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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.
Which is why I turned to meal planning to save me both time, energy and stress. It took me a while to find a way to meal plan that was quick and easy to do, but then I hit upon it… I find the easiest way to meal plan is using Trello.
WHY TRELLO MAKES MEAL PLANNING REALLY EASY
The key to having a meal planning method that works and that you will stick to, is to simple and easy to do as possible.
When I broke it down I found that the things that are needed to make meal planning really simple are:
- to have an easy way to add meals/recipes to a 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.
These reasons are why it makes such good sense to use Trello for meal planning.
Read on to find out how to set up a Trello meal planning board, but first here’s a little guidance on how to set your meal planning foundations in place.
THE FOUNDATION OF YOUR MEAL PLAN: WHO, WHAT AND WHEN?
A good place to get started with your meal planning is 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.
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 getting started using Trello for family organisation that you can download at the end of this post.
HOW TO BUILD UP YOUR TRELLO RECIPE LIBRARY
I started off our Trello 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.
Now that you have all the information you need to set up your Trello board, here are some useful tips on how to manage weekly meal planning for your family
HOW TO DO YOUR FAMILY MEAL PLANNING
Once you have your Trello meal planning board set up, you need to work out the best time of the week to do your meal planning.
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!
Here are some other 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 weekly grocery 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.
It’s also worth stocking up on food essentials to have to hand in your kitchen pantry or food cupboard, things like a good selection of herbs and spices, oils, vinegars, dried goods. Anything that makes it easy to cook healthy family meals with ease.
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.
THE BENEFITS OF MEAL PLANNING
Need a little extra incentive to start meal planning? These are the main benefits of meal planning as I see them. 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
- it makes it easier to write your grocery shopping list
- 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
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.
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.
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE GUIDE TO USING TRELLO FOR FAMILY ORGANISATION
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Luci is the founder of Mums Make Lists (Est. 2011). Over the last decade or so, she has used her experience as a mum to create useful guides to organising family life. During that time, she has found the most joy in creating lists of ideas and inspiration to make it easier for busy parents to plan and host kids’ parties and find great gifts. Read more.