My Top Meal Planning Tips {You Can't Add Hot Water to Ketchup & Call It Tomato Soup! }

 I’m standing in my kitchen at 6:45pm. I’m hungry. The baby is in bed and I should make dinner but instead I’m reaching for some nacho crumbs at the bottom of the bag and dipping them in cream cheese. Healthy? No. Desperate? Yes.

I know, I am a grown woman and mom, I shouldn’t be eating like a drunk frat boy. I KNOW the value of planning meals! Meal planning saves money, makes you more organized and hopefully healthier too. Its taken us a few years to learn how to meal plan effectively. Here are some of the things that have worked for us (I’ve also noted sections for which I have made corresponding printables, they can all be found here):

1. MEAL LIST Write a list of all the meals you like (printable). This was the first and most beneficial thing we did. To help with this list, try writing down the meals you have each day (printable) and cross out the ones you don’t want to eat again. This can also help serve as a future template

2. CHANGE IT UP Add new recipes from time to time. Go through your cookbooks and write down a few recipes you want to try (just a couple at a time or you won’t be as likely to make them). We keep a list of Recipes to Try (printable) and I add them directly into my MealBoard App

3. GROCERY LIST Use some kind of system that allows you to make a grocery list quickly and easily. I would be lost without the MealBoard App & our hallway chalkboard. Some other great examples can be found at Money Saving Mom and the Letter 4. (I had also seen an example on a blog where a grocery list was written on the back of recipe cards. Cards were pulled each week to plan the meals and groceries bought from there.

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If anyone knows which blog this is please send me the link so I can add it.) 

4. MEAL PLAN TEMPLATES Have some weekly meal plan templates handy for the weeks you can’t think of what to make. You may even wish to have monthly templates
5. MENU BOARD Have the ‘menu for the week’ displayed so the family knows what to expect. This also makes it easier for you to stick to the plan rather than changing things last minute. You don’t have to have set days on what to eat – just this idea of what will be made for the week
6. BACK UP MEALS Don’t stress if the plans don’t work perfectly. Have some back up meals at home – maybe a frozen cheese pizza you can load with veggies, or eggs on toast (our standard fall back). We keep a list (printable) of quick meals we can make from the pantry/freezer 
7. LEFTOVER LIST Use your leftovers! We write down ideas on how to use leftovers on a leftover list (printable). For example, if we have baked potatoes one night I make a couple extra for potato soup. Or we may take all the half-used ingredients in the fridge and make a ‘kitchen sink recipe’ such as a quiche, stir-fry, soup, pasta, sandwich
8. INVENTORY Keep an inventory of what is in the pantry and freezer, we do so on our handy chalkboard. There is so much $$ worth of food do we have in the house already. If we have reminders of what is there we are more likely to use it up
9. MAKE AHEAD MEALS Where possible make meals, snacks or parts of meals ahead of time. This has become quite valuable for me as my husband works shift work which means long days at home with the little one.  We write down meals and sides I can make ahead of time on a list (printable). There are also many cookbooks that cater to making food ahead of time (see one of my favs called Meals in Minutes)

10. EAT IT ALL If there are any leftovers not claimed for lunches or used for other meals then some nights we will have leftover madness – we heat all of the leftovers in the fridge and have a smorg.  Or as mentioned above we will make kitchen sink recipes. It takes some creativity and trial and error but its a great way to use up all the groceries and try something different. 

What meal planning strategies have you found works for your family? 

Check out my MUST HAVE APP for Meal Planning!
Check out my family binder and free printables.

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