Dinner Time: 5 Tips for Simple Meal Planning
For many families, especially with school-aged children, this time of year seems to be more busy. The biggest thing that I have found to help our evenings run smoothly is to have a simple method of meal planning. When my husband and I were both working full time, with no kids in the picture, it was easier to wing it with dinner. Now that we have a health-conscious 6 year old with the appetite of a grown man, it has become much more important to have healthy, filling meals on the dinner table. Over the past few years I have tried out many different methods of meal planning that were ultimately too complicated and ended up being counterproductive. Through experimenting with my own family, I have put together a list of my favorite tips to help make meal planning simple and helpful. Spending a little time preparing ahead of time to simplify your evenings is a worthwhile investment!
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- Pick one new recipe to try each week
If you were to plan a bunch of new recipes each week, it would be totally overwhelming and mean a lot more time and money spent. If you’re anything like me, you have Pinterest boards full of dinner ideas that look amazing. Try those! Just don’t try to do them all at once. Side note: try to stay organized with which ones you like. Pin the recipes or print them, whatever method you choose, just keep track of the ones you tried to save time in the future.
- Use what you have on hand
Before meal planning, check your inventory. You can even make a list of what is already in the freezer, pantry and fridge to utilize ingredients you already have. This will help your budget and make sure food isn’t wasted. If you stocked up on meat when it was on sale, don’t buy more this week, plan a day or two of meals to use the meat from your freezer.
- Be flexible during the week
What might surprise you is that I don’t assign meals for specific days. Instead, I make a list of six dinners (one day of leftovers or take out), plan around that and cross off as I make them. If I know a new recipe is going to take an hour to make, I’ll pick a day that we don’t have plans so I can have enough time to focus on cooking.
- Set yourself up for success
Pick a good variety of meals so you have choices throughout the week. We plan on a few easy, a few Crock Pot friendly and one new recipe to try each week for dinner. This helps us not be tempted to order out more than we planned. Even if this means buying a few frozen pizzas to have on hand when unforeseen situations inevitably come up.
- Do the prep ahead of time
My life is run by my little people now, and they don’t seem to care what my plan is for the afternoon. When I have a minute, during nap time or just hands free, I get things ready for dinner. Chopping veggies, measuring out ingredients, picking herbs from the garden or seasoning the meat are some of the things that are easily done before it is time to make dinner. Some of these can be done the day before or even on the weekend when there is more time.
Most importantly, try to figure out a process that works for you and your family. Everyone is different, so what works for our family may not work for yours. Maybe you have no time to cook on weeknights, but your weekends are free. Try taking the time to do freezer meals so you can simply toss the food into the Crock Pot in the morning. Another option I have heard great things about is the Instant Pot. (I hear you can cook a chicken breast from frozen in less time than it takes to boil noodles!)
How do you meal plan? What have you found helpful when preparing food for your family? I am always looking for ways to simplify this necessary activity and would love to hear your experiences too! Please comment below what you would share with others on a journey to simplifying meal time.