If you’re anything like me, determining what to cook EVERY SINGLE NIGHT can be an arduous task. If you’re nothing like me, you have a personal chef or a husband who does all the cooking. In that case, move along — these meal planning tips will mean nothing to you.
This is for mamas who every night hear the words, “What are we having for supper???”
Through much trial and error, I have come up with a solution to this age-old question that actually WORKS for my family. We are able to generally stick to a plan AND save money while we’re at it (always a plus, right?).
Step One: Schedule
Look at your schedule. I write everything down in a monthly planner, so all our commitments are there in plain sight. Write down anything that will affect your evenings — sports, church, late meetings, youth groups, etc. On nights with no extracurricular commitments, cooking is no big deal, right? But. You KNOW on days where you have dance practice at 5 and a baseball game at 6:30, there is no way you’ll want to come home and cook a meal. And I don’t know about you, but on Sundays? I do NOT cook — no way — give me a night off!
Take all that into consideration. We’ll call these “normal” nights and “busy” nights. Also make sure you schedule in the occasional date night! When you have a handle on your schedule, move on to the meal planning step.
Step Two: Meal Planning
I plan meals in two-week stretches. This means I know what we are eating for the next two weeks, and I only grocery shop every other week. I’ve tried stretching it to monthly planning, but I’ve found that our fresh produce runs out or ruins well before then, and planning meals with only shelf-stable products, while doable, is not necessarily the healthiest option.
On your “normal” nights, plan to cook. And no, this doesn’t mean you have a four-course meal three times a week. On your “busy” nights, you have a few options — you can throw something in the crockpot that morning, or you can have leftovers, or if your family is able, you can eat out. Whatever you decide, make a plan in your calendar for every day in your two-week period. Don’t feel like a failure if you plan leftovers three times in the same week. You’re a mom (a good one!), and you have a ton on your plate (excuse the pun…).
Feel like you’re stuck in a rut of the same four meal options? You can find a list of my go-to meals at the bottom of this article. And Pinterest can be your friend, too.
Step Three: Groceries
Once you have your meals planned, make a list of every single ingredient needed to make them. Even the ones you’re pretty sure you already have. I’m sure you’ve come back from the grocery store and started cooking, only to find out that you’re out of olive oil. This step eliminates that from happening.
My husband and I use an app called Wunderlist to make grocery lists, as well as many other things. You can actually sync accounts with other people if you want, so they get an updated list when you add an item.
Once you have your all-inclusive list, take inventory of what you already have, and mark those things off your list. Now you have a list of everything you still need to buy – and these are the ONLY things you should be buying – say no to impulse buys! I only do meal planning for supper, so I also have to add things to my list for breakfasts and lunches, as well as things like toilet paper or dish soap. You can meal plan every meal, if you’d like – whatever works for your family. Now – go shopping!
Step Four: Put it into action!
You have the plan, and you have the groceries, now you need to make sure you stick to it! I know it can be way easier to just heat up some Easy Mac for your kids, but here’s where you’re wasting money. You have chicken breast waiting in your refrigerator to be used – use it! If you don’t, you’re just throwing the money away that you spent on groceries.
(And, it can be really rewarding when your kid smiles and says, “Mama, you make the BEST food!”).
Now, don’t get me wrong, we do not stick to our meal plan flawlessly. There are days where I am exhausted, or where one of us is sick, or when we get invited last minute to eat with friends or family, or when someone is just REALLY craving pizza. And that’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect at this. It’s easy to shift your plan to another day – and you’ll already have a head start on next week’s plan! You got this, Mama!