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FAMILY MEAL PLANNING MADE EASY: HOW I MEAL PLAN AND WHY IT WORKS!
There is nothing worse than arriving exhausted in the kitchen after a long day and not knowing what you are going to cook for a family meal.
It’s the many moments like these that switched me on to meal planning and I have been a meal planner for several years, it just makes my life so much easier.
Meal planning is a particularly brilliant hack for working parents, I’ve come to rely on it as one of my biggest time and energy savers, not to mention sanity savers.
But I do remember how long it took me to finally make a start planning out our family meals in advance and that there were a few bumps in the road before I found a way to do an easy way to do it that didn’t feel more laborious or stressful than winging it every evening.
So I wanted to put together a meal planning made easy post to newbie meal planners get started and more importantly, to help put together a meal planning system that is simple and easy to do, week in, week out.
Whether you’ve never tried meal planning before or have tried it and failed, I know you are going to find the way I meal plan to be a life-changer. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s actually a real pleasure to sit down and do.
But first, let’s get you in the meal planning zone!
WHAT IS YOUR INCENTIVE FOR MEAL PLANNING?
As with a lot of things in life, I find that pinning down how something will benefit you goes a long way to making it a ritual or a habit that you do with willing and ease.
So here’s a quick list of the benefits that meal planning can bring you. Meal planning…
- saves you time
- saves you energy (at the point in the day where you often have very little)
- reduces stress levels
- makes it easier to eat healthily
- enables you to get more creative with meals
- increases the variety of ingredients you eat
- makes it easier to stick to a budget
- saves you money
- stops you wasting so much food
- gives you space in your brain for other things
- brings more opportunity for sitting down to eat a family meal together
WHO, WHAT AND WHEN?
Now you know what your main incentives are for meal planning, you can move onto the next stage!!
You also need to think about which meals you want to plan, who you are planning meals for and when everyone in your family tends to be at home to eat.
I tend to meal plan our weekly evening meals and our weekend lunch and evening meals.
Some families prefer to have a full meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner for all seven days of the week or just for the weekdays.
The amount of meals you plan will likely depend on who is around at home to eat them. If your kids are at school through the week and your other half is out at work or if you are both out at work, you might well want to stick to just planning evening meals.
The most important thing is that you do what works for you and your family. So think about the rhythm of your family, how you eat meals, when you eat meals.
THE KEY TO MEAL PLANNING IS TO MAKE IT EASY
As I confessed earlier, I had a few bumps in the road on my way to finding a way to meal plan that worked for me and my family. The key to finally having a method that works was to make it as simple and easy to do as possible.
When I broke it down I found that the things I needed to make meal planning really simple were:
- to have an easy way to add meals/their recipes to our weekly calendar
- an easy way to add the ingredients needed to make them to a grocery shopping list
- a way to keep track of all the meal recipes that we use/like/want to try out in our family.
SET UP A MEAL PLANNING SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR YOU
For a long while I used a google sheet, I had one sheet as a weekly planner and another as a meal recipe library. It worked well, but I then stumbled across a way to add some extra zing to my method… I switched to using Trello for our family meal planning.
In short, the extra zing is two-fold… my Trello meal planning board is automated and it’s super visual.
Trello is free to use digital project management and collaboration tool. I started using it for project management when I launched my startup business a few years ago and found myself using it more and more for personal organisation.
Then I had a lightbulb moment that I could actually use it to create a really easy meal planning system. So, I had a play and set up a Trello meal planning board.
HOW I SET UP MY TRELLO MEAL PLANNING BOARD
The way Trello works is that you have boards that you can set up lists on and then add task cards to the list. So I have set up a list for grocery shopping, which has a card with a checklist on that I update every week.
Then I’ve set up a recipe library of all the recipes that we like or that I want us to try. The recipe library is broken up into lists for different main ingredients or types of meals.
So I have a list for recipes with red meat, chicken and poultry, vegetarian, fish dishes etc. I’ve then set up labels to help me search my library of recipes. I’ve got a label for quick and easy meals (so under 30 minutes to prep), light bites, meals that are great for if we’re entertaining…
There are two things that make using Trello for meal planning so easy. One is that it is so easy to add recipes to Trello, complete with a link to the recipe and an image of the recipe. The second is that you can sync Trello to your calendar and then add dates to the recipes you want to use for the week to add them to the calendar.
I’ve got a free guide on how to get started using Trello that you can download and then you can try setting up your own meal planning board on Trello.
HOW TO BUILD UP YOUR RECIPE LIBRARY
I started off our recipe library by adding in all our family favourites, it’s a good place to start! But of course, you want to create a wide and varied library of recipes.
So, if I find something in a recipe book, I take a photo of the recipe and then send it to my Trello board and make a note of the book and the page number if it’s my own recipe book. I do the same for recipes I find in magazines, but don’t bother to keep the magazine.
