I never understood it when my mom said that planning meals each week was one of the most difficult parts of being an adult. Once I had a family and house of my own, I got it! Deciding what to eat each week has been one of the greatest struggles of my post-grad life.
I won’t say that I’ve developed the best system that exists out there, but I have found a few tricks that help make meal planning a bit less stressful. Everybody is different and operates on different schedules. What works for one might not work for another! However, I have found that having some type of system in place can save you from many headaches.
Here are some of the practices that we have found to be the most beneficial in our family:
Weekly Meal Planning
I know many people that opt to do the “decide on the fly” route of meal planning. With my Type A personality, I cannot stand to not have a plan! So, we’ve settled on a weekly planning schedule that works for us.
Typically, I start to think about the next week’s meals on Thursday or Friday. I have a Google document saved where I have created a very simple chart that has a different block for each meal (and snack) of the coming week.
Before anything else, fill in the meals on your document that you know you won’t need to cook for. For example, we always eat out on Sundays after church. Therefore I’ll go ahead and fill in that box with “lunch out”. If we have plans with friends or will be out of the house for a meal, I’ll be sure to note that to remind myself that I don’t have to plan a meal for that day.
I will then choose the meals that we will eat for the week. This is the hardest part! I have found it to be incredibly difficult to know what to add to those meal slots. We often feel like we’re eating the same things over and over again. I’m still working on the best ways to get creative with new meals, but for now, I’ve found two things to be helpful: shared recipe albums and a list of all meal options.
I have a shared Pinterest recipe album with my sister that we can both contribute to as well as a shared photo album through our iPhones that allow us to post pictures of recipes that we have found and enjoyed. I have also recently started a note on my phone where I keep a list of all of the meals we’ve ever had. If I have no idea what to cook that week, these are the two places I go to find new recipes or to be reminded of recipes that we’ve had in the past and loved!
The next step is to start filling in your weekly meal calendar! Typically, I eat the same thing for breakfast each morning. Those slots are easy to fill in. Then I will add in the snacks that I plan to eat for the week. I will then skip over to dinner. We try to cook enough each night to have leftovers for lunch the next day. Therefore, I fill in our dinner menu for the week first to know how many lunches I will have left to fill in once I account for leftovers.
After dinner is complete, I finish up with my lunch plan for the week. I usually prep lunches for the week on Sundays if we won’t have enough leftovers to carry us through, so these meals are something that can be made ahead and eaten over the course of the week.
Having a plan for the week not only helps to save us from the arguments that ensue over what’s for dinner, but also tends to save us money! Once I’ve completed our meal plan for the week, I move to the grocery shopping. I use the chart to decide what groceries are needed for the week. I will go meal by meal making my grocery list. I try to do this when I’m home and standing in my kitchen so that as I go down the list of ingredients needed for each meal, I can check to make sure we don’t already have it.
I am not a grocery store kinda girl! If I walk through the store, I’ll be there for hours and leave with far more than I needed in the first place. Grocery pickup has become my saving grace! Depending on our weekend plans, we like to schedule our grocery orders for Sunday mornings before church. This way we have all of the groceries we need at the house to prep whatever food is needed on Sunday afternoons. Walmart pickup makes it incredibly easy to place an order, drive up to a parking spot, have your groceries placed in your car, and be on your way!
We don’t choose to prepare all of our meals beforehand because we enjoy cooking throughout the week. However, there are certain things that are easier to prep beforehand to make your week go a bit smoother. For me, this is typically my breakfast and lunch for the week. This allows my mornings to run smoother and to avoid eating out for lunch every day. Check out some of my favorite breakfast and lunch meals below! I will spend a bit of time on Sunday afternoons preparing my breakfast and lunch meals. Once they’re cooked and ready, I’ll divide them into small containers so they’re easy to grab and go.
I’m all about making things as easy as possible during the busy weeks. Therefore, every night before bed I prep as much as I can for the next day’s meals. Sometimes there isn’t much you can do, but if there is I try to go ahead and get it done. This could include:
- Laying out all of the breakfast items that you’ll need on the counter or grouping them together in the refrigerator for easy access
- Setting out your lunch box and filling it with your snacks for the next day and whatever doesn’t have to be stored in the refrigerator
- Dipping out your lunch portion into a smaller container to grab on your way out of the door to add to your lunch box
- Depending on your dinner recipe, layout any ingredients that can be put out ahead of time. If I’m using the crockpot, instant pot, or any other appliance I will also go ahead and set it out and prepare it to be used.
I would love to say that this is exactly the system we follow each and every week, but more times than not we get off schedule a bit, forget to plan a meal, don’t take into account something in our schedule, forget an ingredient, or change our minds on what we want. We’re not perfect with it, by any means! Having even a loose plan, in my opinion, is better than no plan at all!
As I said in the beginning, everybody is different. Having a set schedule might feel a little too stressful for some. The beauty is that we all have the freedom to find what works best for our own families! Whether you decide at 5 PM what is for dinner that night or plan ahead for every bite of food you’ll take that week, find whatever fits your lifestyle!
Below are a few of our current favorite meal options:
- Kodiac Muffins or Pancakes & a Banana
- Avocado Toast & Boiled Eggs
- Scrambled Eggs & Yogurt with Berries
- Sausage Muffins & a Clementine
- Protein Smoothie
- Chicken Salad
- Sausage & Veggies
- Joseph’s Lavash Bread Turkey Wrap
- Chopped Salad Kits with Rotisserie Chicken
- Air Fried Chicken Tenders & Veggies
- Chicken Tacos
- Pesto Chicken
- Turkey and Pesto Paninis
- Philly Cheesesteak Skillet
- Sheet Pan Chicken, Veggies & Potatoes