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5 Tips to Make Family Meal Planning Easier

Tired of wondering what you can fix your family for dinner each night? Mighty Mommy has 5 tips to make meal planning easier.

By
Cheryl Butler,
December 9, 2012
Episode #210

5 Tips to Make Family Meal Planning Easier

When it comes to raising a family, one of the hardest jobs is trying to come up with solutions for dinner every night—let alone trying to find the time to cook!

Because of our super busy lives, serving our families homecooked meals may seem impossible, but I’m going to share 5 tips about meal planning that will be well worth your time and effort.

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Benefits of Having Family Meals Together

Depending on your family’s lifestyle and schedule, the benefits of investing the initial time and effort into meal planning will vary, but overall the number one goal is to help simplify what should be an enjoyable and special part of every day—sharing a meal together.

Once in a routine of planning meals, you will be able to:

  • Save money on your grocery bill each week.

  • Save money (and boost your health) by not eating last-minute prepackaged or fast foods.

  • Eat a wider variety of healthy meals because you’ll be in the habit of planning and checking out new recipes and controlling the ingredients.

  • Get your kids involved in the process of cooking family meals.

  • Save time and gas by not making extra trips to the store on the fly for dinner.

Additionally, when families share daily meals together:

  • Children and teens are less likely to develop addictive habits such as drugs, alcohol, or smoking.

  • Children feel heard and important and therefore have a greater sense of self-confidence and are less likely to give into negative peer pressure.

  • Children do better academically because dinnertime is a great opportunity to teach communication skills.  Lots of chatter at the dinner table and adult conversation gives kids an edge with their verbal communication skills.

  • Children learn proper table manners. Waiting until everyone is served, no chewing with your mouth open, elbows off the table, etc. are all important manners to learn at a young age. 

  • Parents are able to save their precious sanity by spending more quality time with their loved ones, and less wasted time figuring out dinner.

Here’s how to get started:

Tip #1: Commit to a Definite Time Period for Meal Planning

Meal planning can seem like a daunting process, but once you have a system in place, you will be saving money, eating healthier, and having more free time to spend with your family. If you’re going to have success with this, you must make the commitment to devote a reasonable amount of time to meal planning so that you can get yourself into the habit as well as your family.  Get your spouse and kids involved from the very beginning by getting their input for the food they’d like to see on the weekly menu. Check out the Domestic CEO’s How to Plan Family Dinners for helpful tips on how to get started.

Tip # 2: Assess Your Weekly Routine

One of the reasons that many households fall off the “meal planning” wagon is because they jump into it without having a plan. Find a quiet time when you can sit with your calendar and think about the following things:

When is the best time to shop for groceries? What nights call for a fast and easy dinner? What nights require something that can be kept warm and served at different times? When can everyone sit down together for a real family dinner? Which days can you do the kind of cooking that you’d most like to do?  Once you have figured out what works best for your family’s schedule, you can make an actual plan.

Tip #3: Schedule a Day Each Week to Plan Meals and Shopping Lists

Based on what you figure out in Tip #2 by assessing your schedule, you can begin to plan everything on your calendar:

  • Schedule a day once a week to do your meal planning and make your grocery list. If you leave it to chance each week, it’s probably not going to happen. If you coupon, try to get your coupons organized the same day as your meal planning.

  • Don’t get yourself overwhelmed by trying to plan too many meals at once—instead start with 5 or 6 meals giving yourself one or two nights for leftovers or a family pizza night.

  • Make a list of at least 7-10 meals that you know your family enjoys—tried and true favorites like pasta and meatballs, baked chicken and rice pilaf, sausage and peppers, whatever pleases your gang’s taste buds. If you truly can’t think of this many meal choices, sit down with your favorite cookbooks or go online and visit recipe websites such as www.familytime.com where you can search over 10,000 family-friendly ideas as well as save your top picks in your own virtual recipe box.

  • Pick one night a week to have a designated meal, such as Taco Tuesday or Sandwich Saturday.  This helps simplify your menu and grocery list.

  • Once you settle on the meals you want to serve for the week, check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what ingredients you already have on hand. Keep track of what you need to buy on a grocery list that you have in an easy-to-find location, not buried in your purse. There are many free templates available that combine a meal menu plan as well as a grocery list such as this one. 

Tip #4: Creating Your Shopping List

Have a weekly shopping list and stick to it. This is where you save time and money. Impulse buys must now become a thing of the past.   I print a grocery list template that I found at GroceryLists.org, which I always leave pinned to the bulletin board in our kitchen. When I run out of things, I can just hi-light them. And when I do make my final shopping list for the week, everything is listed by category, so I don’t forget items—and even better, I don’t have the urge to buy things that we don’t really need.   At the end of the first year that I committed to staying on task with meal planning, our family saved enough money to pay for a 4-day vacation during the summer—for 10 people!

Tip #5: Don’t Lose Meal Planning Momentum

Many times when we embark on anything that can improve our life like dieting or joining a new gym, we start off with a lot of enthusiasm, but by the end of week two, we start to fizzle. Meal planning can definitely be one of those commitments that start off hot but soon turn cold. 

See also: The Case for Meal Planning

Don’t be afraid to have items like grilled cheese sandwiches or hot dogs and beans on your menu each week.  The key is to be flexible, not fancy. Once you start planning your weekly dinners, you’ll get into a groove of knowing when you have time for a 5-course dinner or when mac and cheese will have to do.  There are plenty of web-based tools that can help you out.  I like www.mealplanningmommies.com and the www.supercook.com app for my smartphone. The app is great because it helps you figure out what you can prepare based on the ingredients you already have in your pantry. Oh, and both of these resources are free!

If you keep at it, you’ll never have to break out into a cold sweat again when someone in the house charges through the front door and asks, “What’s for dinner?”

What are some of your tips for family meal planning? Let me know in Comments or post them on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.

Check back next week for more parenting tips. Don’t forget to check out my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT. Have fun with meal planning and soon you’ll be dishing out savings and extra time!

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