Family meal planning can be a stressor for many busy parents. My biggest tip for making the work-week go well, is simply doing a little planning ahead. I like taking time on the weekend to write out a rough plan for Family Dinner. We may not always stick to it- but it provides a framework so we’re not left scrambling and hungry amid sports practice and work commitments!
I’ll break it down into my simple steps for Family Meal Planning. If it ALL feels like too much, choose a few things you can implement and start there. Eventually, meal planning becomes more habitual and intuitive. Patience & Practice — and grace when things aren’t perfectly planned!
THE QUICK STEPS FOR FAMILY MEAL PLANNING:
- Assess what produce you’ve got.
- Keep meat, poultry, fish and dry-goods stocked.
- Make a list of items you need to complete the meals.
- Write out a rough plan.
- Allow for changes, substitutions, and leftovers!
It helps when you have some basic meals in mind that appeal to YOUR family. If dinner ideas are a weak point, check out my (customizable) Family Dinners Recipe Pack! Keep reading, I’ll break down each step in detail…
1. Assess Produce You Have on Hand
I start with what’s already in the refrigerator. I hate wasting produce, so I try to plan meals around what I have on hand FIRST, and then make my shopping list for what I don’t have. I know our family’s staples (carrots, broccoli, greens, cabbage, onions, and peppers)… and I supplement those staples to keep a good variety in the diet. This week, it’s mushrooms and snap peas! If you’re starting from bare bones, consider a main vegetable for each meal and add that to your shopping list (see step 3).
2. Keep Dry Goods and Proteins Stocked
In the pantry, I keep a stock of dry goods like beans, rice, and pasta. I know I can pull these things out to pair with the produce and have a more balanced meal. Since these things don’t spoil quickly, I purchase them in bulk from Thrive Market and replace them as I run out. This is a good practice as I save money, know I have a “backup” plan, and can easily change our carbohydrate sources using the backstock.
Similarly, we generally keep meat and poultry stocked in the freezer. It’s easy to pull out what I need for the week on Sunday, or even just the night before. I like to order my meat from places like US Wellness Meats, Thrive Market, and Northstar Bison. With meat delivery, we’re able to purchase the highest quality meat (grass-fed, grass-finished) and organic poultry at reasonable prices. Sometimes, we’ll even find good options at Costco (like Wild-Caught Salmon!).
3. Now, Make a List
Once you’ve taken time to assess all the MAIN components you have- it’s time to make a list. Consider what extras you might need to complete the meals. This may be more produce, shelf-stable items like Tomato Sauce, or extras like Salsa.
I never walk into a Grocery Store without a list (well, unless I’m just there to amble about and destress, feel me?). It keeps me within a budget, ensures I don’t forget an essential, and makes me much more time-efficient. For advanced grocery listers- write your list in the order that you’ll find the things in the store. It can also be helpful to keep a running list on the refrigerator and/or notes app. As you run out of things, write it down! Use this as a reference when you’re making the weekly ‘needs’ list.
4. Write Out the Rough Family Meal Plan
It’s helpful for me to write out meals for the week. I start with the least-fresh produce and work down from there. That broccoli that’s getting limp… better make Stir-Fry ASAP! I find a white board helpful as it’s easy to make edits, AND the whole family can see what’s coming.
Occasionally, Mike will make dinner before I get home. He can reference the meal plan to see what to make! (ok, let’s be honest, this is really rare)
5. Allow for Changes
I typically leave the last day blank for leftovers or fridge clean out. This also serves as a placeholder in case there’s a night that we go off plan and order out instead! If having this ‘open’ day is stressful- plan for a double portion of a dinner you’re already making.
Other ‘changes’ can come up- especially if you’re dealing with picky eaters. Give yourself some flexibility and know that it’s “ok” if your child refuses certain vegetables. Keep pushing the things they DO like, and ease into new things. (My Healthy Eating for Kids Guide is perfect for navigating this balance)
Family Meals: How to Appeal to a Crowd
When making family dinners, it can be difficult to make everyone happy. We’ve allowed some “less healthy” condiments in the house to balance this dillema. If a little bit of ketchup or chikfila sauce is the ONLY way your kids will tolerate a dish, let it go.
I do my best to make cleaner versions of sauces, condiments, and dressings. (Ahem, like THIS dupe for Chikfila Sauce by Eating Bird Food) Sometimes this goes over well, and sometimes I lose the fight. All in all, if the foundation of the diet is filled with fresh vegetables, high-quality proteins, and varied carbohydrates, I feel good about fueling my family well.
I shop my grocery staples at Thrive Market. Thrive Market is an online marketplace that offers the best prices on gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and more specialty items. You can filter by ‘value’ including dietary restrictions, ethical standards, and company structure (BIPOC-founded, Woman-Owned). Most products are 25-50% off retail prices. NEW Thrive Market Members save an extra 40% on their first order!
A Few of my Favorite Family Meal Planning Recipes:
Final Notes on Family Meal Planning
Regular family meals are vitally important for childhood development. They teach communication, manners, and lay the groundwork for healthy nutrition in college and beyond. If sitting down for a home-cooked meal feels like a major lifestyle shift, give yourself the grace to start slow. Can you do ONE home-cooked meal?
If you’re struggling with where to start, reach out to me! I’d love to help you develop longstanding habits for your family.
Got any other tips for family meal planning? Let me know in a comment below!
Want to work with a nutritionist to personalize your diet?
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