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Meal Planning Ideas and Tips to Stay on Track!
Let’s face it; you either love meal planning and don’t know what you’d do without it, or you hate it and you can’t quite get it to work for you! Or, maybe you’re somewhere in between, at a point where you put effort in every week, or every couple of weeks setting up a meal plan; but, you don’t follow through with it. This was me for the longest time. Below are my meal planning ideas and tips to actually stay on track with your meal plan!
Because it is possible to follow your meal plan, even if it’s not your top priority each week.
(It’s also possible to follow through on a healthy meal plan, even if you’d rather order out!)
Check out the tips and methods below that I used, or have used depending on the season of life I’m in! Because one method may not work for you forever.
How to Make a Healthy Meal Plan on a Budget
How to Meal Plan (when you have no motivation to do so)
The Easiest Way to Find Out What Food Kids Will Eat!
Want to Remember This? Pin Meal Planning Ideas and Tips to Stay on Track! to your favorite Pinterest Board!!
Why You Need to Meal Plan
First, let’s start off with why you need to meal plan. Because believe it or not, you do!!
Meal planning will help you,
- save money
- stay organized
- eat healthier
- save time
- reduce stress
- and even start looking forward to certain meals you plan out!
There may even be more benefits that those above, but those are the most basic reasons why you should meal plan, and find a method that works for you so you can stick it your meal plan.
Now, there are two main types of meal planning the way I see it; strict meal planning and loose meal planning.
If you’ve tried and failed, and tried and failed over and over again, it’s probably because you’ve only ever tried strict meal planning. You never knew there was another way to do it!
So, just wait, we’ll go over a few different ideas for strict meal planning and then dig into the loose meal planning.
It may take some experimenting to see what will work for you and your family; don’t be afraid to give them all a try, in time.
Strict Meal Planning Ideas
Strict meal planning is what everyone thinks of when thinking of meal planning.
This is where you plan out each meal of the week to be on a certain day, no excuses.
I’ve tried this way many times and have continued to never fully follow through, no matter how hard I try. I simply want to eat what I want to eat when I want to eat it; or at least be able to choose and not have everything set in stone.
However, some people, and their families, thrive with this type of meal planning. So, if you haven’t tried it yet, it may be worth a try!
Meal Plan Weekly
One idea when it comes to strict meal planning, is to meal plan weekly.
That way you know what to buy at the grocery store when you go.
It helps you determine what to meal prep, if anything.
And, it’s not entirely overwhelming; you just have to come up with 21 meals, or less if you tend to eat the same thing for one meal everyday for the week.
Then just fill in your week with the meals. It’s actually quite simple in theory!
Following through with it is much more difficult!
Meal Plan for Multiple Weeks
Another way you could meal plan where each meal is set in stone on your weekly planner, is planning for multiple weeks at a time.
About a year or so ago I was able to make this work for my family, for maybe a month or two, planning two weeks at a time.
It certainly helped me save money, the way I did it. However, I couldn’t keep to the rigidness of it.
I know some people who swear by a 6 week meal plan, though. Saying they create the meal plan once and then just put it on repeat; or they pick and choose which meal plan they want to use for each week and never have to meal plan again.
So, if you don’t like meal planning, but think you could stick with a meal plan if you had one already laid out for you; then this may be the way you’ll want to try to do it!
Just take some time finding out what everyone in your home likes, find a few ways to make it a bit healthier, and then set up your meal plan for 6 weeks.
It’ll take time initially, but after you have it set up, you won’t have to create another meal plan, again. As long as you can stick to what you plan!
Feel free to sign up to have these meal planning templates sent straight to your email!
Loose Meal Planning Ideas
Now, let’s get into the loose, or more flexible, meal planning ideas!
This is where I, and my family thrive, because it’s hard to tell what everyone will be in the mood for each day.
If you have ever struggled with meal planning, this may be where you’ll want to start as well.
Don’t get me wrong, you still have to come up with breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, for everyday of the week; but, you don’t have to set them to certain days of the week quite yet!
I actually use bits and pieces from everything below to make my meal plan work for my family each week.
Do what you need to for your own. You may find one method that works for all your meals all week long, or you may be like me and use a different method for each meal.
Weekly, but not Strictly
You’ll still want to plan out meals for the week, or you can still plan out for multiple weeks; and then you can choose to either write down all the meals for different times of the day somewhere, or you can place them into your weekly schedule. Just be sure you won’t stress out if you don’t follow the meal plan exactly as it’s written.
You’ll need to still know the meals you have planned so that you can get your groceries and prepare what you can for the week ahead. Not being prepared is one of the reasons many people fail at meal planning and following through.
Day by Day
One way to meal plan flexibly is by taking your list of meals and choosing what you and your family will eat for the day every morning, or night before.
Taking it day by day can make it feel a lot simpler than trying to plan for a whole week, especially if you live a busy lifestyle or have kids who forget to tell you about a special even til the day before. Planning day by day allows you the flexibility to choose a quick meal for dinner on busier nights (that you didn’t know were going to be busy), and more complex meals when you have time.
So, you may want to have a mixture of quick meals and complex meals in your planned list of meals for the week.
The White Board Method
The best way to follow through with day by day meal planning is by using a small whiteboard placed on the fridge.
Simply write down what’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and options for snacks for the day.
This way, everyone can see it, and you won’t forget, because you’ll be reminded every time you walk into the kitchen.
