For busy parents, meal planning can be a time-consuming task. Work, school, and extra-curricular activities have a tendency to sabotage our efforts to get a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table, but with these helpful meal planning tips, we can sit back, relax, and know that dinner is already on its way.
1. Compile a list of your favorites.
We all have our family favorites, those go-to meals that we can prepare without thinking and know everyone will enjoy, but it's easy to forget what they are when we're looking for a last-minute meal. Prevent this brain drain by compiling all the recipes your family can't live without.
2. Save favorite recipes in a convenient place.
For some of us, this still means handwritten recipe cards in an old-fashioned recipe box. For others, it's a recipe file on our computer, or maybe a fancy spreadsheet. No matter where you keep them, be sure they're easily accessible so you can glance through them when memory fails you.
3. Spend time looking for new recipes.
Meal planning can get boring when you're making the same meals over and over, so break out of your comfort zone and mix up your menu! Incorporate fresh twists on familiar favorites by perusing your favorite food blogs and tearing new recipes out of magazines.
4. Implement theme nights.
One way to streamline menu planning is to implement theme nights like Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday. Knowing that Monday's meal will always be vegetarian while Tuesdays will always be Mexican can eliminate much of the guesswork from planning meals and grocery lists.
5. Play on Pinterest.
Yes, Pinterest can help with meal planning and organization. Pin a week's worth of recipes to each board (March Week 1, March Week 2, etc.) and voila! Your menu is planned. You can also stick with theme nights and create boards where you pin specific recipes for each day of the week.
6. Use meal planning apps and websites.
Meal plannings apps and websites can be a tremendous help in generating ideas and saving time. Check out both our lists of Top Meal Planning Apps and Websites for Busy Parents and 7 More top Meal Planning Apps and Websites to find one that will work for you.
7. Keep a well-stocked pantry.
Meal planning is easier when you don't have to start from scratch. If your pantry is well-stocked with staples, you can take note of what ingredients you already have on hand, and then plan your meals around those ingredients.
8. Make friends with your freezer.
Whether you're into once-a-month freezer cooking or prefer to double all your recipes and freeze half, freezer meals are one of the simplest ways to make menu planning a cinch. With heat and serve meals waiting in your freezer, there's very little planning to do.
9. Get cozy with your Crock-Pot.
Feel overwhelmed when you try to plan meals that require lots of time in the kitchen? Invest in a Crock-Pot. Slow cooker meals almost always require less preparation, so you won't need to spend extra time in the kitchen after a long day of work.
10. Develop a routine.
Meal planning can be harder if you never know when you'll be headed to the store. By choosing routine days for grocery shopping and menu planning, you'll always know when it's time to stock up and prepare for the week ahead.
11. Be strategic.
Don't plan to cook an ambitious four-course meal on the night that includes soccer practice and ballet. This is a good night for a crockpot meal — or maybe even a frozen pizza.
12. Don't overplan.
As helpful as a plan can be, overplanning is definitely possible. Be flexible and stay open to the possibility of serving leftovers when you're just too tired to cook, or heading to a restaurant for an unexpected night out.
How do you plan family meals? What are your favorite ways to simplify meal planning?