← Go back Meal Planning: Seven Simple Steps to Get You Started
Published on Saturday, March 5, 2016 by

familie kocht zusammen spaghettiFor most parents, the most stressful time starts at the end of the work day continuing until the children are (finally) asleep. If I could give you a solution to make this time less hectic for you and your family, would you jump on it?

What’s this solution? Meal planning!

Chances are you are already using a day planner or digital calendar to organize your life. If you can do that, you can meal plan. Let me expand on how meal planning can help you.

Why Meal Plan?
Like most parents, you are already feeling the squeeze of a jam-packed schedule and the very idea of finding time to do even more may leave you feeling rather skeptical about the benefits. Fact is meal planning can save you time, stress, and money.

A good portion of the stress of making dinner each night is figuring out what to make. There you are having another busy day and you stop to check the time noticing it is 4pm already. Realizing that you haven’t thought of dinner, you start experiencing some panic-stricken moments. Never has a Mom told me that she enjoys staring blankly into the fridge while the children start to melt down because they’re hungry.

Not having a plan leaves you multi-tasking to come up with some ideas while you’re finishing up your workday and when fighting the traffic to get home. What are the consequences of not having a plan?

  • Running to the grocery store at the busiest time. That’s not fun, especially with little ones in tow.
  • Increased food waste. If you’ve been paying attention to the news (or your grocery bill), you know that food costs are rising. Meal planning means that you’ll actually use the groceries you buy which translates to less money going into your green bin.
  • Unhealthier eating habits. Most convenience, prepared, takeout, and restaurant foods have higher sodium (salt), higher amounts of unhealthy fat, and fewer vegetables than homemade meals.

I admit that it does take time to sit down and create a meal plan. However by making the commitment you can cut your weekly stress considerably.

 Getting Started
Do it old-school with pen and paper. Or, use one of the many apps. I recommend starting with one meal at a time – dinner. Why? Because it is the meal that tends to cause people the most stress. Once you get the hang of planning dinner for one week, you can choose to expand to other meals and snacks.

Step 1: Write out your family’s schedule for next week. Identify those nights when your little ones have extra-curricular activities. On those nights you will need some super-quick meals.

Step 2: Start with the easiest days first. Consider those nights when your family may be eating out; enjoying takeout or having dinner at Grandmas.  Include them in your list. Now take inventory of any leftovers you have in the fridge that should be used up. Write down the nights when you plan to use up the leftovers.

Step 3: List any nights when your family is likely to be extra-rushed? Plan for family  favourites that are easy to make. Those are not the nights to try something new. Instead stick with easier options. Write down any side-dishes you plan to serve.

Step 4: Choose one night per week where you’ll try a new dish or revive something that you haven’t made in a long time. Take the time now to choose the recipe. Include any side-dishes. Choose a system to make recipes handy on the nights that you need them.

Ideas include:

  • Jotting down the cookbook and page number
  • Bookmarking the webpage
  • Taking a photo of the recipe with your phone
  • Grouping them under “This Weeks Recipes” in Evernote

Step 5: Choose dishes for the balance of the week including side-dishes.

Step 6: Look in your fridge, freezer, cupboards and pantry to see what you already have and make note of any ingredients you’ll need to buy. Create a grocery list with all the ingredients needed for each meal that week.

Step 7: Grocery shop. It’s so much easier now that you have a list.

Remember, it is your plan. You can change it any time you wish. So for example, let’s say you had planned to make a complicated, new recipe tonight. Then life throws you a curve ball. After having one of THOSE days, you just want to order in some pizza. Go ahead and call for takeout. Then revise your plan so the ingredients for that new dish are used up soon.

Once you get into regular meal planning, you will wonder how you managed without that routine. The upside to making the commitment is having some extra quality time with your family at the end of the day. Priceless!

Kristen, MSc, RD is a child-feeding expert that helps parents support their picky eaters to try new foods on their own. Since 2008, she has been working with families to provide good nutrition for their kids today and instill a love of food that lasts a lifetime. www.kristenyarker.com/kids-nutrition

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