If you’d like, you could even get creative with this method and print out the meals your family likes, laminate them (or use clear tape), put a magnet on the back of the meal/snack, and then place those on the white board. It sure beats having to write everything out for the day!
You could even have different containers to hold the different types of meals in (one for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and then choose at random from the meals you have planned for the week.
Or, let your family choose! Your kids may think it’s a fun game and enjoy helping with the decisions for what the family eats each day.
Meal by Meal
Another meal planning idea is to plan differently, or prepare for meals differently, depending on if it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
For example, you could choose several meals for breakfast that are quick and easy; the same meal everyday for lunch, and then have freezer meals or meals that are prepped on the weekends for dinner.
This is a lot like what I do each week, depending on which meals are for breakfast and dinner.
The Lunchbox Method
I make lunch for my kids super easy on myself. With another baby on the way, and with summer coming up, I knew I had to create some type of system to help my kids show their independence and make less work for me during the day; so I came up with the lunch box method.
To put it simply, every morning while my kids are eating breakfast, I make their lunches (snacks included) for the day. My 6 year old goes to school and needs me to do this anyways, but I’ve found that doing this for my 3 year old is very worthwhile!
I plan to continue doing this into the summer, when I’ll have all three girls home with me (a newborn, 3 and a half year old, and almost 7 year old.)
This method has reduced stress, my 3 year old constantly asking me to get her food, and it’s decreased the amount of fighting that goes along with feeding a 3 year old healthy food!
Plan Quick and Easy Meals
Another meal planning idea, which I love, is to plan quick and easy meals!
And, I’m not talking about throwing a frozen pizza in the oven or making boxed mac and cheese; feeding my family healthy food is still a priority when it comes to meal planning, as it should be for everyone.
What I’m talking about is,
- smoothies for breakfast
- muffins or another (healthy and homemade) baked good that was meal prepped and frozen on the weekend for breakfast
- veggie roll up, sub, or sandwich for lunch or dinner(using veggies that were chopped over the weekend)
- or a breakfast dinner (preferably with frozen pancakes or waffles that were made over the weekend and frozen)
The quickest meals are going to be ones that can be made within 10 minutes or less and are super easy to make, like smoothies and sandwiches!
The next best option is to use food, or meals, that you prepped over the weekend. Which is of the biggest tips I have for you for staying on track with your meal plan!
How to Stay on Track with These Meal Planning Ideas
Meal Prep EVERYTHING You Can on the Weekend
If you don’t take much else away from this post, remember this; to succeed, you must prepare to succeed!
Even if you’re a stay at home mom, like me, and think that you’ll have the time to make food on the spot (even the complex); you should still get into the habit of meal prepping on the weekends.
When I first started being a stay at home mom, I never meal prepped, and found myself in the kitchen way too often, several hours everyday. And, no, it’s not because I was coming up with new recipes for this site. IT was simply to make myself and family meals and snacks everyday. Well, there went all the extra time in the day I thought I’d have!
So, whether you work outside the home or work at home, do yourself a favor and prep as many meals and snacks you plan for the week, over the weekend. This will save you so much time, stress, and energy each and everyday. It’ll also help prevent you from wasting more.
For more on why you should meal prep, go here: The Benefits of Meal Prepping
Prep the Ingredients on the Weekend
If you’re new to meal prepping, fear the food you prepare will go bad before you eat it, or don’t even have time on the weekend to meal prep; then do what you can.
(But really, it only takes a few hours to prep meals, it may even be less time if you’re doing it without kids at your feet the entire time; I wouldn’t know!)
Make the ingredients you need for meals later in the week all ready to be used.
For example, if you’re going to be having salads, veggie subs, or soup, during the week; chop up all the veggies.
I know for me, it feels like it takes forever to chop up veggies for a meal. (Maybe it’s because I always have to be super careful when chopping them up, because at any moment a child could come over and distract me, and I don’t want to accidentally get cut.)
Or, if you are super savvy when it comes to buying food for cheap and you buy dried beans; prep the beans over the weekend so that they’re ready when you need them.
Whatever you can do over the weekend to make your life easier when it comes to making meals; do it! You’ll be thanking yourself later in the week when you do, you won’t have to order food out when you’re too exhausted to cook a meal.
Meal Prep the Night Before or Morning of
If you don’t have time over the weekend to prep for meals, maybe you have some spare time at night or in the morning to prep a little bit for meals that day or the next day!
The White Board Method
This idea works well for the white board method, as you may not know what you’re having when during the week until the night before or morning of.
Just take the 15 minutes to chop up your veggies or to start making a meal. This works great for crockpot meals, too!
The Lunchbox Method
The lunchbox method has this meal prep idea built right into it, as you prepare lunches the morning of. And then you don’t have to worry about getting anyone meals until dinner!
Feel free to sign up to have these meal planning templates sent straight to your email!
Many Different Ways to Meal Plan and Stay on Track
There are many different ways you can meal plan, and hopefully you have found one way, or a few, that you’d now like to try out for you and your family.
Whether it’s giving strict meal planning another shot, but using the meal prep tips above to help you actually follow through with the plan. Or, if it’s taking the pressure off of meal planning and using a more flexible version to plan your meals!
Don’t give up on your intent to meal plan, there are so many benefits to give up!
From saving money, reducing stress and decision making, to saving you hours each week when you meal prep to follow through with your meal plan!
I’d love to know which meal planning idea you’ll try out first, or which one works for you! Leave a comment below letting me know!