I also find a lot of recipes online, in which case I copy and paste the recipe link to my Trello meal planning board. The brilliant thing is that in most cases Trello adds an image from the recipe to the recipe card on Trello, which is what makes my recipe board so appealing and lovely to use.
Take a look at this gif to see how easy it is.
HOW TO DO YOUR MEAL PLANNING
Once you have a system set up, you need to work out the best time of the week to do your meal planning and I’ve also got some tips on ways to do your meal planning.
So, time-wise, I tend to meal plan for one week ahead. I do my meal planning on the same day the deadline is for placing my online grocery shopping order. So for me, that’s a Thursday. That way I can schedule in our meals and get the grocery order done in one fell swoop.
I then know that I can take a moment each morning, as part of my morning routine, to check what the evening meal is going to be. That is a massive stress reducer in itself!
8 MEAL PLANNING TIPS
As I’ve said before, meal planning can feel a bit daunting if you’ve never done it before – or if you’ve tried and failed. So here are some things to consider that will help you get the most from planning meals for your family and ensure that it’s as simple a process as possible.
1. COORDINATE MEAL PLANNING WITH GROCERY SHOPPING LIST
Coordinate the time of the week that you sit down to do your meal planning with doing your grocery shopping list, it’s a real time-saver and brain bandwidth saver.
2. MATCH MEALS TO YOUR SCHEDULE
Plan quick and easy meals for days when there isn’t much time to cook and plan in meals with more involved prep for when you know you’ll have more time.
Also think about the time involved in eating a meal. There’s no point preparing a feast if there’s only a few minutes to shovel it down.
Are there times in the week when only certain family members will be around to eat? If so, you can tailor meals to who is around. So, go for example, if not everyone loves a hot spicy curry, plan to have it on a day when those who don’t like it aren’t around!!
3. BALANCE YOUR NUTRIENTS
A great way to ensure that you and your family are eating a varied diet is to work out roughly how much of the main ingredients you should be eating every week. So, perhaps you’ll plan to have red meat once per week, fish once per week, a vegetarian main meal, chicken a couple of times per week and then work out how to include plenty of vegetables with each meal.
4. SHOP YOUR FRIDGE
Work out what you have already in your fridge/freezer/pantry that can be used up in the meals for the week ahead. This is a great way to make sure you aren’t wasting food and is also a great way to keep the cost of buying food down.
5. PLAN TO BATCH COOK
Think of batch cooking as creating ready-meals!! Batch cooking is a great way to cut down on the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, it’s also energy-efficient (for you and your utility bills!!) and there’s nothing better than knowing your evening meal just needs to be heated!
Tie in planning to use a ready-made batch cooked meal to days when you know you’ll be short on time.
Batch cooking is also a good way to cook once for the evening and then ensure there are leftovers for whoever is around at home to eat lunch the next day.
6. DON’T CLASH WITH THE SCHOOL MENU
If your school shares its daily food menu you with you it’s well worth checking to make sure you don’t plan in similar meals – we’ve all had those moments where our kids turn their noses up at dinner because they pretty much had the same meal at lunchtime.
This is also a great way to make sure your kids are getting a varied diet.
7. TAKEAWAYS ARE ALLOWED!
Let’s face it, it’s boring to always be saintly about making home cooked meals. Sometimes we need to change things up. So, it’s perfectly fine to plan to have takeaway as part of your meal planning. In fact it’s great to plan it in, rather than do it on the spur of the moment, because you can then plan your other meals around it, to make sure you’re eating healthily in general. Not that all takeaway meals are unhealthy, but you know what I mean!
8. CHALLENGE YOURSELF TO BE CREATIVE
I try and include a recipe we haven’t had before at least a couple of times a month, more often if I’ve had a run of finding new recipes or have bought a new recipe book.
The great thing with meal planning is that you can try a new recipe, then easily come back to it time and again if you like it, or remove it from your recipe library if it’s a dud. You can also mark it as a family favourite if it’s a real winner over time. That way you end up with a meal planning recipe library that is packed full of recipes you know you can’t go wrong with.
MAKE MEAL PLANNING A HABIT
Now you have everything you need to easily get started meal planning. So, set some time aside to get your meal planning system set up – I really do encourage you to use Trello for it, you can use Trello on your computer or mobile, it makes life so easy. Don’t forget you can grab my free guide to getting started on Trello to get going.
Then set yourself a reminder to sit down each week and spend some time meal planning. It will take you a bit more time at first, but stick with it and you’ll find that you can plan a week’s meals and finalise your grocery shopping list in under 30 minutes, how great is that!
Ultimately your goal is to turn meal planning into a habit, because once it’s a habit you’ll be able to stick to it week in and week out, saving yourself time and effort alongside reaping all the other benefits that meal planning has to offer you.