Getting a grasp on our weekly menu plan has significantly reduced stress in our family life. It’s also reduced our weekly grocery shopping bill! But getting to the point where we can plan meals and shop (aka create our grocery pick-up order) on a lazy Saturday morning in about 30 minutes took some trial and error and family training. Here are 15 tips and strategies you can pick and choose from to start or strengthen your weekly menu planning and meal prepping. Do some or do all!
1. Spend Time Looking for Recipes
Spend dedicated, intentional time actually looking for recipes. My favorite place is Pinterest. But you can also check out recipe and cooking websites, your Facebook or IG feed, or (gasp!) actual cookbooks!
2. Save the Recipes in a System
Now that you’re starting to get a collection of recipes you need to save them somewhere where you’ll find them. Again, Pinterest is my favorite. I have specific boards for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts. Feel free to check out my recipe collection anytime!
3. Ask the Family What They Like
The first two suggestions will do you no good if you aren’t actually talking to your family about what THEY like, too! I have my family so well trained on this that they write on our family whiteboard suggestions for meals during the week and by Saturday I usually only have to fill in one or two recipes. Menu planning should not fall to one person in the family. It’s a family meal and should be a family effort. “But, Kristyn, my kids will only request mac n cheese or chicken nuggets!” So let them. At first. As your weeks become more varied chances are they will find new choices or versions they like better!
4. Check the Weather
This may sound silly on the surface but it’s actually super smart. Who wants to be cooking soup or chili on a 90-degree day? And we certainly get our weird hot days even in the fall in the Chicagoland area. Or who wants to plan for a BBQ when it’s cool and rainy? Making sure your menu fits the season and weekly weather will make for less complaints from the whole family.
5. Meal Journal!
This is, by far, my favorite strategy. Meal Journaling! If you are a part of my In Crowd on Facebook you’ll know first hand that I post my family’s menu planner every Sunday morning for you all. And then I cook to it all week. I have DOZENS of these filled out menu plans and I use them as inspiration or reminders of recipes we cooked. I do my on Canva since I post them on Facebook, but you can use a spreadsheet, word document, or simple pen and paper.
6. Plan Your Sit-Down Meals
You can probably tell by my business name (Mealtime Memories) that we value family mealtime. Family therapist Anne Fishel says only about 30% of families regularly eat dinner together, despite family meal time being hugely beneficial for kids.* While I know work, school, sport, and extra-curricula activity schedules can be hectic we can’t use that as an excuse. I am absolutely right in the midst of that life, too, yet between 5:30-6pm nearly everyday we are all in the same spot at the same time. Aim for eating dinner together 2-3 days a week at first and set the date on the calendar. Everyone in the family will have the expectation to be home and ready to enjoy dinner together.
7. Use Theme Nights
This strategy is what helps us seek out recipes, plan our sit-down meals, and show up in our meal journal…using themes for each day of the week. It helps us narrow down recipes and make sure we are eating a variety of foods. Here is our weekly focus:
- Monday: Italian
- Tuesday: Tex Mex/Mexican/Latin
- Wednesday: American
- Thursday: Mediterranean/Asian/Indian
- Friday: Pizza/Burgers/Sandwiches
8. Pick a Shopping Day and Shop From a List
Our shopping consists of grocery pick-up, or if in a pinch grocery delivery. I don’t have time to make a list and then shop for it. Instead, I make a list that doubles as my shopping experience. We do this on Saturday mornings. After we create our menu plan for the week I look up the matching recipes and shop from the recipe, as well as get input for side dishes. Yes I said WE. Remember, not one person is in charge of the menu. We do it together. It empowers everyone and teaches valuable nutrition skills, too. After I get our grocery list started everyone else can chime in with what they need added for breakfasts, lunches, or snacks (check out my blog from earlier this summer on Snacking). We have saved a lot of money and food waste shopping from specific recipes.
9. Shop What’s On Sale
Another strategy for shopping is to first shop what is on sale and work backwards to create your menu plan. This is not a strategy we follow but my parents do and I know many other families that do, too. So, if chicken is on sale then you know that a few of your recipes you need to seek out are going to include chicken that week. Talk about even more savings!
10/11. Make Enough Food for Leftovers and Freezing by Batch Cooking
A double whammy strategy! Double your recipes! You’ll thank yourself later. Make a double batch of meatballs, cook all of them, and freeze half for another day. Make a couple extra servings of tacos so you can enjoy them for lunch the next day. This tip saves us a lot on take-out or extra lunch groceries, too! That chicken that was on sale? Cook all of it at once with simple salt and pepper and then use different seasonings all week to transform it into new recipes. I am the queen of freezing stuffs so not sure if you can freeze it? Just ask. 😉
12. Prep After You Shop
Really pressed for time during the week but really want to try that family mealtime? Prep your goodies right after you shop (or after grocery pick-up/delivery). I do this with our proteins and remove all the fruits and vegs from their packaging. It makes snacking much more accessible, too!
13. Freezer Meals
While this option isn’t as trendy as it was a few years ago it’s still a great strategy. This takes prepping after you shop to a whole new level. Protein in one bag, veggies in another, and (sometimes) marinade in a third if you are not already adding it your meat. Then on cooking day you just actually cook the meal-usually just a skillet, sheet pan, or crockpot needed!
14. Keep Your Fridge Airy and Organized
This strategy will come easy if you are shopping from recipes. No more finding rotten fresh food in the back of your crisper drawer because you’ll be using everything in your fridge within about 5 days of purchasing it. Teaching your family where to find items and how to store items will lead to less headache for you, too! Our fridge looks like this:
- Top shelf if for eggs, butter, bread/buns, and yogurt
- Middle shelf is a catch all for our most used items like pickles, salsas, sour cream, hummus, peanut butter, and smaller leftovers
- Bottom shelf is for prepped meats (which I keep on a larger platter in case there are any leaks), larger leftovers, milks, cold brew coffee
- Left and right crispers are for lettuces and green, middle crisper is for onions, peppers, carrots, etc
- Bottom drawer is for deli meats and cheeses
15. Keep Staples in the Pantry
It’s inevitable. Plans have to change sometimes. A kid gets sick. A spouse works late. The food you bought wasn’t great quality (I recently had this happen with a slab of ribs), or the food you made was not a winning recipe. So, keep you pantry with some staples so that you have options when these things come up. Our staples usually consist of dry pasta and marinara, beans, instant potatoes, and rice (a few varieties). It’s one less thing I need to worry about if I’m in a pinch, which thankfully doesn’t happen very often.
If you haven’t yet grabbed or fully read through my FREE Family Menu Guide make sure to do that ASAP. Not only will you find some more family mealtime habits to work on but you can find a 5-day sample menu that follows a lot of these principles! Scroll down on our homepage and enter your email address. I cross my heart I will never send you spam. 😉