How many times have you found yourself spinning your wheels at 5:00 pm trying to come up with a plan for dinner? Or maybe you came up with a last minute plan and discovered that you were missing half of the ingredients you thought you had on hand.
Believe me, I’ve been there! Eliminate the 5:00 pm dinner chaos, and learn how to meal plan like a boss with this step by step meal planning guide! Download my free Meal Plan Like A Boss Checklist and SGM Shopping List/Menu Template at the end of this post!
I have had this post in my head since I created my blog last year. When I first began to write it in May, I struggled. I had an outline, but I wasn’t sure if anyone would actually be interested in my meal planning tips.
My daughter and my sister assured me that most people do not plan, but want to plan. I decided to create a survey. I put a simple survey on Facebook and asked the question, “Do you meal plan on a regular basis?” 76% of the 69 people that took the survey said they do not meal plan consistently.
I then asked my blog readers to answer a more in-depth survey. 66% of my readers are not meal planners but most of them would like to be. I did have a few people say they like winging it.
At the end of the survey, I had some open-ended questions. The responses were amazing! Some readers asked awesome questions and others shared their fabulous tips. The survey responses are what drove this post. There were things that I would never have thought of including.
Actually, instead of writing one post about meal planning and one about meal prep, I am writing a Back to School Meal Planning and Meal Prep Series. There was no way I could include all of the amazing tips and answer all of the questions I received in 2 posts. Whether you are a busy mom with kids going back to school, or you are single, my hope is that everyone will be able to take away something from this series.
Why Meal Plan?
Tom and I have been meal planning for 28 years. Throughout those years, there have been plenty of times that life has happened, and we didn’t meal plan over the weekend. Every time that has happened, I wish I would have had time to plan. I am not a wing it kind of girl as much as I would like to be sometimes.
When we were newlyweds, we made a meal plan every week because we were on a tight budget. Eating out every night, and making multiple trips to the grocery store can get expensive. By looking at the grocery store ads and planning ahead, we were able to make dinner every night without breaking the bank.
After our daughter and son were born, meal planning was a must for this mom! Tom was in the Navy and deployed all of the time. Going to the grocery store by myself with two babies was not at the top of my “fun things to do with your kids” list. Making a meal plan, and shopping once per week saved my sanity!
We continued to meal plan as our kids got older and we added baby #3. I was a full-time teacher, and my older kids had started getting involved in extra-curricular activities. This made for some crazy afternoons. Sitting down to dinner as a family every night was a priority. The only way we had time to do this was to plan ahead for those busy nights.
Now we have 2 adult children and an 18-year-old, and we are still meal planning. Most of the time, we are back to planning for just the 2 of us because my 18-year-old is either working or out with friends. Eating healthy is our main reason for meal planning these days! But budget, sanity, time, and eating together as a family (no matter how big or small that family might be) are all still factors.
I’m not going to lie! Meal planning does take time but it is so worth it when it’s done! A little time over the weekend saves so much time during the week. There is no way we could eat clean without making a weekly meal plan.
After reading this step by step guide, you will be able to Meal Plan Like A Boss! I have created a quick meal plan checklist and grocery list template that you can download at the end of this post.
1. Check Calendar
What does your schedule look like? Check your calendar and make note of busy afternoons and evenings. Are there any nights that you won’t need to cook dinner? Do you have nights where you will have more time to cook than others? I usually plan for 4-5 meals per week.
2. Print SGM Grocery List and Menu Template
Download (at the bottom of this post) and print a double-sided copy of my FREE SGM Shopping List and Menu Template. You can use one side for this week’s menu and shopping list and the other for next week’s. After the two weeks are over, put the list in a folder or binder. It will come in handy when you need ideas for future meal plans.
3. Take Inventory
Do you have ingredients on hand that can be used for this week’s meal plan? Check your pantry staples and clean out your fridge. Take note of produce and other items that you need to use before they go bad. Are there any leftovers that can be included or frozen for another week?
We have been meal planning for 28 years and only in the last year have we started checking to see what we had on hand before making our plan. We always came up with our menu and then checked the fridge and pantry to see what ingredients we already had. Sometimes seeing what you already have will give you meal ideas.
I always found myself scrambling to use up ingredients so we didn’t have to throw food away. Now my fridge is pretty empty at the end of the week. This old dog is still learning new tricks!
4. Get the Family Involved
Gather your recipes and get input from family members. Start a running list of family favorites and go to meals. I like to write notes on my recipes. I document what family members liked the recipe, what changes I made and changes that I should make the next time I prepare the dish. My cookbooks have notes all over them! I always write KEEPER on the recipes that we love! These are not the best pics but you get the idea.
5. Check Grocery Sale Flyers
Look at the grocery store flyers that come in the mail or check online/apps to see what is on sale. This will help give you some ideas and save you some $$$. Also, shop for produce that is in season. This will not only save you money, but it’s better for your health.
6. Theme Nights
If you are struggling to come up with a menu every week, consider having theme nights. We always hear about Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday but there are so many possibilities. You could have an international theme where you have Italian every Monday, Greek on Tuesday, Mexican on Wednesday, etc.
When my kids were little we had baked potatoes on American Idol nights. I’m not really sure how that started, but it sure did make it easy for planning purposes. We learned to get pretty creative with our potato toppings.
Theme nights also help with variety which is important for a healthy diet. My menu usually includes 1 meal with chicken, 1 with meat other than chicken, 1-2 seafood meals, and 1-2 vegetarian meals.
7. Meal Kit Delivery Service
Using a meal kit delivery service for a few meals per week or month can definitely help with planning. Going online and picking a few meals eliminates having to come up with ideas and you have fewer ingredients to shop for.
In order to be a thorough blogger, I did have my first kit delivered last week. I ordered kits from 3 different companies. I have another kit being delivered today, and the last one next week. Stay tuned for my feedback in future posts in this series. (Update: My reviews for all 3 meal kit services are linked at the end of this post along with the other posts in this series.)
8. Make Your Shopping List
This is an easy one! After making your menu, use the handy SGM grocery list template and make a list of the ingredients you will need for all of your meals. I worked on this template for months last year before I had something that I was satisfied with.
I’ve used several different list templates over the years, but never found one that I loved. One thing that I have found to be the most helpful, was including the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Produce Lists from the EWG’s Shopper Guide to Pesticides. This helps when choosing organic vs nonorganic produce.
This is what works best for me and the way I shop. Please use whatever works for you. My husband uses this template when I hand it to him, but he usually uses the back of an envelope. 🙂
9. Plan Your Shopping Trip
Planning your trip may sound silly, but shopping for multiple meals takes time, especially if you are like me, and shop at more than one store.
Today there are so many convenient options if you do not have time to do your own grocery shopping. Curbside pickup is becoming increasingly available at supercenters and grocery stores.
I have not tried any of these services yet, but know several people who have and love them. More details to come on these services in a future post in this series.
10. Start Your Meal Prep
Meal prep is going to look different for everyone. It can be as simple as washing and chopping your produce or as elaborate as spending hours of time on Sunday prepping several meals. Check out my next post in the series…Meal Prep Like A Boss!
Meal planning no matter what size family you have does take time on the weekends, but it saves so much time during the week. Eating healthy is so much easier when you have a plan in place.
If you are new to planning, start with just a few meals per week. You will eliminate the 5:00 pm chaos, and I know you will be a meal planning boss in no time!
Other posts in the series include:
Download The FREE SGM Grocery List and Meal Plan Like A Boss Checklist!