Meal planning is essential to our large family budget and the functioning of our household. When I started meal planning, life got a little easier! It saves time, money, and my sanity. I’ve been saying for a year or more that I would do this post, and for some reason I’m just now getting around to it! It’s probably best that I waited though, as I have tweaked things and am a bit more organized than I was then. Here are some steps to get you started meal planning. Remember, these ideas may work as is for your family or may need to be changed up a bit here and there to fit your needs.
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1. Get a blank calendar.
I started out just printing a basic calendar from my printer presets, but eventually designed my own and laminated it to reuse and rearrange meals easier. I recommend ultra fine tip dry erase markers to write on it. However, for true beginners I suggest printing a new calendar every month. At the end of each month, tuck those into a folder for easy meal planning later! Get stuck? Just pull out an old calendar and copy the meals to your new one, rearranging as needed. This makes meal planning on those crazy days super easy.
2. Get out your planner.
In meal planning, it’s important for me to take into account what we will be doing each day. This way I know what days would be best for trying new recipes and which days would be best for leftovers. Or maybe I need to utilize my InstantPot or slow cooker. For instance, I don’t want to plan a huge, complicated meal on a day I know we have homeschool co-op. Fill in a small note on days of big events, activities, or practices for the whole month.
3. Start with meals you love!
Start with family favorites. I started my meal planning with meals we knew and loved, adding in a new recipe here and there. Do not feel pressured to cook something new, fabulous, and pinterest-worthy every night! It’s just not necessary! If you love to cook and have the time however, go right ahead and enjoy! Don’t forget to include side dishes on your meal plan calendar!
4. Organize your recipe search.
I prefer Pinterest for this, but there are lots of ways it can be done. Here is a sample of how I organize mine. Hopefully it will give you ideas for how to best organize your recipes for your use.
Feed Me – My basic food board I add recipes to that I want to try as I find them.
Feed Me (Slow Cooker) – Same as above, but all slow cooker meals. It helps speed up my meal planning if I don’t have to sift through other recipes to find one for an evening I know I’ll need a crockpot meal for.
Recipes We Liked – As I try new recipes, winners get added to this board.
Recipes We Liked (Slow Cooker Style) – Again, same as above, but crockpot meals.
However, I also have a notebook of recipes I have printed out, made copies of, or pages torn from magazines. I have them hole-punched and in a 3-ring binder with labeled dividers to separate them into categories such as: breakfast, chicken, beef, slow cooker, slow cooker soups, desserts, etc. Also, remember I said when I first started I printed a new calendar for each month? I stored those calendars in the back of my recipe binder.
5. Don’t be afraid to repeat meals!
This can make meal planning go much faster. Sometimes it’s fun for me to challenge myself and cook lots of different meals in a month. Other times, I’m a super busy large family mom and need to simplify our meal plan. in Fall and Winter, Thursdays are chili night at our house. Homemade pizza is a Friday night regular around here. This Fall, Monday will be a crockpot meal or prep-ahead and toss in the oven meal, as we will be attending our homeschool co-op that day. Tuesdays I change up the recipe each week, but it’s usually a Mexican dish.
6. Leave room for leftovers!
Pick a night that you will be busy or tired from a long day and declare it leftovers night. Not only will this be another easy space to fill on your meal planning calendar, it will also mean less food is left in the fridge and forgotten about.
7. Make your grocery list.
As you write meals on your calendar, make a list of everything you’ll need for that meal, even if it might already be in your freezer or cabinets. For items needed for multiple meals, I use tally marks next to that item to keep track of how much I’ll actually need.
8. Look through your cabinets and freezer.
Get an idea of what you already have on hand to work with. Mark items off your grocery list if you already have them.
I hope these tips help you get started and in the habit of meal planning with a little less headache. If you have success with my method, let me know! I’d love to hear from you. If you change something up to better fit your family, I’d love to hear about that too.