop or submit my online order the day I meal plan. I’ve got my list of meals right in front of me, usually I’ve got a good handle on what we have in stock and what we need because I just checked the fridge, freezer and pantry while planning out the week, AND I’m in that state of mind. Again, this is total personal preference, but I’ve loved shopping a day or two before I actually HAVE to have the food. It’s something about getting the job done before it has to be done that is super satisfying. Depending on how you grocery shop, this could take anywhere from an hour (place an online order and pick up at your grocery store) or several hours if you’re going to a number of stores.
Prep for the Week-This is the time you’ll need to do some of the work that you’d otherwise be doing every day. I take a bit of time to prep some freezer meals when I get meat on sale, chop up veggies that I’ll be throwing in lunches, making a soup to last most of the week, boil some eggs, pack up some trail mix and chips, etc. Really–this is my time to get some of the little items knocked off my list. This doesn’t need to be done all at once BUT, if you’re brand new to meal planning and prepping, you’ll need to schedule some time into your schedule. For me, it’s second nature not to freeze meat that hasn’t been seasoned, but if it’s not a habit for you yet, you’re better off scheduling some time. An hour to start with will be perfect.
2. Where will you keep a list of your family’s favorite meals?
I am a tried a true paper girl. I heart a great binder and love anything I can slap a label on. SO…I have a couple of recipe binders-one with my Wildtree freezer meal recipes and paperwork, one for regular meals, one that I *thought* was a household binder, but I NEVER open it. Truth is, though, for me, when I sit down to meal plan, I don’t want to be hunting through a ton of recipes.
I want to look at a list of recipes and decide which I want to cook. So, I HIGHLY recommend choosing one of the following to keep a list of your family’s favorites:
-An Excel file or Google Sheet
-A physical printout of your faves
-An app that you use to list your family’s faves
Really, the goal here is to find something simple, that works for you. The fancier you get, the less likely you’ll be to keep up with it, so start simple. If you’re just starting with meal planning, just brain dump. Get your family together and have them holler out their favorite dinners–don’t edit, just write. Later on, we can chat about how to organize this to have maximum efficiency, but for now, just get the list down so you have a starting point.
3. How will you display your meal plan?
I’m a firm believer that ‘seeing is believing’. 🙂 And..in this case, seeing that there is a plan is a huge step in the right direction of executing on that plan.
- I post my meals on a printed sheet of paper that I swap out every week, although I’m considering laminating it. I love it because it has a section to include an overview of our weekly schedule, which is super important when choosing which meal to cook which night. If you want a copy of the weekly planning page that my family uses, sign up below to get it.
- Right now, I scribble down my ideas with that AH-MAZING erasable pen by FriXion that I discovered when I was working full-time. I’m slightly addicted to the pens and the erasable highlighters they also make, which is perfect for highlighting categories of events–either pink for Kiddo #1, green for Kiddo #2, etc. OR a certain color for a medical appt, another for a due date, etc.
- I keep a more detailed family calendar, for sure, but this is a great way to see who’s home and who’s not–which is super important when it comes to meal planning. Don’t want to print something weekly? No worries. I have friends that use small dry erase boards or even
chalkboards. You CAN use a paper planner to jot down your plan–I know a lot of ‘mom planners’ have that space, but I also highly recommend posting it somewhere visible in the kitchen. Apps are great, too, so you can always reference it on the go, but again…I can’t stress enough the importance of posting it in your kitchen. If you do that often enough, on the week you forget or choose not to meal plan…that empty space will serve as a reminder to get your act in gear. 🙂 I put mine right there in our family command center. It’s below my weekly plans for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks and next to the simple morning and evening routines we TRY to follow. PS-enjoy that pic of the chalkboard wall. It’s the cleanest it’s ever been, other than the day we painted it.
4. What will you use to keep a running shopping list?
There are tons of options here, but the most common are apps for your phone and/or paper. Again, I’m a dinosaur. I use WunderList on my phone to ‘jot’ down items if I’m not near my paper list in the kitchen. I keep a laminated sheet on my kitchen wall where I write down items as I run low on them so I can add them to my paper list to take with me to the store, or have it next to me when I’m placing my online grocery order. YES!
I have high hopes of creating a template list of the items I always keep in stock, so I can just go down that list and transfer what I need to my weekly list. One day….
So, if you’re new to meal planning, take the next week and come up with the foundation of your system by coming up with answers to these 4 questions. Then, when you sit down to plan, you’ll have some of the legwork done. Please post in the comments which of these decisions is the hardest for you to make, and I’ll happily offer some suggestions and guidance. If you loved this article and are excited about what’s to come in this blog, please share the love by clicking your favorite social media icon below. 🙂 As one of my first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll share this with your friends, I’m totally asking. 🙂
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Too many recipes got you like....AGHH!?!
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