Meal Planning for Easy Weeknight Meals

This week’s meal plan. So far, all recipes have been successfull and I haven’t had any complaints from the family!

Okay, raise your hand if you’ve ever finished work, had no idea what to cook for supper, felt too tired to cook anyway, and ended up ordering a pizza instead.  We’ve done this more times than I cared to count.  I always looked for quick and easy solutions, but when I found a good recipe, I would always get home and realize that I didn’t have the ingredients to make it, so we would end up doing something else instead. Like ordering pizza.

Enter meal planning.  Meal planning is great for a lot of reasons:

  • It helps you eat healthy by allowing you to make sure that meals are balanced with all the food groups.
  • It allows you to relax, knowing that you don’t have to scramble at the end of a long day to decide what to eat.
  • It saves you money by ensuring that you only buy things you need at the grocery store.
  • It saves you time in that it allows you to prep ahead if you wish by pre-chopping ingredients, readying non-perishable ingredients on the counter the night before, and even pre-cooking meals for later.

I’ve actually tried and failed a few times at meal planning.  I used several programs online, coordinated with coupons, and exported everything to electronic grocery lists, then discovered that my family just didn’t really like the recipes I was cooking.  After all those hours of planning, having the family not want to eat the food was really disheartening.  I thought that meal planning was too complex and too time consuming to work for my family.

But this weekend, I had an epiphany.  Thanks to an online healthy eating class, I decided to pare things down and involve the whole family in the meal planning.

I started by sitting down with everyone at the breakfast table and really finding out what they were all willing to eat.  For my family, the hardest task is finding vegetables that everyone is willing to eat, so I went through a list of seasonal vegetables and fruits that I found on the website for the farmer’s market in San Francisco and put a letter beside each vegetable or fruit that the family was willing to eat: G for Gabi, J for Juan, and so forth.

Then, I started mapping out the meals.  On a dry erase weekly planner that I had pasted inside the pantry door the week before, I jotted down main dishes for the week based on what was in the fridge/freezer and what I knew my family would like.  Since they were sitting right there, I was able to say things like, “Hey Juan, do you have any late evening meetings? Tuesday? Okay, we can do quick pasta that night,” and “Hey, can you grill on Friday?” 

Once I had the main dishes down, I filled in the sides, making sure we had a whole grain and a vegetable with each meal.  “Hey Gabi, we are having pork chops on Wednesday.  What vegetable sounds yummy with that?  Green beans?  Okay!”

Then I reviewed my recipes, glanced into the fridge to double-check ingredients, and whipped out a list.  It was easiest for me to make the list on paper because I didn’t have to run back and forth, up and down the stairs, between the computer and the kitchen.  Since I was hand-writing it I didn’t have to fiddle with it to get it in the right order for the grocery store.  I simply mentally walked through the store and wrote down my ingredients to coincide with the flow of the store.

I was so proud of myself to discover, at the end of my shopping trip, that I had made it through the store with enough food to feed our family of two adults, a child, and a baby, for $87!  Now, okay, granted we already had a few things in the freezer, so the only meat I needed to buy was pork chops, but still!  $87 for a family of four is pretty good I thought.

Because I had planned ahead, I was even able to pre-cook a baked pasta dish on Sunday.  I put half of it in a loaf pan in the fridge to cook for Tuesday night (remember that late night meeting?) and half in the freezer to save for another busy night!  Because I was pre-cooking, I was also able to take the time to fiddle with it and add in some super-secret healthy veg: Grated butternut squash. Shhhh.  Don’t tell Gabi.

This week, the family has been excited about the meals since they were involved in the planning process!  Week 1 of meal planning has been a total success!  I saved time and money, and lowered my stress.  My family got balanced, home-cooked, semi-seasonal meals and more time to play and relax with Mama in the evening!  It has been a total win. Sorry Pizza Man.  I’m sure we will see you again, but not for a while!

For those of you who want to give this a try, here’s a quick recap of what I did:

  1. Reviewed likes/dislikes with each family member to tailor meals appropriately (you don’t have to do this every time).
  2. Review weekly schedule to account for nights that will be especially hectic and stressful.
  3. Jot down main dishes.
  4. Fill in side dishes.
  5. Sketch out grocery list.
  6. Shop!

That’s it!  Have you tried meal planning before? Are you new to it like I am or are you an old pro?  If you’re new to it, tell us why or why not meal planning is something that interests you?  If you are a pro at meal planning, share your tips and tricks!  What helps you work things out the best?

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5 responses to “Meal Planning for Easy Weeknight Meals

  1. We usually sit down Saturday night/Sunday morning and Chris and I plan our meals for the week. I look for weight watchers recipes that are easy & family friendly- we also talk about our schedule. For example if Chris has a test in school, weight watchers night, piano lessons, those things indicate a crock pot meal, or an easy frozen thing. I write out the list and Sunday we head to CI Farmers Market. 7 yo keeps track of the list and if we deviate she writes it down. This way I have sort of an inventory of what we have on hand. Then off to the grocery store to get the last of the list. Still a new system- we’ve been doing it for almost a month now. Eating out has been cut down to the point where its a planned/scheduled meal instead of Jackie’s working late, Chris has to study, 2 yo is telling us “I hungry” and 7 yo has piano lessons – and Chris and 7 yo BOTH have homework to do. Ahhhh call the Thai place!!! 😉

    • I love how you are engaging your 7 year old in this process. That gives me some ideas to help engage Gabi more. Do you keep a cooler in your trunk for the stuff at the Farmer’s Market? What things to you get there as opposed to the store?

      • Well, we like eating locally grown food for one thing. Almost all our lunch fruits and veggies. Tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, bok choy, squashes – usually what’s in season. I think I have the same list you do. at the grocery store we’ll pick up staples like cereal, oatmeal, but usually just the meat portions and frozen veggies and freezer meals for pinch hitting.

      • I am intrigued by this! I always find myself spending so much more money when I shop at a farmer’s market. Have you budgeted this extra cost in? It sounds like you are a pro at farmer’s market shopping. I always find myself getting overwhelmed with all the activity and exciting things to look at.

      • I wouldn’t say “pro” when we were on WIC way back when, they gave us vouchers for summer farmers markets. $2 each voucher no change in return so I guess I fall back on that knowledge. I go with the money ready to roll usually about $40/ week I know the vendors too now and they know me. So I’ll get an extra piece of fruit tossed in or a ginger root 🙂 don’t get me wrong- the kettle corn, coffee vendor, peanut butter, ceramics, jewlery, and crafty folks often lure us in. Especially after tooth fairy visits or letters from grandparents with pocket money. I usually budget an extra $20 on coffee, a snack, honey sticks, incense, a potted plant that will die as soon as I look at it 😉

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