Weekly Meal Planning
Things are busy in our household, just as I’m sure they are in yours. With back to school, and the routines that go along with it, upon us, it has really got me thinking that I need to be more organized and efficient when it comes to our meals and the time I spend in the kitchen. So, I’ve come up with a plan and some strategies to make weekly meal planning work for me (and hopefully, for you too).
I have two goals for this coming school year. Eat healthier and be more efficient in the kitchen. They sound simple enough don’t they? How am I going to accomplish these goals?
1. KEEP IT SIMPLE
My goal is to eat well balanced meals that are SIMPLE and delicious. Move away from processed foods altogether and make healthier choice home baked goods.
2. PLAN AHEAD
Planning ahead means consciously making healthier choices, less scrambling at meal times (which can often mean falling back on processed convenience foods or eating out) and using left overs as a strategy to save time.
3. MAKING THE MOST OUT OF THE TIME I SPEND IN THE KITCHEN
I want to repeat tasks less often and make the most out of the time I spend in the kitchen. Leftovers for Lunch, Big Batch Sundays, Freezer Meals, Make-Eat-Freeze-Pack, Prep Pairings are all ways for me to use my time more efficiently. But more on that in a bit.
4. GET THE KIDS MORE INVOLVED
So they can develop their own kitchen skills, become more open to trying new foods and learn more about healthy eating. This is a win win because as the kids develop skills that they can rely on throughout their lives, they also become more helpful in the kitchen, eventually being able to even prepare some meals on their own.
So what’s the plan? My plan isn’t to hijack the kitchen and force my family to make change. My plan is to make better choices each day, knowing that as the days pass, progress will be made. Keeping in mind that it is a process, a move toward improvement. Perfection is not the expectation. Here’s how I plan to get there:
1. KEEP IT SIMPLE
One of the keys to success for me is to keep it simple. Healthy food that will be enjoyed and is simple to prepare. Don’t over think it. Don’t over complicate it. Just do it. Keep what works. Change what doesn’t. Try new things. Have fun.
2. PLAN AHEAD
For me using other people’s meal plans has always meant serving a lot of unfamiliar recipes. Kids like things that are familiar and are more willing to try new things when accompanied by familiar foods. So, it is important for me to be able to make my own meal plans, EASILY (that’s key), using recipes and foods that are familiar to us and incorporate new foods and recipes in and around the familiar ones.
Make a weekly meal plan
I start by choosing 5 meals for dinner Monday through Friday. You could also plan for Saturday and Sunday, but I like to leave them open initially and pencil something in once we figure out our weekend plans.
The first thing I do is choose 3 or 4 dinner recipes from my personal recipe collection. These aren’t all my own creations but recipes that are favourites. Searching for recipes in cookbooks and online can be time-consuming, distracting and quite frankly a time sucker. So I created a family recipe book where I keep my own recipes, recipes from family & friends and recipes I find in cookbooks, magazines and online that I have tried and we love. It is a huge time saver to go first to this recipe book to pick some favourites and not get lost in the recipe searching vortex (and yes that’s a real thing, trust me).
Next I find 1 or 2 dinner recipes from 1 or 2 cookbooks/magazines and/or Pinterest. These recipes are usually already flagged with sticky notes or saved to my Pinterest boards. I make a note of the cookbooks I’m using for the week and reference the cookbook and page number right on the weekly menu planner as I fill in each recipe.
I try not to search for recipes at this point because, like I said before, searching for recipes in cookbooks and online can be time-consuming, distracting and quite frankly a time sucker. I try to save the searching for recipes for other times, like when I’m waiting in the car for one of my kids or when I’m “watching” TV with my husband, or reading before bed.
I pick recipes based on the different categories on my Weekly Meal Planner (or sometimes I don’t). I find following the categories forces me to create variety in my weekly menu. Also narrowing my focus to a specific category can make the task of choosing a weeks’ worth of meals less overwhelming. However, if I have a recipe in mind and it doesn’t follow the categories I don’t feel boxed in by them. They are meant to be prompts not rules.
Balancing new recipes with familiar favorite recipes is important to me because I want the adventure of trying new foods but not to the point of turning off those who are eating it. I have found that new foods are always best received when balanced with familiar foods.
Keeping my schedule for the week in mind, I will choose recipes that I have already prepared and frozen for busy nights and recipes that I can use some of the strategies below, under MAKING THE MOST OUT OF TIME SPENT IN THE KITCHEN, on quieter nights.
