Simple meal planning for busy families

It’s a brand new year, and here at I Love Mom Life, we are trying something new: a series that focuses on healthy meals for busy families. Over the next several weeks we’ll be sharing tips, tricks and delicious recipes that are kid-tested and approved by our in-house dietitian. Enjoy!

meal planning materialsIt’s 2018! And the News Year’s resolutions are in full swing. I, of course, jumped on that bandwagon and came up with a few health-related things I’d like to focus on: exercising more, reducing stress and continuing my quest to eat healthier. Today I’m focusing on healthy eating and how meal planning makes it much easier for my busy family.

First, a disclaimer: I am not (nor have I ever been) very organized. Or very good at cooking. Or a fan of grocery shopping. It’s like the worst trifecta ever! But since getting healthy meals on the table is such a necessity for my growing family, I sucked it up and started researching.

It turns out that that one of the most essential things is meal planning. I had heard people talk about meal planning, but I didn’t really know what it entailed. But I jumped in headfirst and now, two years later, I can’t imagine my life without it! Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • I have a plan to follow. I’m not the type of person who can throw six random ingredients and magically end up with a delicious meal. I need to follow recipes, and I need to know when I’m making what. Mapping out your plan of attack is half the battle.
  • I always have the ingredients on hand. Meal planning hasn’t completely eliminated my last-minute runs to the grocery store, but I have to do that WAY less frequently now. Knowing that I have ingredients on hand for many different meals also allows me to switch and swap meals depending on what everyone is hungry for or how much time I have on a given night.
  • It’s much easier to stick to a budget. I had some bigger unexpected expenses last year, so this year I’m trying to be as money conscious as possible. With meal planning, I know exactly what I need to get at the grocery store and approximately how much it will cost. As long as I don’t go to the store hungry, my impulse buys are almost eliminated.

So how do you actually meal plan? There are a lot of different ways to tackle it, but I found that this system works best for my family:

  • Find recipes. Cooking magazines are a fun way to find new recipes to incorporate into the meal rotation. I’ve only subscribed to a few (Cooking Light is my fav!), but I kept all of the copies so I can page through when I’m feeling uninspired. Pinterest is also a great source — I have a giant meals board full of ideas I want to try. When I find a meal my family loves, I write it in my trusty 3-subject notebook that I keep in my kitchen. I also have a list of “old reliables” posted on my fridge.
  • Map it out. Every two weeks (usually on Sunday night) I write down my meal plan for the next two weeks. I have a marker board on my fridge and I write down the meals for each day. This way I can see how the meals line up with other activities or events my family has planned. It’s also nice to see the meals lined up together, so I can make sure we’re not eating similar meals four days in a row.
  • Make a grocery list. While I’m picking meals out, I also check to see if I have the ingredients on hand. If not, I add the missing items to my grocery list. Two birds with one stone. BOOM!
  • Be consistent. Sometimes meal planning is the last thing I want to do (especially on a weekend!). But like any health goal, consistency is key. And when I can sit down to a delicious, healthy meal with my family (even on those chaotic days!), it’s completely worth it.

If you’re just starting to meal plan, I hope this gives you some ideas! And if you’re a meal planning pro, leave a comment below — we’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks : )

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