Menu Planning Made Easy: 5 Tips for Success
This is a guest post from Meredith Kleinhenz, RDN, CSG, LD. She helps busy people find smarter, not harder, ways to nourish the ones they love at savvydietitian.com
Feeding your family well can feel insurmountable when you are juggling work and the evening is filled with kid shuffling, homework, and community meetings. And — if you are lucky — an episode of your favorite show.
The best defence against the dreaded “What are we going to eat tonight?” is a good offence. In this case, a good offence involves developing a proactive and realistic plan that accounts for everything you have going on in life.
This article will review five tips to make meal planning easy so you can nourish your family the way you want. AND have time for that favorite show!
Menu Planning Made Easy Tip #1: Make a Written Plan
Set aside time once a week to think about what activities are for the upcoming week and what you’d like to eat. Look at what is on hand already and what you need to add to your shopping list.
Making time for this task in an already busy schedule may sound daunting. However, this is like compound interest—planning time taken now grows free time later.
Spending 20-30 minutes each week to plan your weekly menu and grocery list and then making one grocery shopping trip will ultimately save time.
Since you have thought ahead, the number of times you find yourself staring into your fridge, freezer or cupboard wondering what to make for tonight’s dinner (and the last-minute trip to the store once you figure it out!) will significantly decrease.
Write it Down
Get a stylish notebook, a meal planning journal*, or use this free resource to write down what activities are happening and all those meal ideas.
Keeping track of both your activities and what you made for dinner each night will help identify your weekly rhythm. And clarify which days you have less -or more- time to make food.
After one week, and as time goes on, these records will serve as fantastic inspiration for future weeks of meal planning!
Menu Planning Made Easy Tip #2: Keep it Simple
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed by the thought of documenting activities and meals, let’s clarify. These records don’t need to be detailed; they just need to be understood by you, the meal planner/implementor.
Short-handed references to the daily activities and 1-2 word references to the meal ideas you have for the week are perfect. It may help to keep the meal ideas in a ‘brainstorm’ section and write them in on the appropriate day after eating them. This strategy will benefit you when you look back at the menu for future inspiration and see what worked on the day where X,Y and Z was on the schedule.
Meals don’t need to be complicated or 100% from scratch to be nourishing. Identify four to seven easy, ‘go-to’ meals with ingredients always in your pantry or freezer. When things get hectic and you haven’t had time to plan, having those staples on hand to create a quick, delicious meal will save the day!
A few ideas for your easy list of meals:
- Beans and rice
- A carton of soup and a hot sandwich
- Pasta with a simple olive oil and garlic sauce or a jarred sauce
- Scrambled eggs and toast
Menu Planning Made Easy Tip #3: Stay Flexible
Now that you are excited about planning meals for the whole week ahead, it is also important to leave room for those inevitable schedule changes and spontaneous invitations that might require you to cook something a day or two later than originally planned.
You will know you have hit the sweet spot for successful meal planning for your family when you simultaneously avoid these two pitfalls:
- Being underprepared with dinner ideas – so much less stress!
- Overbuying food that is then thrown out because the family was so overscheduled you didn’t have time to prepare it. Decreasing food waste is a huge benefit of meal planning.
Meal Planning Made Easy Tip #4: Eat on Repeat
Incorporating intentional leftovers (aka planned-overs) into your week of meals is one of the best deals in town: cook once, eat twice.
Think about the recipes you make that store well so you can make extra for later in the week or so they can be frozen for a meal down the road. Make extra chicken for salads, wraps or soup, or double the stew/soup/lasagna recipe and freeze it for next month. Your future self will thank you!
Meal Planning Made Easy Tip #5: Start Where You Are
Getting started is the most important thing when doing something different. There is no real order of importance regarding the tips shared here for successful meal planning. The important thing is just to pick a strategy and start!
If you aren’t ready to schedule a time for weekly meal planning, try:
- Keeping a journal of what you are currently doing to serve as inspiration in the future.
- Building out that list of go-to quick meals and stocking their ingredients.
- Making planned-overs – whether it’s a double batch of something to freeze, or extra protein or starch that can be eaten for lunch or dinner this week.
There are so many places to start, it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. So, pick the one that suits you best and go from there! All the options lead you toward successful menu plans for your family, ultimately making it easier to eat the way you want while saving time.