Introduction: Family Meal Planning Made Easy
How do you create a healthy meal plan for a busy family of five?
As our family grew, we realised that the old ‘what should we have for dinner tonight?’ question was hard to answer. We started falling into the trap of buying pre prepared meals that sacrifice fresh for fast. At the same time, we were buying fresh produce and watching it go bad in the refrigerator because it took more time to prep than we had. It was time for a change, so we came up with a way to change things up.
- Two working parents and three kids in school.
- Busy evening schedules of activities.
- Fresh food going bad before we could use it.
- Too much over processed food in our diet.
Create a weekly meal plan that fits with the schedule and shifts the focus to real food.
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Step 1: Inventory
Take a look in your cupboards, refrigerator, freezer and storage to see what we have that can or should be used.
Also look at the tools you have available. Slow cooker? Instant Pot? BBQ? Airfryer? Casserole dishes?
Step 2: Local Sales - Seasonal Foods
Look at flyers/mailouts to see what is on sale this week. Looking for three things.
- What are the best deals on fresh food this week?
- What is in season in your local area? And,
- What pantry/household items are on sale that can be stocked for future use?
Step 3: Review the Family Calendar
What evenings in the next week have time available for meal prep (family meals), and which nights do we need a quick meal option (short time between work and activities) or a staggered meal option (people going in different directions at different times).
Step 4: Menu and Recipes
For each weeknight, pick a meal that fits with the time available.
- Slowcooker(one pot) meals are great when you have to stagger meals or for quick meals
- pre-prepped casseroles or fast BBQ meals
- Tacos/fajitas are a great meal when you have family time for prep and eating
- Pick meals that use up food you already have on hand first.
Save time and money by looking for meal options that can be easily doubled to create extra freezer meals , second meals, or lunches.
- Making a lasagna? chilli? or a casserole? Make two so you have one for the freezer
- Making a roast beef for Sunday dinner? Make a larger roast and use the left overs for sandwich meat or to make a beef stew later in the week
- Cooking chicken? Cook extra to be used on salads
When the menu is done, I post it on the refrigerator for easy access during the week and to act as a reminder during the week of what needs to be prepped or taken out of the freezer.
If you don't want to print the menu or use paper, another method we use is using a shared note in Google Keep.
Step 5: Shopping List
Using the menu and recipies, review what you build a shopping list for what you need. If there are really good deals on buy extra for the freezer or pantry.
Add in staple items (bread, milk, eggs, etc)
Shop to your list, stick to the outside of the supermarkets, and try local markets to steer away from overprocessed options.
Step 6: Portioning and Meal Preperation.
Look at the recipes for the week, and look for efficiencies. Can the Sunday roast leftovers be used for stew on thursday? Can i prep veggies for more than one meal? Can I bake/bbq some chicken breasts to be used for salads/casseroles? How about precook ground beef to be used in tacos/chili/pasta sauce?
For the sample menu above, on Sunday I would:
- Cook a large enough roast that the leftovers would make beef stew
- Roast extra veg on Sunday to be used in the stew
- Precook chicken breasts to be used in the Tuesday casserole and the Friday Caesar salad
Step 7: Pro Tips:
At the end of the week, I put the old menu in a folder and then in future weeks if I am having trouble coming up with a meal idea, I flip through the old menus for inspiration.
along with our ‘usual’ recipes, I like to add in something new once in a while or try new foods when they are in season or on sale. For this, I normally search for recipes online. When I find one that sound good and has good reviews, I put it on a " Food " page on Pinterest. When I try the recipe, if the family enjoys it, I move the recipe to my ‘family approved’ page on Pinterest.
- Beef stew
- Corn chowder
- Pot roast
- Pulled pork
Make ahead casseroles:
- Mac and Cheese
- Brocolli Chicken Casserole
- Cabbage rolls
Family prep meals (fun to make with the family)
- do it yourself Pizza
- do it yourself Nachos
- BBQ: burgers, sausages, chicken, pork chops
- Pastas, stir frys, rice dishes
Step 8: Conclusion:
Following this plan, we are eating healthier, wasting far less food to spoilage, and have reduced the cost of groceries and eating out. All together, this saves us a few hundred dollars each month which makes it easier to go for a good meal when we do decide to go out for dinner. It takes some work to make this happen, but it is worth the investment of time.
Runner Up in the
Meal Prep Challenge