The How-To Guide on Family Meal Planning

by Courtney Christensen

There are many benefits to planning your family’s meals for the week or the month. It saves you time and money by helping you stick to a shopping list of essentials. It can help you eat healthier instead of just grabbing take out. It can even cut down on arguments from family members on what sounds good for dinner.

However, just because meal planning sounds great in theory, no one method works for every family in practice. Traditionally, meal planning requires making a list of recipes and ingredients needed for the week. But, this isn’t always the best option. For some families, traditional meal planning provides flexibility to choose any meal they want. For other families, the lack of structure involved makes it easy to break away from the plan.

Here is a list of great meal planning ideas for you to try with your family.

Traditional Method

Traditional meal planning is very basic. It’s simple, and requires the least work up front. With this classic method, you choose the number of meals you’ll need for the next week, two weeks, or month and jot down as many recipes it takes to fill those days. Once you’ve got your list of recipes, you create a shopping list and you’re good to go. You can assign meals to specific days or just keep a running list up on the fridge of the meals you’ve got left.

Pros: This method is pretty flexible and allows you to choose any kind of recipe anytime. You can create a strict schedule or just choose dinners as you go.

Cons: Because this method is super flexible, some families may find themselves straying from the plan. Shopping for ingredients can become expensive, as well, particularly if you use uncommon ingredients or don’t reuse ingredients in several meals.

DIY Meal Kit Subscription Method

Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Home Chef – you’ve probably heard all about meal kit subscriptions. These kits range in price from $4 per meal to $10+ per meal. If you’ve got the funds for it, they are an excellent way to avoid shopping and meal prep for the week. However, once kids are added to the mix, meal kits become more and more expensive. Instead, try the DIY version.

Like the traditional method, choose your recipes for the week and go shopping. Then, gather and prep as many of those recipes’ ingredients as you can. Chop onions, portion out the right amount of rice or pasta, measure spices and store them in a small Tupperware container. Once all of your ingredients are gathered together, store them together, too. Place all the ingredients in a bag or reusable container so when it’s time to cook, you pull the whole thing out and toss everything together.

Pros: This method makes it easy to make meals on a weeknight when you’ve got very little time. All of your ingredients are pre-measured and prepped meaning all you have to do is throw them in the oven or toss them in a pot and you’re good to go. This method is perfect for crock pot and instant pot meals, too.

Cons: Out of all the methods, this one takes the most time and work up front. You will spend quite a bit of time prepping all of your recipes at once. Additionally, by storing your recipes’ ingredients separately in your fridge, you can run out of space pretty quickly.

Pantry Clean Up Method

Do you know what’s in your fridge, pantry, and freezer? There aren’t many people that keep a tab on all of the food in their house, but it’s time to start! I suggest using this method at least every couple of months, or even monthly for one week. It’s a great way to make sure you use everything you’ve bought before it expires.

Make a list of all the ingredients you currently have on hand. You don’t need to count everything, of course, but definitely mark down what kind of meats, grains, and perishable foods you have. Then, create a meal plan for the week based on what you’ve already got at home.

Pros: The biggest pro for this method is preventing food waste. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average American wastes over 200lb of food per year. It equals to around $1,600 of wasted money for each American family every year. So the second biggest pro? You’ll save money on your groceries by not throwing away food you’ve already bought and by not spending more money at the grocery store for more food.

Cons: Many homes are not fully stocked with every ingredient you’ll need to make recipes. You will likely still have to go the store to purchase some of the ingredients. But, honestly, that’s not much of a con compared to the fantastic pros.

Couponer Method

Instead of choosing recipes by randomly swiping through Pinterest, pull out your weekly grocery store ads instead. These ads, combined with coupons (both physical and digital) will open up a world of recipes for you to try without breaking the bank. Coupons often help shoppers buy in bulk, but you’ll get more for your money.

Pros: This method is a great way to save money! It also helps with avoiding decision fatigue when it comes to choosing recipes for the week.

Cons: Coupons often encourage buying in bulk, which can cost more up front. You may also need to reuse ingredients throughout the week. For example, if potatoes are on sale, you may have to use potatoes as a side in two or three meals that week.

More Tips

  • Create a master list of your family’s favorite recipes. Put these recipes in a binder or write them on index cards for you to pull from every week.
  • Make a list of recipes you want to try. This can be a physical list or a Pinterest board. If you’re struggling for ideas, steal one from this list.
  • Use theme nights. ‘Meatless Mondays’, ‘Taco Tuesdays’, etc. This is especially fun for kids!
  • Take a look at your weekly calendar before making a meal plan. Know what days you have more or less time to cook dinner and plan ahead.
  • Choose one day as your shopping and prep day. Do as much meal prep as you can as soon as you get home from the store – before you put all the groceries away.



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