When I had the idea to review all sorts of meal planning and grocery delivery services for you, I thought it’d be fun and simple to put together a post reviewing the classic approach to meal planning. As it turns out, it’s not so simple.
There are SO MANY ways that you can plan meals – and I’ve tried many of them! Using online meal planning tools really helps my type A brain see everything color coded and in its place, but there’s something that feels so good about having that pen to paper and scribbling out a shopping list, and don’t even get me started on how much time you can save by creating a rotating meal planning system for your family.
So many options. So many tried and true options! And so I sat and pondered which would be most beneficial to share.
But then it hit me that the real difficulty of meal planning doesn’t lie in which medium you choose to use to keep it organized. No matter which system you use, you’re still going to have to sit down and decide which recipes to use. And, in my experience, that is where the struggle is real, my friends.
There are oodles and oodles of recipes available at your fingertips. Pinterest is a bakers heaven, but there’s also something poetic about settling down with an old cookbook and a shopping list. Let me tell you, though, you may as well ask me to predict the future when I have to sit down on a Saturday night and come up with what I’ll have a hankering for come Tuesday afternoon, nonetheless deciding what my kids will be willing to eat!
It’s not a simple process, no matter how you dice it or slice it. And I’ve been known to sit down to meal plan and give up half an hour later with only milk, eggs, and toilet paper on my shopping list. But it’s not a hopeless case, and you don’t have to spend an hour and a half every week just deciding what your family will eat. So without further ado, here are my best tips on meal selection!
1) Don’t Try To Be Too Fancy
I like to consider myself a good cook. (And my husband says it’s true – so there you have it from an unbiased source!) But the temptation we “good cooks” sometimes have is to try and get fancy and elaborate when it comes to meal planning.
Friend, I’m giving you permission here and now to NOT cook something new and exciting every single night.
I’d recommend trying one or two new meals per week, and beyond that, sticking to those tried and true family favorites. There is no shame in making spaghetti and meatballs for dinner if it’s something your kids will enjoy. Most of the time they don’t even want the fancy stuff!
Keep to the meals you know off the top of your head or that you’ve tried before and know go over well. That will greatly narrow down your selection pool and make choosing dinner for the week less of a chore.
2) Plan A Couple “Emergency” Meals
No matter how hard we try, something always tends to come up. I remember about a year ago having my dinner plans written out to a T, including what time dinner needed to be started, and I completely spaced it on account of my 9-month-old having been up most of the night with a fever, plus a visit to the doctor early in the morning. Dinner was supposed to be in the crockpot by 9:00 AM and it was 2:30 PM before I got around to thinking about it.
Pick a couple of quick and easy meals to have as backups for the days things just keep popping up. Keep them simple: a frozen lasagna or ingredients for taco night are great choices. And, so long as you’re grabbing a couple of just-in-case meals, it’s okay to have a blank slot or two on your plan. Sometimes you have tentative plans where you just don’t know if you’ll need to prep dinner for a certain night. Don’t sweat it. Know that you’ve got a couple quick and yummy options in your back pocket should plans fall through.
3) Pick One Meal Time to Simplify
I like to have variety in what I eat. The idea of creating a big pot of soup on Monday and eating on it all week long is not all that appealing to me. But cooking up something new for three meals a day, seven days a week is so time-consuming. And when I try and do that, it’s no wonder I’m ready to dash to Chick-fil-a to grab a sandwich by lunch on Wednesday.
I’d recommend choosing one meal for the whole week where you stick to the basics, and if you can, eat the same thing for that meal all week. For me, breakfast is where I’d choose to stick with the same old, same old. And doing so knocks out a third of my meal planning for the week in one fell swoop!
Whichever meal you choose to keep consistent, using foods that work well as a base for various condiments can keep you from getting bored. Maybe you make a big serving of taco meat to eat on for lunch all week. You can eat it with some rice, over tortilla chips, or wrapped up with cheese in a burrito. If you get tired of butter on your morning bagel, put some jam on it one morning. I think you’ll find you won’t get bored with these foods as quickly as you think. Plus you’ll have variety in your other two meals all week!
I hope these tips help simplify things the next time you sit down to cook up a delicious meal plan!