Once I have picked 5 dinner recipes and slotted them in on my weekly menu planner, I go back and slot as many of those dinners as possible into the next day’s lunch spot. The idea is to re-serve or re-invent these dinner leftovers for the following day’s lunch as often as possible (sometimes I have to double/increase the serving size of a recipe in order to do this).
Then I go back through the same cookbooks and choose the breakfasts/snacks for the week. Sometimes repeating a breakfast/snack more than once throughout the week. After I have all the meals slotted in for the week, I take a quick look and if something doesn’t make sense, I just move things around a bit.
For Saturday and Sunday I kind of go with the flow. Sometimes we are out and sometimes I like to make a more involved dinner or try a technique I haven’t tried before, but at this point I leave them blank and just pencil in something during the week.
Make a grocery list
Once my weekly meal planner is complete, I work through my meal plan, Monday through Friday, looking up the recipes one by one and I write out all the ingredients including amounts called for in the recipe.
Then I consolidate all of the amounts into a master list. So if I needed 4 eggs for one recipe and 2 for another, I would need to have at least 6 eggs on hand or purchase more.
After my list is consolidated I check what I have on hand and cross off anything I don’t need to purchase. Taking note of perishables that may need to be purchased later in the week.
Go grocery shopping
Then I go grocery shopping. I like to have a deadline for when the weekly menu planner needs to be completed by so I can grocery shop on the same day each week. And then I stick to the list.
Prepare as much in advance as possible
I use the strategies below for making the most of my time in the kitchen whenever possible. Keeping my schedule for the week in mind allows me to rely on simpler/frozen/leftover meals on busy nights and take advantage of extra time on less busy nights. I use the “prep” section on the weekly meal planner to jot down recipes/tasks I can make/do in advance.
3. MAKING THE MOST OUT OF TIME SPENT IN THE KITCHEN
I enjoy being in the kitchen, but I don’t want to spend all my time there. So whenever I am in the kitchen I try to make the most of it and get more done than just serving one meal or snack. Here are some of the ways I do that:
Making school/work lunches while cleaning up after dinner
This is something that we have been doing for many years now and it has been working very well. It is especially convenient if lunch is, in part, made up of leftovers from dinner but works well even if it isn’t. It takes advantage of the fact that the food is already out and frees up valuable time in the morning. It gets the kids involved in making their own lunches and everyone involved in cleaning up after dinner.
Leftovers for Lunch
Planning a dinner with leftovers in mind is a great way to make multiple meals for the same amount of kitchen time that one meal takes.
Big Batch Sundays
Essentially a two for one deal. It really doesn’t take any more time to double or triple a recipe. Great for baked goods and basics my family eats often.
Basically stocking my freezer with meals, so on those nights that I just don’t have that much time to spend in the kitchen, I already have something ready to go. This is a great way to reduce/avoid all those convenient, but oh so unhealthy, processed foods. This is essentially my way of paying time forward.
Making a casserole? I make two. We eat one for dinner, making them large enough to serve the family for dinner with enough left over to pack for lunch the next day. Then I freeze the second one so I can do it all again, without the time spent making it of course.
I have to admit I have struggled with meal planning in the past. Every time I planned to sit down and write it out, it just didn’t seem to get it done. Procrastination, distraction, feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand all played a roll, but along with the above strategies here are some tips that have helped me along the way.
- Set a time limit to complete the weekly meal plan and get’er done.
- Keep it simple. Good, healthy, home cooked meals is the goal. Save the challenging meals for the weekend or whenever time is abundant and the schedule more relaxed.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect. Any plan is better than not having one. Keep what works. Ditch what doesn’t. It’s a process – grow with it.
4. GET THE KIDS MORE INVOLVED
This is an important one and something I have been guilty of not doing in the past. Getting the kids involved teaches them skills they will rely on throughout their lives but it also makes them more open to the whole process of trying new foods, experimenting and having fun. When I first started getting my kids involved I was amazed at how quickly I noticed a change in their desire to be in the kitchen tasting, learning and helping right alongside me (or even on their own). Getting them involved is so very important if we want to set our kids up for a healthy future.
Well that’s the big plan. I’m sure it will change over time but it’s going to get me started right now. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to make the transition back to school a whole lot easier (and healthier).
You can download a copy of my free Weekly Meal Planner here. The download is a PDF file, so to open and customize it you will need Adobe Reader, available as a free download here at adobe.com. Instructions for customizing your planner are available here. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below.
Hope you’re having a great back to school,