Ok, time for a moment of full disclosure: cooking has never been my forte. I wasn’t that little girl in the kitchen begging her mom to let her help and dreaming of becoming a baker or a chef one day when she grew up (like my oldest daughter is!)
I’m too practical for that. I know what I like to eat, I know I need food to fuel my body and I know that this means I have to cook to feed myself. This inevitably led to me acquiring and developing the skills needed to prepare decent meals.
Then I got married to a man who could COOK. I’m talking a man who knows his way around a kitchen and can grab things willy-nilly from the fridge and pantry and throw something uh-mazing together right off the top of his head. And he loves it. It’s really just not fair (no matter how much I have benefitted from it – and trust me, I have!!!)
But, being the old-fashioned, traditional roles enthusiast that I am means that I pride myself in taking care of my family and my home. In my eyes, a large part of fulfilling my role is making sure we are not only fed, but fed well.
Over the years I have become super passionate about nutrition and made it one of my personal challenges and missions in life to learn how to nourish my family by eating clean, whole food meals primarily cooked at home. I’ll be the first to admit that it has been a long, ongoing journey and the more I learn, the more questions I have. I think in this area I will always be a work in progress, but – progress is progress, girls!!
So, what has been the single most important key to ensuring that I am consistent in preparing healthy meals at home, using quality whole food ingredients and not breaking the bank? Two words for you: meal. planning.
Seriously y’all, meal planning has changed my life – especially as our family has grown so quickly over the last five years. Like most of you, with four little ones I don’t have time or money to shop every other day for a few meals worth of ingredients or have an impromptu dinner out if I don’t feel like making a meal at home. Meal planning is crucial to making sure that I know in advance what we’ll be eating, and then it’s just a matter of working the system!
So, here are the best tips and secrets I have learned for healthy, whole food meal planning success – and it really works!
1. Create your recipe index
Spend some time gathering your favorite, relatively easy to prepare recipes from a variety of categories. I recommend having a few breakfast recipes, a few lunch recipes and 7-10 dinner recipes.
You can either write them out on a recipe index worksheet like the one from my Makeover Your Homemaking course, print them out and store them in plastic sleeves in a household planner or save them to your phone, tablet, computer or a special meal planning Pinterest board.
Be sure to record the servings yield, ingredients list and preparation directions for each recipe. By having at collection of at least 7-10 tried-and-true recipes to choose from, you ensure that you will only need to prepare the same meal, at max, once per week. The key to a satisfying meal plan is to rotate what meals you’re preparing throughout the week so there is variety and no one gets bored or sick of a particular dish.
2. Assign meals based on your schedule for each day
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been careless and planned to prepare a dish that requires lots of prep work on a day that is slam-packed with activities. Then, we hit dinner time and there’s no way I can get my planned meal together within an appropriate time frame.
Kids are screaming, I’m exhausted, hubby is arriving home and I just. want. it. to. end. And then what happens? Either we eat sandwiches or order a pizza so everyone is happy, but the point of my meal planning has totally gone out the window.
So, take it from me – it’s completely worth it to take a few minutes of your weekend to look at the week ahead and assign meals appropriately based on what you know will be going on with your family’s schedule each day. Make it as easy on yourself as possible!
To make it even easier, you can pop your email in below to grab a free copy of the weekly meal planner included in my Makeover Your Homemaking course.
3. Make large batches to eat leftovers for lunch the next day
This is actually something I recently started doing since we’ve been trying to eliminate as much processed, refined grains from our diet as possible (due to sensitivities). In our family, sandwiches have long been a lunch-time staple, but what do you feed tiny people for lunch when you are trying to avoid bread??
Well, we’ve come up with many alternatives now, but I will save that for another post. The easiest solution has been to make a large enough batch of the previous night’s dinner to allow for us to have leftovers for lunches. Two birds, one stone!
4. Keep breakfast simple
Do yourself a favor and make your mornings as easy as possible. Whether you are trying to get everyone out the door to work and school or just wake up and get the day rolling at home, mornings can inherently be a challenge. So keep things simple!
Choose only 3 or 4 staple breakfast meals to rotate throughout the week. We rotate foods like smoothie bowls, eggs and turkey bacon, egg and potatoes hash, and grain-free muffins and fruit at our house. This is also a meal where everyone could exercise their freedom of choice a little bit and choose which of the breakfast staple meals they would like that day (if this doesn’t create unnecessary extra work for you).
5. Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with regularly used ingredients
Once you’ve gotten into a groove of rotating through your most regularly used recipes, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you start retaining them by memory. Grocery shopping becomes so much simpler – I find myself mapping my grocery lists out based on the layout of my grocery store and calculating approximately how much my grocery bill should be based on the average price per item I usually pay.
It’s nice when you know that you’ve always got all the ingredients in stock to throw together the easiest of your “go-to” recipes when your plans unexpectedly change. Be sure to keep an eye out for good deals on ingredients you know you will use often and, if possible, stock up!
Each of these tips have been invaluable in helping me establish a meal planning system that really works for my family. I hope you’ll find them to be useful in helping you streamline your meal planning by saving time, money and the headache of always trying to figure out what to make at the last minute!