As with most changes you’ll make, it’s the getting started part that’s tough. I’ve witnessed countless families and individuals struggle to change a situation simply because getting started feels or seems to be complicated. It’s also different and when something is different / new habits haven’t settled in yet, it doesn’t feel great. But I think we would get started much sooner on fixing life’s little annoyances if we took “complicated” out of the equation and simplified the details.
Hello, why do you think I do what I do for a living? I’m a natural problem solver and hate “complicated”.
Crazy as it sounds, many of us struggle with something as simple as meal planning. So we are taking the stress out of the topic by covering every angle in this series! Why? Because you wanted me to talk about meal planning…and I want to deliver awesome ideas, suggestions and strategies for your success!
I’ve already shared the inside of my fridge / freezer with you. But now we need to dig in so YOU can get started toward a simpler week of meal planning!
The first thing we need to cover in regards to meal planning is getting started in general. I’ve broken this down into a few easy steps:
- Write down the meals and snacks you / your family like to eat
- Review your family calendar / planner / school hot lunch menu each week while planning
- Create your meal plan for the week
- Purchase and prep
Don’t be alarmed, it’s really not a lot. Remember – you’re talking to a busy mom and professional organizer. I don’t do complicated or stress or time-consuming. I do simple.
We’re going into more details on each of those points below, but before we start I’d like to mention this is my own specific method for meal planning each week. And the plan works because I follow these steps. Over time it has become second nature to the point I can walk through the grocery store without a list or plan. Yes, when systems become habits it gets easier and easier to be successful. We are creatures of habit with eating around here…so that helps a lot too! But I promise, a tiny bit of upfront work is going to make everything easier moving forward.
WRITE DOWN THE MEALS / FOODS YOU LIKE TO EAT
Having a list of meals / snacks everyone enjoys certainly helps this process. This takes the guessing game out of what to purchase each month for meals. But it also takes a lot of the initial stress off of you when you are getting started with meal planning. You can still leave lots of room for variety week to week, but having a general list of meals and snacks everyone likes will help a lot when pulling together your weekly plan. And this also helps reduce waste.
I have a list of:
- breakfast items (for both busy school and relaxed weekend mornings, where I can spend a little more time cooking something more involved)
- lunch foods
- school lunch options
The list covers all seasons and was pulled together over time. For example, if you try out a new recipe that appears to be a winner, add it to your list. I have various summer salads or bbq items for warm weather meals and great chili and soup recipes for cold weather meals. If we entertained friends and family and the meal / apps came together nicely, I make sure to note those menus as well. Always helps to go back to a list you already prepared for a gathering instead of starting from scratch the next time you entertain.
Just start a list and add what comes to mind already. Over time you can continue to add meals. A great platform for keeping track of this is Evernote. Ever been at the grocery store and knew there was one ingredient you were forgetting? If your recipe was in Evernote, you’d be able to pull it up on your phone at the grocery store. Just an idea!
Knowing what everyone likes makes meal planning week to week super easy!
REVIEW YOUR FAMILY PLANNER / CALENDAR / SCHEDULES
This is a huge key to success here! If you don’t have some sort of family planner going yet, this is a big one to get started on.
A planner doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. I’ve shared a couple versions of my DIY Family Planners on the blog…
The 2 above were created using a binder and calendar sheets. You can read the blog posts for more details.
Now I operate a family calendar in my Erin Condren planner…
This planner is a bit more pricy – but I purchased the 18-month version. My planner cost $70 and works out to less than $4 per month…if you’re looking at price vs. amount of time I’ll be using and loving it. 🙂 And this planner is USED and LOVED. Go nowhere without it. It’s where I keep my work schedule and each of my children’s schedules. Everything from school to sports to birthday to holidays – it’s all in there!
*If you want to purchase an Erin Condren Planner, you’ll receive $10 off using my referral link – here!
Anyway, I start my weekly meal plan by first reviewing my upcoming week:
- If we have a game one evening, for example, I either plan a crock-pot / easy type meal or we pick up dinner to-go and bring it home after the game. It’s baseball season right now and on average we have 1 weeknight game per week.
