How do you meal plan?

I truly have no idea how we would ever function without a meal plan. I think I would lose my mind. When I meal plan, I feel like we benefit in so many ways, and while it takes a bit of time at the start of the week, it is totally worth it! Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips and thoughts helpful if you’d like to meal plan but never quite get to it. I have tried to simplify it as much as possible.

Why I meal plan:

I have discovered so many benefits to meal planning the longer I’ve been doing it and the more I talk to other people about it. Here are just a few of the benefits I have  found:

  1. We eat healthier because we need fewer convenience foods. When I don’t have a plan I usually resort to really quick and easy meals which usually include processed ingredients rather than homemade food. When I plan ahead and can prep some ingredients ahead of time then we eat much healthier meals.
  2. Less food goes to waste because I buy what we need. I can’t imagine making a grocery list without knowing what we are going to eat each night. When I know the meals we are eating I can check our pantry and fridge for what we do have and then buy what we need. We aren’t buying extra things that expire when we don’t use them. I also know what we love and use regularly, and we can stock up on those items from Costco. 
  3. I can get a jump start on cooking most days so I feel less stressed at dinner time. This saves me all the time! Dinner time is always when life gets crazy. The kids need more attention and it’s loud. Then I don’t enjoy cooking at all. When I prep some ingredients during the morning or nap time then I can actually enjoy making dinner!
  4. We only shop once a week. My husband does all of our grocery shopping, which I love! However, if I don’t have a meal plan then he can’t get what we need for the whole week and he and I would need to go back several times. That would make me crazy and be so much more work. With a meal plan and a list it goes much more smoothly. 

I’m sure there are more benefits that I’m not thinking of. Can you think of any? I’d love for you to share!

How I meal plan:

While I have always enjoyed meal planning, after having kids I felt like I needed to streamline the process a little bit. I love variety, so I could never have a plan as repetitive as taco Tuesday, spaghetti Wednesday, pizza Friday, etc. I know that works for many people, and that’s great, but it’s not for me. Instead I meal plan with categories. I cook dinner 6 days a week, one meal from each of the categories below. Then I take Sunday off. It’s one thing that I rest from on Sunday, and it works well with our schedule. We are often with family and eating with others after church, so it’s easier to not have to try to cook or have ingredients to use and then end up not making dinner that night. Plus it’s a built in day that uses up our leftovers when we aren’t eating with others, keeping food from going to waste. 

Here are my six categories:

  1. Mexican- tacos, burrito bowls, enchiladas, etc. We have tons of different recipes so we change it up a lot, but we all love the flavor palate of Mexican food so we eat it weekly. 
  2. Asian- This is another favorite style of cooking for us. We make stir fry, curry and other Asian inspired dishes, usually served with rice. I love this because many times the veggies are incorporated right into the dish. It’s also a  great way to use up extra veggies as there are lots of options that go well with stir fry. 
  3. Pasta. This one is pretty self explanatory. We love pasta, but try to eat it just once a week, whether it’s spaghetti or a dish made with egg noodles, which my kids love.
  4. Easy oven bake or crockpot meal- chicken, meatloaf, pork tenderloin, etc. This is a category with tons of variety, but it’s usually a more hands off meal that I can put in and forget about. I have tons of great sheet pan meals, baked chicken recipes and crockpot meals that go great with rice, cous cous or roasted potatoes.
  5. Soup/stew, sandwiches, salad. This category varies by season. In the cool weather we love soups and stews and chili. Then in the warm weather we enjoy meal salads like a taco salad or barbecue chicken chopped salad. Sandwiches like sloppy joes work year round. 
  6. Seafood or vegetarian. We try to eat seafood once a week. However, my kids aren’t always huge fans so it’s been a slow process of finding recipes they enjoy. We finally have at least 6 that everyone seems to like as well as a few vegetarian recipes.

So when I sit down to meal plan, I pick out a meal that fits each one of these categories. (I keep a running list of meals in each of these categories on my phone to help me remember). When I pick one from each category I find it gives us a nice variety for our week. Then I pull out my calendar and choose which meal will be on which day based on what we are doing that day. If it’s a busy day I’ll choose a crockpot meal or something else quick. If it’s a slower day at home I’ll plan something that maybe has a few extra steps. I write my meal plan directly in my planner so I can then add prep items right to my to do list for the day (like to assemble the meatloaf during nap time). Once I do this, I make a grocery list and then I feel like I’m set for the week. I also try to think of one nice breakfast item for the week to break up cereal and toasted bagels -something like baked oatmeal, steel cut oats, or homemade granola. 

So that’s my take on meal planning! What do you guys do? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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