If you aren’t already meal planning, the thought alone can be daunting and overwhelming. It takes time and forethought to plan an entire week or even month worth of meals.
Give it a try and you’ll discover that meal planning can actually be fun and satisfying.
First however, understand what meal planning is. By planning ahead and choosing meals, you will be setting yourself and your family up to a healthy lifestyle. Many people mistakenly think meal planning is about following a diet. It is however, simply choosing which meals your family will eat ahead of time.
By having a set plan, you will be less likely to settle for junk food or fast food.
You will have the ingredients on hand and not have to rush to the commissary at the last minute. You’ll have the peace of mind that dinner is set and you won’t be stressing over what you’ll make last minute.
Start meal planning by setting a specific time to write out a week’s worth of meals.
On Sunday mornings, I flip through cookbooks and magazines as well as search recipes in my recipe apps on my phone. Once you’ve found a few recipes you want to try, look through your pantry to see if you already have some of the ingredients. Make a list of what you need to buy at the grocery store and set a time to go shopping.
When choosing meals make sure to look at your calendar to see how busy your week is. There may be some nights that you need quick meals and some when family members will be eating at different times so you will need a re-heatable dinner. Decide on a night where you have plenty of time to make a big family meal. Take into consideration the weather as well. If it’s going to be particularly cold, you may want soup one night. The same goes for balmy nights when your family may enjoy grilling.
Make sure to include family members in meal planning. If you have a picky eater, let them choose one meal or at least one portion of a meal so that you know they will be eating something. Run the weekly recipes by family members to see their reactions to the choices. You don’t want to spend time and money cooking something no one is likely to eat.
Plan for leftovers. You don’t necessarily have to include 7 days in your meal planning. If you’re having soup or casserole this week, there might be enough for leftovers. You can also make extra so that you have leftovers. Freeze them to make another week easier if you don’t want to eat them the next day.
While you’re at the commissary, see what’s on sale. Most people will advise sticking to your shopping list to save money, but if you find something you know your family will eat, go ahead and buy it. You can fit it into your plans. Make sure not to overbuy however. If your refrigerator is stuffed, items will be hidden and go bad. When you get home, go ahead and prep food. You can wash fruit, chop vegetables and make sauces to save time later in the week.
Does this all sound like a lot of work? Make meal planning more fun with these 5 tips.
Designate a Theme for Each Day
It can be difficult to be creative with cooking so simplify the process by designating each weeknight as a different theme. Some popular themes include: Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Crockpot Wednesdays, Leftover Thursdays, Pizza Fridays, Sandwich Saturdays and Soup/Salad Sundays.
Make a Fun Menu Board to Display
Get excited about meal planning by presenting the weekly menu in a fun way. You can simply buy a chalkboard to hang on the pantry door or get creative and make your own. By having the weekly meals posted, you’ll know what’s next and so will your family.
Use a Meal Planning App or Website
You can simply use paper lists and a calendar or you can get creative and download a meal planning app for your computer or phone. Paprika is a great app to keep track of recipes, organize a meal calendar and make your grocery list but it isn’t free. I also use All the Cooks app to store and get recipes; it’s free.
Choosemyplate.gov is a great site to make sure the meals you’re choosing are healthy and cover all the food groups. You can search recipes and look up sample menus that fit proper nutrition by age, which is great for children.
Looking for more tried-and-true recipes? Browse the MilitaryShoppers’ Recipes Quick Search tool.
Get Your Family Involved
I already mentioned it, but it’s worth repeating. Why do all the work choosing meals? Get your family involved in meal planning. Ask them what they feel like having or challenge them to find a new recipe. Let your children help you with shopping as well as prepping meals.
Shape Up Meals with Colorful Ideas
This is particularly fun with kids. Set a night with all food in the same shape. Make meals colorful by designating a dish with everything the same color. You can work on the alphabet by nominating a night where all items begin with the same letter. This will get the whole family involved and having fun with it.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult; it can be quite fun.