- I take into consideration at least 1 night out to eat since most weeks that does happen. It’s usually Sunday evenings.
- I also factor in the school hot lunch menus. My 3 children each have school lunch favorites and they fall on the same days of the week. For example, pizza day is Monday and Friday. They love pizza for hot lunch so 2 days out of the week I don’t need to make school lunches. It’s a big treat to have something warm for lunch so this is important for me and doesn’t cost much, to be honest.
- I check my client schedule so I am sure to be ready with meals to take to work. I work with clients in-person about 4 days per week with an admin day in my home office. Bringing meals or snacks keeps me from popping in to some random place that is either unhealthy or too costly (Whole Foods, typically).
Since everything schedule-related is in my planner, it’s easy to take a glance at the week to know the days / meals we need covered. I also leave room for snacks. My kids are huge snackers and the more healthy options prepped and ready to grab, the better their choices will be.
CREATE YOUR MEAL PLAN FOR THE WEEK
The above gives you an example of how to start plugging in details / plans to a calendar. Your meal planning calendar can be super simple too – actually please just plan to make it simple. Could be a grid you create in Word or Pages that has empty squares or you can purchase something cute from Etsy or print something for free from Pinterest. Whatever works. All I do is write down meals on a blank piece of paper and stick it on the side of the fridge. I create a list of possible meal options (that I purchased and are on hand), then pull from that list as the week goes on.
I really don’t do anything fancy – it’s all simple over here. Just a piece of paper.
I’ll clarify, most of what’s on that piece of paper are actual meals – like dinners and breakfast meals I need to cook. This list doesn’t include lunch or snack items. I just make sure my grocery list has all of those items so I’m sure to grab them from the store.
PURCHASE AND PREP
I generally grocery shop on Sunday afternoons. By that point, the fridge is pretty well cleared out from the week prior, meaning I can wipe down the shelves to start again with a clean slate. A lot of my containers used during the week (we will talk containment in my next post) have been emptied, washed and are ready to be refilled.
With our meals, lunches, snacks and everything in between written down, I now have a simple grocery list…which by the way, have you seen my simple grocery store game plan printout? If not, you need a copy! Makes getting through the store a lot quicker with no forgotten items too!…
I purchase groceries, get them home, then organize and prep for an hour or so:
- I have pantry, fridge and freezer containers I have owned for YEARS. Literally. I start by getting anything out of the packaging that makes sense, of course. For example, frozen breakfast items don’t need to be kept in their boxes. Instead I keep them in handled baskets. And crackers the kids eat all the time are poured into their containers. I have a snack basket for the kids to grab from, so I dump granola bars and other healthy items into the basket, recycling the boxes.
- For fruit and veggies, I prep enough for 2-3 days and put the rest in the fridge drawers for prepping as the week goes on. I have glass containers for the fridge that I use for chopped veggies, fruit and other food items like tuna salad, green salads, etc.
- I’ve been keeping grilled, chopped chicken in my fridge ready to go and it’s been so awesome! It helps me with my fitness training meals and in general it’s great to have some prepared protein on hand. I season and grill several chicken breasts to have those ready to go. Easy stuff.
Basically, I prep as much as I can to get us through 2-4 days of meals and snacks. As the fridge inventory gets low, I tap into the drawers to prep more veggies.
This somehow works so well in this situation, but on Wednesday one of my children is out of school an hour earlier than my other 2. He and I have a special date every Wednesday for an hour at a very nice grocery store near his school. Since it’s mid-week and my last grocery run was Sunday, it’s the perfect time to grab more meat if we are out or anything else small that we are low on, like bread or apples. In general, it tends to be meat because I prefer to buy meat fresh – not stockpile it in the freezer. Something to consider if you are in a similar situation as me.
Really excited about the next post in this series – it’s all about containment…
Be sure to ask me any questions you may have in the comments – am happy to answer anything or clarify if something I said doesn’t make sense.
Happy Meal Planning everyone!