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Meal Planning 101

Meal Planning 101

With the New Year being underway, so many of us have goals to eat healthier and take care of our bodies. I've found that for our family, one of the very best ways to make sure we are eating healthy meals is to meal plan. 

I know, I know, you've heard about meal planning a zillion times, but it's so. dang. hard. Trust me, I hear that. I wrote off meal planning for a long time because I didn't feel like I had the time, but when I finally tried it and made it something that works for me and our family, I never looked back. Our family has benefited greatly from meal planning. We eat healthier and cleaner than we used to, we buy less which means we are throwing away less food and also saving money - there really are so many positive things that come from  planning your meals.

So I'm going to give you all my tips for meal planning. These may work for you, or you may find that something else works better. I had to try out a bunch of different things before I got in the groove of things, but these are what work really well for me!

Tip 1: Schedule your Meal Planning Time

This may sound so silly, but seriously, set aside time to meal plan. I set aside a specific time every week that I do my meal planning. It's every Tuesday evening after the boys go down so I can plan without being disrupted. We order our groceries for pickup and we pick them up on Thursday evening, so I like to order them 48 hours ahead of time. If it helps, set a recurring reminder on your phone for the same time every week. 

Tip 2: Have a Meal Planning Worksheet

I've made this one easy for you by creating a meal planning worksheet that's set up exactly how I do it. You can find the free download here. A worksheet helps you keep all your meals and ingredients and meals organized. You can even put it on your fridge or somewhere in your kitchen to remind you what you're cooking each day. 

Tip 3: Find Blogs/Recipes You like and Save Them

I have a list of several food bloggers I love and I make meals from their sites regularly. I have included a list of them below! I also keep a running list of things my husband says he really likes or things the kids seem to enjoy and I pull from that list each week. 

Here are some of my favorite blogs to pull recipes from: 

Pinch of Yum
Skinnytaste
Half Baked Harvest
Ambitious Kitchen
Modern Proper
Minimalist Baker

Tip 4: Plan According to Your Week

When I'm meal planning, I have my calendar open so I can see what's happening during the week. If I see that my husband is going to be getting home late one evening, I know I'll be cooking with the kids running around. I'll choose an easy recipe for that evening or even choose to order in that evening.
Speaking ordering in, we choose to do that once a week, so I always look at my calendar and pick the best night for that. If I look at the calendar and there is an evening we have a lot going on, we'll order in that evening. 
My husband can also cook, so if I know I'm going to be gone for dinner one evening, I'll choose a simple meal for him and the kids. 

Tip 5: Choose a Variety of Meals

When I say "choose a variety" I mean this in a couple of different ways. You want to choose a variety of meal types so you aren't eating the same thing every night. During the Fall/Winter, I like to make 1 soup a week. I also usually do a chicken meal and a vegetarian meal each week. Then I fill in with other kinds of meals (pasta, salads, etc.). 
The other variety I choose is difficulty level in cooking. Now, I say this as someone who loves to cook and try new things. Usually I choose to do the "harder" recipes on the weekends because I know I'll have more time since my husband is home. I choose simpler and easier recipes for during the week. 

Tip 6: Write out Ingredients and Find Ones that Overlap

This is where using your meal planning worksheet really comes in handy. On the one that I use, I like to write what we are eating for dinner on each day and then list the ingredients underneath. As I'm planning my week, I may notice that two recipes call for cilantro. I know I won't need a whole bunch of cilantro for one recipe, so I can use one bunch for both. 
One thing I've noticed about myself is that when a recipe calls for 1 small onion, I usually only use half an onion because they are larger. So when I'm meal planning, if I have a couple of recipes with onion, I know I'll only need one to cover the two. Writing out ingredients helps you notice and see these things so you can avoid buying duplicates and in turn, throwing away food.

Tip 7: Write Down your Staple Items 

We have a list of items that we buy every week for lunches, snacks, general items, etc. I always write these down in the "staples" section on the worksheet. You can even make copies after you write in your staples so they are always there and you don't have to write them down week after week. 

Tip 8: Write Down Extras

There is an "extras" section on the worksheet and this comes in handy for any extra things you are making on a particular week. For example, around Christmas, I make cookie tins for neighbors. I know I'll need extra things at the store but it's not included in staples or meals, so I'll put that in the "extras" box for that week. 

I hope these help as you are organizing and planning for the new year! If you have any other meal planning questions, drop them in the comments and I'm happy to help!