INSIDE: If you’ve been thinking about giving meal planning a go but have absolutely no idea where to start, this post is for you. I’m sharing my best meal planning tips and tricks for not only getting started on the meal planning front but how to keep the momentum going too.
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Aside from self-care, my next absolute favourite topic to talk about on the blog is meal planning. Why? Because when it comes to making family life LESS stressful and MORE enjoyable, meal planning can be a MASSIVE game changer! I’ve been meal planning for about five years now and I cannot tell you how much easier getting dinner on the table has become for me and my family as a result.
A huge game changer…
If you have multiple mouths to feed and a busy schedule, meal planning really is the way to go. To say that it’s relieved my 5pm stress would be a HUGE understatement. Not only has it taken away the stress of figuring out what to cook each night, mealtimes are now quicker and easier to prepare. They’re also healthier, I waste less food AND I’ve saved money too – and so can you!
Knowing where to start…
If you’re new to meal planning it can seem a little overwhelming. Just where do you start? How do you make it work for your family? And how do you keep the momentum going? Well, that’s what this post is all about! I’m sharing my best meal planning tips and tricks. The meal planning strategies I’ve discovered over the years to not only get you into the habit of meal planning but make meal planning a breeze too.
Come the end of this post you’ll know exactly what you need to do to get started. It’s time to say goodbye to stressed-out meal times and hello to a dinnertime that’s much more enjoyable. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
Meal planning tips and tricks…
#1 | Know your schedule
If you want to make meal planning work for you and your family, you need to know your schedule. Creating a meal plan that’s full of complicated or labour-intensive dishes for nights where you’re tight for time won’t work. All it’s going to do is stress you out! Sit down with your diary and look at what’s going on when. Choose quick and easy meals for the nights where you don’t have a lot of time and save those that require more effort for when time isn’t at a premium.
#2 | Set aside time to plan
Meal planning works, but you do need to set aside time each week to do it. I usually do mine on a Sunday evening once my youngest is in bed as it’s quite and I can think without interruption. Choose a time that’s good for you and give yourself at least 30 minutes to go through your diary and create your meal plan for the week. Check your pantry, decide what you’re going to cook each night and write out your shopping list. Make this process a weekly habit and you’ll get quicker each time.
#3 | Make a list of your favourite meals and their ingredients
Having a list of meals you regularly cook that you can scroll through each week and pick something from makes life so much easier. It makes the planning process quicker too! What meals do you like to cook that are easy to make and popular with your family? Add them to your list. Don’t forget to ask your family what they like to eat too! Not sure what to add? Check out my post Ten Places to Find New Meal Ideas for some inspiration.
#4 | Stick with what you know
It can be tempting to try all kinds of new meals but meal planning is meant to make your life simpler. And so, one of my favourite meal planning tips and tricks is to stick with what you know. Save new dishes for when you have more time to experiment and practice. Then, when you’re well-versed in making it, add it to your list of go-to meals. Whatever you do, don’t try mastering a new dish when you’re tight for time. It’s guaranteed to raise your stress levels!
#5 | Give each day a theme
A great way to make the meal planning process quick and easy is to give each night a theme. It helps to keep dinners balanced and varied too. Think Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Crockpot Wednesdays, Leftovers Thursdays and Fish Fridays. Scroll through your list of go-to meals and pick something that fits. To make life even easier, categorise your go-list according to your themes!
Chrysti over at Margin Makin Mom has a great post on how to make themed meal planning work for you. Not only does she share the benefits of using thematic meal planning, but you’ll also find some great tips on how to make it work for you and your family too. She even has a free weekly themed meal plan printable that you can download. With a list of 22 possible dinner themes, including 3 meals for each theme it’s definitely worth checking out!
#6 | Choose one-pot dishes as much as possible
Not only are one-pot dishes generally easier to prepare, they save on washing up too! Think what one-pot dishes you can add to your list and try to make them at least once a week. See if you can add a few sheet-pan dishes to your list too. Just like one-pot dishes, there’s a lot less to clear away after.
#7 | Use as few ingredients as possible
Just like opting for one-pot and sheet-pan dinners, choosing meals with as few ingredients as possible can make getting dinner on the table a lot easier too. It helps to keep your food bill down too. Jamie Oliver has some great recipes that have 5 ingredients or less. His new book 5 Ingredients: Quick and Easy Food is currently sitting at the top of my wish list. You’ll also find lots of great meals with 5 ingredients or less over on the blog Living Well Spending Less.
#8 | Empty out your pantry before you start
If you’re new to meal planning, you’ll find that you have a few random things in your pantry. Try to use them up first. Go through everything in your pantry and get rid of anything that’s out of date. Make a list of what you have left and use this to help you come up with meal ideas for the first couple of weeks.
#9 | Be clever about how you stock your pantry and freezer
When it comes to meal planning, your pantry and freezer are your best friend. So, use them wisely! Be clever about what you put in them and planning what you eat each week will be so much easier. Instead of cramming them with things you never use, go through your list of go-to meals and ask what ingredients you can stock up on. Fill your freezer with proteins and frozen vegetables. Stock your pantry with staples like rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, canned fish, sauces, stock cubes and herbs and spices.
