Meal planning is a small investment with HUGE returns. When I map out our dinners, a certain amount of stress just falls away from my week. I usually sketch out the week’s dinner plan, along with my grocery list, on my Meal Planning Worksheet. My friend Jessica publishes hers each Monday on her blog Nutritioulicious to share recipes and ideas with her readers. She’s so organized and on top of things, I asked her to share her secrets. Enjoy!
5 Tips for Better Meal Planning
by Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN
As a mom of twin 4 ½-year old girls, I know how hectic and chaotic weekdays are for many families. Between getting the kids to school, shuttling them to and from activities, working, and making meals, the days go by all too quickly. My only saving grace is that I’m a planner, and when it comes to feeding my family, my weekly menu plan is the number one thing I do to ensure we’re eating homemade meals most nights of the week. Here are my five best tips for making that happen:
- Start small. If you’re not a planner or never meal planned before, don’t try to map out a whole week of meals at once. Start with planning two meals and work yourself up to four or five. Once you get the hang of planning your meals and having on hand everything you need to implement them, you can progress to what seems like the right fit for your family. Remember: There’s no right and wrong when it comes to meal planning. You do what’s best for your personal family needs.
- Schedule at least one night off. Monday through Friday are the main days of the week that I cook from scratch, with weekend meals consisting of leftovers, one adult night out for my husband and me, and a dinner out as a family. In addition to the weekends off from cooking, I also schedule one night during the week that I’m off duty, usually Thursday. I recently shared with my readers that there was a week when I didn’t schedule my night off and I majorly regretted it. I was so exhausted by the end of the week that I scrapped the menu for that night, threw together random leftovers in the fridge for the kids and ordered in dinner for my husband and me. And you know what? I didn’t feel guilty, my kids didn’t cry or whine for a different meal, and my husband was happy to have takeout for a change! The pressure I was putting on myself to make another new meal wasn’t worth it.
- Keep stock of food you have on hand. I come up with my menu in a bunch of different ways including recipes I’ve Pinned or dog-eared from magazines and cookbooks, dishes I was inspired by at a restaurant, and family requests. But the number one way I decide what I’m cooking is based on what’s currently in my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. It is the best way to avoid food waste (a very serious issue these days) and make sure we use up the ingredients we have on hand before buying something new.
- Cook in bulk. One of the benefits of thinking ahead and planning your meals is that you can make extra of a recipe, so you have enough for leftovers another night or to freeze for a busy week. Whenever I make sauce for a pasta dish, chili, or a batch of meatballs or muffins, I double the recipe and freeze half. The little bit of extra time it takes on that day of cooking is more than made up for when I have a defrosted meal on the table in no time.
- Plan one meal per night and that’s it. This last tip will not only help you with meal planning, but also in helping your children learn to eat a well-rounded diet and put an end to picky eating. Don’t be a short order cook. I know many parents who stand at the stove all evening as they make grilled cheese for one child and chicken fingers for another, all the while the meal that was planned and made is going to waste. As long as there is one item on the table that you know your kids like, you don’t need to make separate meals for everyone. I promise your children will not starve!
Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Nutritioulicious, a New York-based nutrition communications and consulting business with a focus on culinary nutrition. She writes the popular blog Nutritioulicious, where she shares weekly meal plans, family-friendly recipes, and nutrition tips. Follow Jessica on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.