Meal planning and prep. What used to be a mom-only household duty has over the last year or so morphed into something that my husband and I do together. Not that we are both in the kitchen at the same time, because that would be awesome. Since there is usually only one of us at home at a time, we’ve come up with some systems to make it easier on us to get a home-cooked meal on the table every night. Because we do eat at home every night. I’m sharing my meal planning tips with you because this is how we manage to make our lives easier. And anything that makes things easier for me just might help one of you!
This comes from a strategy I use in planning my lessons called backwards mapping. To do it, you look ahead at what needs to be accomplished and plan in a sequential manner to successfully meet your end goal. In this case, the end goal is to have everything on hand for making dinner in a timely manner.
- Check everyone’s calendars. Our family stays organized using Google calendar, but apps like the Cozi Family Organizer are also great for managing the schedules of busy families (available on iTunes or Android). Our Google calendar has Logan’s baseball games and practices, John’s work schedule, my part-time job schedule, parties, any after-hours work meetings, and dinners for the week (everyone is on their own for lunch and breakfast). I like using Google calendar because it keeps all of our information in one place and it’s free. Free is always good. 🙂
- Check the weather. I know this sounds kind of silly, and it’s definitely not a critical step to the meal planning process. We live in Southern California, where some days are really hot. I don’t want to have a meal scheduled on a hot day that would have the oven going all afternoon. And you never know, it might rain (wishful thinking?). If we ever do have a rainy day, that would be a really good day to have a soup planned.
- Plan one or two big meals so we can have a leftovers night. Right now Thursdays are my hard day so I like to schedule leftovers for Thursday nights. That way when I get home from work I can spend quality time with my kids and not have to worry about cooking.
- Keep track of your favorites. I used to use a binder that held all my weekly meal plans. You can find a link to my meal planning template here. I would save all my meal plans and highlight our favorite meals. I also had a system for color-coding the meals to help me remember what type of meal they were. My go-to meals are either quick and easy, for the crockpot, or pumped-up healthy. I’ve gone greener over the last few years and now I keep track of our favorites in Google calendar.
- Make a weekly shopping trip. This helps with staying within your budget, too! We do our grocery shopping for the week on Saturday or Sunday morning, and that way I rarely have to stop for stop for groceries on the way home from work.
- Use a shopping list app. This has been our lifesaver. My husband and I both have access to our shopping list using the app Out of Milk. As John or I come up with the weekly meal plan, we type the recipe name into our Google calendar and open up another tab on the computer to add the recipe ingredients into outofmilk.com, which syncs with our apps and-Voila! Everything we need is in the cloud and accessible through our smart phones.
Meal planning has been a lifesaver for us as a family of busy parents. Any night of the week I know I’ll have all the ingredients on hand for a family dinner. With that taken care of, dinner prep goes much more smoothly than when we try to just come up with something from the contents of the pantry.
Do you meal plan? How do you keep your planning organized?