Below you will find eight tips that will help you write a meal plan you will actually follow. I have arrived at these tips through trial and error and trying ideas from others (resources listed below). If something doesn't work at first, adjust the plan and try again!
Tip #1: Choose a specific day of the week you will meal plan and grocery shop the next day.
I used to go grocery shopping on whichever day of the week was convenient for me that particular week. This caused so much decision fatigue because I would have to debate every week about which day was best for grocery shopping. Now, I meal plan on Thursdays and grocery shop on Fridays.
There are weeks where we have family visiting or another extenuating circumstance but I have found that most weeks this works for our schedule. It has been helpful to make one less decision each week knowing that I have a plan for meal planning and grocery shopping.
Tip #2: Consult your weekly schedule before creating your meal plan.When I sit down to meal plan, I list out the days of the week (right now I am keeping track of this by month in a simple Excel document). Before I fill in any meals, I jot down anything we have scheduled that will effect meal planning.
For example, if we will be gone all morning, I don't schedule a crockpot meal that day because that prep usually takes place in the morning. If we have a meeting that evening, I choose a meal that doesn't require a lot of clean-up because the post-dinner rush is crazy without a lot of dishes lying around. I am also able to think about any meals where we will be hosting guests or family that may be in town visiting.
Tip #3: Consider what is required before adding a recipe to your meal plan.
Ask yourself the following questions: When do I need to start preparing this meal? Which appliances will I need to use? Will it require a lot of hands-on work (chopping, mixing, stirring or managing the stovetop)? Add the recipe to a day of the week that can allow for the needs of the recipe.
Tip #4: Create your meal plan and move on.
Maybe it's just me but I used to agonize over my meal plan. I wanted to create the best meal plan that had ever been created. I wanted my family to rejoice after every dinner and for us to have the perfect amount of leftovers for lunch the next day. I placed unrealistic expectations on the meal plan I had created and I would always become disappointed with how it played out.
I realized I should create the meal plan that is practical for that week because life is about more than a perfect meal plan. I chose a system I could follow. I listed the types of meals I make on each day of the week here and I plugged in recipes that worked with the schedule that week. Then, I moved on.
I experienced so much freedom because I allowed myself to focus on making progress toward a sustainable way to meal plan instead of fixating on an ideal, unattainable meal plan that doesn't exist.
Tip #5: Have a dry erase board or notepad in the kitchen.
Write down your meal plan on a dry erase board or notepad and add grocery and household items you run out of or are getting low on through out the week. This provides a visual reminder that you have a plan for meals (and if your kids can read, you don't have to answer the "what's for dinner?" question all day, every day). It also provides a central location to collect items you'll need to buy at the store and you can quickly reference it when you are creating your grocery list.
Tip #6: Write your grocery list in the order that you will encounter items in the store.
I list all of the produce first, because that is the first section I come to in the grocery store. Then, I add canned items because I will encounter those items next. When I don't do this, I inevitably miss something and have to zig-zag all the way back to the first aisle because I missed it further down on the list.
Tip #7: Refer to your meal plan when creating your grocery list, after you have surveyed your pantry, refrigerator and freezer.
When creating your grocery list, refer to the recipes you plan to make and the staple items you purchase each week. Double-check your pantry, refrigerator and freezer before adding items to your list otherwise you will end up with three bottles of vanilla extract in your cabinet.
Tip #8: Go grocery shopping when it works best for you, depending on your stage of life.
Maybe you love to get out of the house and find grocery shopping with your kids in tow enjoyable. Maybe you burst out in tears at the thought of taking your kids into a grocery store. Do whatever you need to do to make grocery shopping doable right now.
I usually go grocery shopping with all three of my boys but last winter, it felt overwhelming to bring all three of my boys with me, one of whom was an infant so we went through a season where I would grocery shop one evening a week after bedtime or I would take one of my older boys with me on a Saturday morning and make a special date out of it.
If your husband loves to grocery shop (or loves it more than you do, at least), send him! You have to be okay with him making executive decisions on the fly, though.
It won't always be like this so do what you need to do to make it work.
A grocery delivery service or an order online and pick-up option can be great! I have used both at the end of pregnancies and postpartum and have found them very helpful.
I hope this is helpful! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. If nothing else, know that we are in this together and I believe that meal planning requires a lot of trial and error.
Read the next post in the meal planning series: Part IV: How to survive grocery shopping with young children. It is super practical and hopefully helpful for those who are trying to figure out how to navigate grocery shopping with kids!
Lastly, here are a couple great resources online with directions on how to write out a meal plan:
Menu-Making Roundup - all the Worksheets! from Like Mother, Like Daughter: scroll halfway down the page to find the links. Leila Lawler walks you through her process and what she has found to be helpful.
Create a meal plan that will save your life and make you pretty from The Lazy Genius Collective: I appreciated how Kendra walked through the thought process of how she considers what she will make for the week.
Thanks for joining me!