#10 | Cook double and freeze it
Making something that freezes well? Cook twice the amount and freeze it in portions ready for another day. Mark it with a use-by date of three months from when you freeze it, then when you need it, simply defrost in your fridge overnight. We do this all the time. Not only does it make busy nights easy to manage, it’s great for those evenings when you can’t be bothered to cook!
#11 | Batch cook your favourite meals
Like cooking double and freezing it, batch cooking your favourite meals and freezing them can save you a ton of time. Set aside a Sunday afternoon or one evening when the kids are in bed and knock up a few of your favourite meals. Freeze them in portions so they’re ready for when you need them. This works great for busy seasons. I also did this before my youngest was born. It made those first few months of looking after him a lot less stressful!
#12 | Use the last week of the month to use up items
Doing this not only saves money but it’s a great way to stop things from going out of date. For the last week of the month, my Hubby and I do a ‘Chopped’. Just like the TV series, we challenge ourselves to use up as many ingredients as possible before we go shopping again. We’ve definitely made a few wild and wacky creations but it’s good fun!
#13 | Shop from your pantry and freezer first
Fill your pantry and freezer with the ingredients you need to make your go-to meals and you’ll be able to ‘shop’ from your pantry first. Food shopping will become a whole lot easier. You’ll spend less and you won’t need to buy quite so much each week either. With all your non-perishables in stock and your proteins in your freezer, all you’ll need to buy are your fresh ingredients each week.
#14 | Have a running list of what you need to buy
There’s nothing worse than going to write your shopping list and you can’t remember what you’ve run out of! Eliminate that unnecessary stress by keeping a running list of what you need to buy each week. I use a shopping list app on my phone. As soon as I run out of something, it gets added to my list. Then, when I sit down to meal plan on a Sunday evening, the majority of my shopping list is already done. I can even change the order of my list so that it matches the layout of my favourite grocery store!
#15 | Use your slow cooker
My slow cooker is worth it’s weight in gold. Not only do I use it to cook dinner for nights where I’m pushed for time, but it’s great for meal prepping too. I often cook a whole chicken or pork shoulder in it and then shred them and freeze them in portions for another day. It’s amazing how many meals you can make from just one chicken! You can even use your slow cooker to make bread! Who knew?!
#16 | Track what you eat
It might seem like an extra unnecessary step but keeping a note of what you eat takes meal planning to a whole new level. Not only is it easy to spot when things are getting samey, you instantly have another list of meals for inspiration. Track what you eat for two or three months and you have ready-made meal plans pre-approved by your kids to use again and again. Simply rinse and repeat!
#17 | Prep the night before
Make getting tomorrow night’s dinner out of the freezer part of your routine. Add it to your list of things to do when cleaning up the kitchen each evening and you’ll never forget to defrost what you need ever again! If you know you’ll struggle to remember to do it, simply set a recurring reminder on your phone. That’s how I do it!
#18 | Allow yourself more time in the beginning
You’ll get faster the more you do it but the first few times will take you a little while. Be prepared for it. Give yourself time to create your list of go-to meals and time to empty your pantry of foods you don’t need. Set aside time each week and you’ll soon get into the habit of doing it and find it quicker and easier each time.
#19 | Give yourself time to get in the swing of things
Just like anything new, it takes time to get into the swing of things and figure out what works for you and your family. After a few weeks you’ll work out which meals work best on what nights and which ingredients you need to stock your freezer and pantry with. Go with those first few weeks and consider it an experiment until you nail your processes.
#20 | Do whatever works for you
Finally, just do whatever works for you! There are lots of ways to meal plan out there but not every way works for everyone. There is no definitive answer so don’t be afraid to dabble until you find the one that works for you. Some like to batch cook, some like to freezer prep, others prefer to mix and match. If I’m honest, freezer cooking wasn’t for me but I do tend to flit between batch cooking and cooking double depending on how busy we are. Just do what works for you.
Meal planning tips and tricks for busy families…
Meal planning takes practice and time yes, but don’t let that overwhelm you. It’ll take a few weeks for you to figure out what works for you and your family but stick with it. Don’t give up because it’ll be worth it – I promise! A little bit of forward planning really does make all the difference. Try as many of these meal planning tips and tricks as you can and dinnertime will be LESS stressful and MORE enjoyable before you know it! Here they are again:
- Know your schedule.
- Set aside time to plan.
- Make a list of your favourite meals and their ingredients.
- Stick with what you know.
- Give each day a theme.
- Choose one-pot dishes as much as possible.
- Use as few ingredients as possible.
- Empty out your pantry before you start.
- Be clever about how you stock your pantry and freezer.
- Cook double and freeze it.
- Batch cook your favourite meals.
- Use the last week of the month to use up items.
- Shop from your pantry and freezer first.
- Have a running list of what you need to buy.
- Use your slow cooker.
- Track what you eat.
- Prep the night before.
- Allow yourself more time in the beginning.
- Give yourself time to get in the swing of things.
- Do whatever works for you.
Want more meal planning tips and tricks?
Check out my guest post for I Dream of Simple where I share 25 more great tips for keeping meal planning simple. Don’t forget too to download your FREE meal planning printables…you’ll find them in my Subscriber’s Resource Library!
That’s it for this post! Has it inspired you to give meal planning a try? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time…
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