Tips for planning weekly meals + meal planning worksheet

Why is meal planning so hard for me? I LOVE the idea. I really do. I want to have all my weeknight dinner meals clearly laid out and ready for Aaron when he gets home. I am (after all) the lead parent and householder, so having dinner ready and well-planned is sort of in the job description. And yet, it is so hard for me to consistently have my meals planned in advance and ready to go. I took some time to dissect this a little and figure out what was blocking my culinary abilities.
Here is what I determined:

  • I don’t take any time to really think about the week and visualize what food I want to feed my family.
  • I am not organized and therefore do not have a consistent place or routine to write out my plan.
  • I get sidetracked during my day and by dinnertime I have not been preparing a meal and then feel stressed to get something together.
So all of these things basically illustrate that I need to take some time to prepare, visualize and execute some dinner options for the family. I think I grocery shop well, I definitely bring home a variety of healthy fresh foods. The problem is I don’t have a plan beyond stocking the fridge. I follow some pretty awesome food bloggers (Real Food Whole Life and Nutrition Stripped) and they both use meal planning tools to help organize their food options. I decided to implement a meal planning process that will work for me and try it out next week. I know that this is a habit that will help me in the future when the kids are older and life is more hectic.

So here are my suggestions to myself that you may find some inspiration in:

1. Pick a day for meal planning and put it on the calendar.

I think this may be the most important aspect of this whole thing for me. Setting a time in my schedule to think about the week ahead is the only way I will be able to efficiently and effectively execute dinners. I have decided that Sunday night is the easiest and most logical time for me to think about food for the week.
my goal: I am going to spend at least 5 min every Sunday evening thinking about the food that I will serve that week

2. Make a grocery list according to the meals you outlined
I find it easiest to organize my shopping list by categories- Meats, cheese, veggies, fruits, condiments, grains. I created this  Meal -planning worksheet to make writing my grocery list more of a ritual. Having the same place/format for writing out my list will help me stick to it and hopefully create a habit!
my goal: I am going to use my outline every week!

3. Prepare at least one or two cold sides that can be eaten at various times during the week.
This is a huge one for our family. We love eating pasta salads, fruit salad or any other medley of healthy food already cut up and seasoned. It’s quick and easy. I have a few “go to” cold salad ideas that are favorites in our house and my goal is to actually make one of them for the week.
my goal: Make one side salad to have in the fridge and ready to eat throughout the week. 

4. Pick at least one crock pot meal for the week that can also be eaten as a leftover
Now that it is Fall it feels more appropriate to bust out the crock pot. I love crock pot meals because you literally plop some ingredients into a big pot and turn it on and that’t it! The house is filled with a delicious aroma when you come home and the meal is perfectly cooked. I am a big fan of crock-pot leftovers as well.
my goal: Plan for at least one crock-pot meal for the week

5. Do some prep ahead of time so your weeknight dinner prep is minimal.
I learned a lot about meal prepping at the beginning of the week when we tried the Whole 30 detox. It was really helpful to do one big batch of cooking rather than cooking a full meal every night of the week. One of our favorite things to bulk cook is sweet potatoes and chicken. Its great to have these two healthy ingredients readily available.
my goal: Do a big batch cook in the beginning of the week.

6. Write out what is in your fridge and tape it to the front.
This is a good one. So many times I will spend a ton of money stocking the fridge just to throw a bunch of uneaten food out at the end of the week because it was forgotten or hidden. Writing out the options in the fridge for that week helps remind the family about all the yummy stuff they can choose to eat.
my goal: Tape a blank piece of paper to the front of the fridge to remind me to write out the food options!

7. Don’t forget what your mama taught ya!
My parents are both great cooks. One thing I noticed about hanging out with my parents is they have a few signature dishes that are always a crowd pleaser, and they don’t hesitate to cook them over and over again. I think this is a key idea in meal planning that is often overlooked by yours truly. Remember the “tried and true” meals that maybe aren’t that fancy but you know how to make with your eyes closed. There is no shame in incorporating these comfort meals into your weekly dinners.
my goal: incorporate some familiar dishes that I know how to make into my weekly plan. 
Dish #1: Grilled steak, corn on the cob and pasta with fresh tomatoes + basil
Dish #2: Breaded baked tofu, sauteed spinach with garlic + quinoa
What are your tips for meal planning?

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