Meal Planning Part 2: Effective Meal Planning

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Some of you have commented about my meal planning, but aren’t sure how to get started. When I first started doing this, it was a learning process and I didn’t really find anything that helped me through the process. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but these are the things that work for our family. I hope some of them will work for you as well. 

Brainstorm. 

Sometimes, it’s difficult to come up with a single meal for dinner that night, so planning an entire week (or 2) worth of meals in one setting can be a bit daunting.  Before I started planning I had a brainstorming session, making a list of our favorite meals. I separated this list into categories, like “chicken” “beef” “quick meals” “soups” etc.  Now, when I plan each week I can refer to this list. When I sit down to make my weekly meal plan, I have the following resources available: my meal list, several previous meal plans, and my want-to-try recipe list (Pinterest is a great resource for this). I also take a quick glance at local sales ads, and my own pantry so that I know what I have to work with.

Start Small.

When I planned my first weekly menu, I was so excited that I planned for a big, fancy meal every day.  Not only was I quickly burned out cooking meals that require more time and clean up, but we were also overrun with leftovers.  

Plan meals that you will stick to and your family will eat.  If you have new recipes to try, I would recommend working them in no more than once a week. 

Plan for your schedule.

All those overwhelming leftovers from my first meal plan?  They are my friend now.  I plan for them.  Know your schedule while you’re planning so that you can plan for those nights when you don’t have a lot of time to cook.  Use up leftovers for busy nights, and don’t be afraid to pencil in a quick and easy meal as needed. 

Be Flexible.

Your meal plan is a guide to help you, but it’s okay to venture away from it sometimes.  A few weeks ago, we were having “one of those days” at my house.  Daddy was working long hours, and my boys (2 and 4) had been acting out all day.  Finally at supper time, I put on my cheerful face and said, “You know what?  Let’s have pancakes for supper.”  It wasn’t what was on my menu that night, but it was a nice treat for them and turned our entire night around. 

I also like to have some 15-minute meal ideas waiting in the wings in case something comes up.  Yes, the idea is to stick with your plan, but sometimes life happens, and if I can fix a quick supper of simple goulash in 15 minutes instead of eating fast food, it’s still a victory for us.

Don’t Compare.

It’s great to check out other people’s meal plans for inspiration, (This Week For Dinner And Meal Plan Monday are a couple of great resources for that) but don’t compare your menu to others and get discouraged.  Some people might have fancier meals, while we eat simple goulash an average of once a week.  Some people might plan for 3 meals a day, while you’re struggling to plan for supper.  Don’t worry about it.  Get the ideas, but check the comparisons at the door.  You are planning meals and cooking meals for your family, and that’s what matters.

What are your best tips for effective meal planning?

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