Meal Planning 101

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There is a lump in your gut and your palms are sweaty.  It’s 4:55pm and you have NO idea what to make for dinner. You can’t justify going out to eat {again} when you just went grocery shopping 2 days ago. Here are some of the thoughts that have run through my head in that moment… “Is a peanut butter sandwich okay for dinner?” “Is a bowl of cereal okay for dinner?” “Is a can of beans okay for dinner?” “Ugh”.

It seems no matter how well intentioned I am there are still those days and I imagine there always will be. I have found that they are much fewer and farther between when I plan out my meals for the week and shop for those meals. It sounds so simple…but it’s a challenge. And since it’s a challenge for me I assume it is for a lot of other parents. So, I have created some of my top tips for meal planning.

1. Write it out. Even if you you can do algebra problems in your head with ease it’s a good idea to write down your plan. There are some nice apps for smart phones or tablets that you can download. I’m old school and like pen and paper so I created templates for a weekly meal planner and a grocery list and I am sharing them with you.

Meal Planner 2014

Grocery List

2. Take it a week at a time. When I first started planning meals I tried to do a month at a time. It never quite worked out for me because often I would have rearrange and change things because events and schedules and it seemed I was re-doing all the work anyways. Plus planning one week is a lot less time consuming.

3. Key Ingredients. Pick a few main ingredients you can use in different dishes during the week. This will help reduce food going bad and save you money.

4. Repeat. Not every meal needs to be Pinterest worthy. We have homemade pizza on our meal plan every week. I am not joking, literally every week. If you find recipes that work for you that you can vary from time to time… those are gold!

5. Double Batch. Piggy backing on #4, make a double batch of a family favorite meal and freeze it for the following week.

6. Let the kids help. I often ask my daughters what are some meals they would like to have. Usually I get something crazy like “chocolate covered chicken” from my five year old and macaroni and cheeses for all meals from my two year old. But there are some pearls of wisdom in their answers that I can shape into a meal.

7. Wiggle room. Remember it’s called a meal plan not a meal mandate. Feel free to change things around during the week. For example if something you hadn’t planned on happens to be on sale when you get to the store…time to replace a few items on your plan.

8. Phone a friend. When you hit a wall and all of your favorite websites and cookbooks aren’t helping ask a friend what they had for dinner last night. Chances are it just might give you a good idea.

9. Recreate. Think of a meal you love to order at a restaurant and plan an at-home version. Chances are it will be healthier and tastier. We love making burrito bowls at home. Rice, spicy sweet potatoes, grape tomatoes, lettuce and guacamole is my favorite. Yum!

10. Snack away. I find I make a more balanced and reasonable meal plan if I am not hungry when I sit down to plan. I usually grab a snack (it’s brain boosting) to munch on while I work.

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I would love to hear from you…What tips and tricks work well for you?

Lastly I am including a few of my favorite Yummy Sprout recipes I frequently add to my meal plans:

Personal Pizzas

Coconut Fish Sticks

No Bake Granola Bars

 

Happy Planning!

 

Tara is mom to two energetic daughters Bianca and Iyla. Passionate about inspiring others to cook healthy, delicious and allergy-friendly food, she owns Yummy Sprout, which provides healthy culinary adventures through classes and more. Check out yummysprout.com. Tara has been featured in the Wisconsin State Journal and on Channel 3 WISC-TV on topics including “making your own baby food”, “cooking with kids” and “packing healthy school lunches”. She adores living in Madison and all it has to offer family life. Her favorite ways to spend time include messing up her kitchen while recipe testing, running, yoga, writing, painting, traveling and reading books with her girls.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Meal planning seriously changed my life. I actually enjoy cooking and we are pretty adventurous eaters but
    1) I’m not a great chef
    2) I only know what I know and I’m not very creative on my own
    3) the part of cooking I hated was deciding what to make

    We found ourselves either defaulting to a balanced but boring meal (grilled chicken, brown rice and steamed broccoli) or trying to get fancy, looking up a recipe online at 5pm searching for ingredients at 6pm, running to store at 7pm, cooking at 8pm and eating at 9pm barely awake to enjoy it.

    I researched options for meal planning services and found some phenomenal companies many of which were recent start ups to clearly fill this need. We chose The Fresh 20 as it worked best with our family. We also use Hello Fresh and Plated from time to time as well for busier days and rely on freezer meals to fill in the rest. I enjoy prepping and cooking with my kids and husband, others can always help too because everyone always knows what is for dinner, the recipe for the meal can be found on the counter, and all ingredients are always on hand for the week. Life changing!!!

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