Throughout my career, I have become well versed in meal planning and grocery shopping. As a foodservice manager, planning a catered meal for hundreds and ordering the right ingredients was crucial for success. In my current role as "domestic engineer" of my household (moms, feel free to use that title), I use the same skills I have learned throughout the years to help my home run a little more smoothly. In this crash course of Meal Planning 101 + Free Printable, I am geared up and ready to set you up for success!
Why Meal Plan?
I'm still one of those people who uses a paper calendar and writes lists on post-its versus on my phone. I always have a running list of tasks going and am the type of person that feels gratified when I'm able to cross off a task. Even if this sounds nothing like you, I think creating plans for parts your life can really help the management of your day-to-day tasks.
I've heard it time and time again: walking into your kitchen at 5 pm and having no idea what to make your family for supper. You're tired, kids are hungry and you have somewhere to be by 7. Doesn't matter if you're a stay-at-home or working parent, often dinnertime is the only time during the day where your whole family can be together. What a waste to spend it stressing about the menu. I am so excited to share with you my tips and tricks for meal planning that you can implement in your home.
How I Meal Plan
I have settled into a good routine in which I meal plan and grocery shop once a week. I have tried planning further out and shopping only every few weeks but I felt I set myself up for failure. Planning for a week of meals doesn't take longer than 15 minutes and I can more accurately plan around other life things that may come up. I like to sit down on Sunday afternoon and knock out my meal plan for Monday through Sunday.
Even as a food blogger, I also get in a funk of finding new ideas for dinner. Enter Pinterest. I am always browsing and pinning ideas from other food bloggers. Check out my Pinterest page here for lots of ideas from The Darling Apron as well as other food bloggers I love. When I am feeling stumped, I browse my pins and it usually doesn't take long for something to catch my eye.
I also keep a list (on paper of course) of family favorites to add to the meal rotation. These can be recipe box recipes, recipes from a cookbook (mark down the cookbook and page number on your list for easy finding) or even recipes that don't require an actual recipe like *gasp* a boxed or frozen meal from the grocery store.
I like to separate this list into sections depending on the type of protein it's made with. My list is divided into Chicken, Beef, Pork and Meatless. I'm not a huge seafood fan but if your family is that would be another good section to add. When it comes to meal planning, picking a recipe or two from each section creates a variety of recipes for that week and saves even more time.
Looking for ideas? Be sure to check out some of my most popular dinner recipes:
Take-Out & Eating Out
I like to allow one day a week where I don't have to cook dinner. We budget for this amount so we feel comfortable doing this. Our family enjoys getting take-out or going out to eat, but adjust this to your family's preferences. We typically pencil this in for a weekend dinner as we are more likely to be out and about so it's nice not to worry about cooking.
Breakfast & Lunch
I don't tend to assign breakfast and lunch ideas to certain days. My husband takes his lunch to work with him most days, so he is the main consumer of dinner leftovers. I make sure I have the basics for sandwiches, salads, pasta, or pre-made items such as corn dogs or pizza on hand so I know I'm prepared when lunch time rolls around. Same goes for breakfast. Having cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, eggs and frozen waffles well-stocked also allows me to give my girls options and lets them make some of the decisions which I think is important. As you can see, my plans for breakfast and lunch are much more abstract than my dinner plans. The more you meal plan, the more you will fall into your groove and coming up with these ideas will become easier.
Here are a few of my favorite breakfast & lunch recipes:
Set Up for Success
This idea of getting in the routine of meal planning may seem daunting. Like most things in life, the first step is often the hardest. I encourage you to commit to trying this for a week or two and you may be surprised how much easier it makes your life. Also, if something comes up and you aren't able to make Tuesday's "scheduled" dinner and instead hit the drive-thru, give yourself grace and be flexible. Move that meal to a different day or consider it a bonus meal that you can use to get a head start on next week's meal plan!
I want to make this idea of meal planning as easy as possible for you. I have created this Weekly Meal Plan printable for you to use when creating your plans. Simply fill out the top section for dinner for the week. Use the breakfast and lunch boxes just to jot down ideas and options that you want to be sure to have stocked. I hope this Meal Planning 101 + Free Printable makes meal planning much easier for you!
Coming soon: A Grocery Shopping Game Plan utilizing the bottom half of this printable!