With the kids on their way back-to-school, anything that would help make snack- and mealtime easier is more than welcome. Busy schedules can make feeding the family feel like a frenzied attempt to throw together anything you can forage from the fridge. And trying to eat healthily can make it all the more daunting. But with proper meal planning and preparation, quick, delicious, and healthy meals for your entire family all week long can be more than a Pinterest fantasy.
Before you decide that you don’t have time for this, remember that this is actually a time management tool. Investing in this process will maximize your efficacy and efficiency, saving you time day by day, and that adds up. It can also save you money. Instead of overspending and throwing away unused food week after week, you’ll know exactly what your family needs, what you have in the kitchen waiting to be prepared, and actually use all that fresh produce you buy.
Schedule a time for the week’s meal planning and grocery shopping. Add it to your calendar as you would any other responsibility and stick to it until it becomes a habit. Steal some TV-watching time to do it if you have to, but make it a priority. You’ll be thankful you did! The objective here is to plan every meal and snack for the week ahead and to use this meal plan not only as a guide for what to eat, but also to generate your grocery list. Having a plan that’s devised in advance can mean the difference between a frustrating and rushed meal time and an enjoyable cooking experience. This can sound overwhelming especially if this is new to you, so where do you begin? Here are several tips to get your time-saving family meal planning under way!
1. Start with what you have. Take stock of what is already in your fridge and pantry and use these as a jump start for menu ideas. For instance, if you have a dwindling supply of vegetables that needs to be used before going bad, plan a quick easy stir fry, or plan to use some leftover pasta in a salad.
2. Find savings. Grab your grocery store’s circular to see what’s on sale. Being aware ahead of time of the products that can save you money prevents you from merely wandering grocery store aisles aimlessly grabbing items. This is also a great time to clip coupons (if that’s already a habit) and plan on creating your shopping list with these in mind. So this is a great way to save time and money!
3. What’s on the menu? This is where you draw on your resources. If you have favorite recipes that you know will be a hit with the family begin with those. If recipe books are your go-to, use them to find ideas for your menu list. Or, get everyone involved and ask your family to chip in by suggesting any dishes they would love to enjoy this week! This can be a great start to introduce better nutrition to the family by allowing them to have a say in and understand the process! Regardless of your source, list the meals and snacks that you know will suit everyone.
4. Organize your meals. In this step you can use your own meal planning worksheets in a format that suits your style or you can find ones online. I use this meal planning worksheet to list seven days of each meal and snacks. Once I have my master list I use this menu sheet to fill in the menu for each day and to write my shopping list. Of course if you are used to shopping for more than one week’s worth of groceries at a time, you can use worksheets that accommodate two weeks or even a month of menus!
MoneySavingMom.com has several menu worksheets to choose from so check them out! Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this; just find a system that meets your needs and style. Once you have your menu complete, make sure to write the date range on it and place it on your fridge for easy viewing. No more, “Mom what’s for dinner?!” from the other room. Your whole family can see exactly what will be served. Kids can even see the snacks they can eat that day without having to ask you!
5. Make the shopping list. Remember to consider the items you already have, then use your menu worksheet to create your final list. This is a great opportunity to list bulk staple items that will be used over a longer period of time like grains and meats. Fruits and vegetables are great as snacks, salads, and side options, so make sure to list a variety. If you’re stumped for ideas, think in color: Get several different colored fruits and vegetables for a variety of flavor and nutrients.
6. Go shopping. Stick to the list! You’ve done the work, so trust that the items you listed are what you need. You’ll find that your shopping experience is much more organized, and because you checked for sales items ahead of time, you’re no longer wasting energy and time searching for deals. You already know what they are. Enjoy the savings in time and money!
7. Preparation. Preparation. Preparation. This is the fun part! When you bring your loot home, pack away all the non-perishable food items and leave out your fresh produce. This step doesn’t take as long as it may seem, but it is critical to having an organized and efficient kitchen. Take your fruits and vegetables out of the store plastic bags and get your food storage zipper bags, plastic containers, and a sharpie marker. Wash leafy greens, dry them thoroughly and place them in zipper bags making sure to squeeze out all air before sealing. Write the item name and the current date on the bag and store. For other vegetables, store them in the same way without washing first. (You’ll wash them when you’re ready to use them, of course.)
Here’s a time saver for storing meat: If you use a food scale for your meat, for instance, now’s the time to weigh out individual servings of your meat, wrap them up separately in plastic wrap (to prevent them form sticking and freezing together) and place them in a freezer bag. When it’s time to use it, no weighing needed! You can take out individually wrapped servings from that same bag the night before they are needed, leaving what you don’t need. Place them in your fridge to thaw out overnight, and they’re ready for you to use the next day. The idea is to have everything ready and at your fingertips so that your prep time is significantly reduced when it is time to prepare a meal or snack.
8. Get and stay organized. None of this would work for you if your space isn’t organized. This is the key to the success of your meal planning and prepping. Having an organized kitchen means that items are stored exactly where they should be, are easy to find, identify, and access. And because you take the time to label and put them away, you’re less likely to forget that stash of parsley stuck at the back of your vegetable drawer.
9. Enjoy meal time. When you put time into the planning process, you have so much working for you when it’s actually time to prepare a meal or a snack. One glance at your menu sheet tells you what you’re there to make; you know exactly where to find the ingredients; you can rest assured that you have the items you need; and your family has probably weighed in long in advance on what they want to eat. Proper preparation prevents poor performance…even in the kitchen! And the best part? Everyone has more time to enjoy your delicious food and each other’s company because of your savvy meal planning system!
10. Take a break! You’ve earned it. With the time you’ve saved effectively preplanning your family’s meals and the kids back in school, you should have more time for yourself. Enjoy that!