Trying to figure out how to meal plan for the week or month when life is busy? This list of tips and tricks helps you get healthy dinners on the table as easily as possible – even includes a printable organizer!
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In the middle of December, I found myself in a place that felt all too familiar. There was nothing to eat in our home, I had zero time to even think about cooking (hello, Christmas), and yet, I still had to provide a meal for my family each night.
So you know what I did? Ordered pizza. Lots of pizza.
I don't like to be in that place. Heck, I publish freezer meal plans that help me (and lots of other people) stay out of that place. Yet, there I was.
It happens! We all go through busy seasons of life that put meal planning on the back burner. There are a few tricks to developing (and sticking to) a meal plan that have worked for me in the past (and sure enough, worked well to get me back in the habit a few weeks ago).
1. Carve out a specific time for planning, shopping, and prep once a month.
This tip has helped me with staying on top of my game. Usually once every three weeks to a month, I carve out a few hours of one night to research meal ideas and recipes, make grocery lists, and write down my prep instructions for the weekend. Then (usually on a Sunday afternoon), I pick up my groceries and prep 10-15 meals for the freezer. This way, I don't have to worry about “what's for dinner?” for an extended period of time because of a little bit of prep and execution.
No excuses for skipping this – you really have to be intentional about using this time for meal prep instead of getting sidetracked. It's so easy to put something like meal prep on the back burner. Don't let the prioritizing game get the best of you – make this a priority! I promise, it will pay off in the long run.
2. Keeps the meals interesting and fun.
Trust me – you will get bored quickly if you're prepping the same meals over and over. Not only does this kill any motivation to actually get the meals ready to go, but you'll constantly want to pick up take-out to replace the boring meals you didn't want to eat in the first place. That totally defeats the purpose of meal prep!
I typically make new meals each time I do a freezer meal set…not only because it's my job to produce new and different recipes, but because my family would quickly grow bored of making the same 10 meals over and over. Making meals fun and different (while integrating a favorite meal here and there) will keep your family's interest in the plan, and in turn, keep them out of the take-out window.
3. Streamline the process.
I really like making the process of meal planning and prep the same each time I do it…it kind of makes things go quicker (getting it out of the way).
For freezer meals, I like to go through my recipes and make a list of prep instructions before I ever start. That way, if I need to chop onions for 4 different recipes, I can get it out of the way all at once instead of having to go back to the same thing multiple times. I also divide out prep for vegetables and meats and tackle those all at the same time – this usually helps me dirty up less dishes in the process of prepping multiple items.
Once your veggies and meats are all processed, putting together your meals is so much easier! I can usually get 10 meals in the freezer within a couple of hours using this method. When you purchase my freezer meal packs, those instructions are already written out for you.
4. Remember why it's so important.
This is going to be a little bit different for each of us, but I can almost guarantee that there's an important reason to do it for each home. Maybe you're looking to save money. Maybe you want to make sure your kids have a home cooked meal as many nights as possible. Maybe you're watching your health and want to make sure you eat as many wholesome ingredients as possible. There are so many different reasons to focus on meal planning – find yours and remember it.
This can be an excellent motivator when you're busy and just don't feel like taking the time and energy to meal plan. Getting back to the real reason you're doing it helps keep you focused and makes it obvious that this really is an important use of your time and energy.
5. Stay organized.
As you see recipes you think your family would love, keep them all in one place! The printables I've included below will help you with that.
You can download the pages of this meal planner here and here. They match my big collection of planner printables, the Year of Intent, and will help you keep that huge collection of “will make someday” recipes all in one place! This is a super convenient reference point when you're getting started on a meal plan for the week/month.
Even when life gets crazy, it's totally worth it to carve out the time for a tangible plan for busy weeknight dinners. Your family, your health, and your budget will thank you!
See more of my meal planning posts here.