I’d like to start this episode by saying that meal planning is NOT one of my favorite tasks. For me, this process, my approach to meal planning and how to make it as smooth and relatively painless as possible was born out of necessity. My family needs to eat and coming home from work not knowing what we are going to eat, not having the appropriate groceries, and trying to muster the energy and the mental capacity of choosing what to make, checking for ingredients, and then making it, particularly on a weeknight is simply not in the cards.
For me, on weeknights, my goal for meals is simple. I desire to feed my family something that is quick and straightforward to prepare, doesn’t destroy the entire kitchen with a huge ass mess, and is something that one of our three littles is pretty much guaranteed to eat. Yes, nutrition is important and I DO try to include vegetables and variety, but cooking isn’t a passion of mine and complicated elaborate weeknight meals simply aren’t in the cards at our home.
Weekends you can find me making cookies, baking brownies, trying new desserts, preparing more elaborate meals that require more than one pan and some prep time, and of course, making my standards of lasagna and chicken pot pie – two meals that include vegetables AND all three of our little ones enjoy! But weeknights are about sustenance and survival in our home and my approach to meal planning for the week is much the same.
For me, this process for meal planning was something that I developed early on, when Dan and I were just married and I went from a 23-year-old graduate student who could survive on cereal and eggwhite omelets with cherry tomatoes and feta cheese to a 24-year-old stepmom stepping into the role and responsibility of feeding two growing boys and a hungry husband at 6pm on a school night after being in the operating room all day. I needed a plan, man. This process has been changed and honed over the last 10-years and today I’m sharing with you my approach to meal planning and how it works in our house these days.
It feels important to share with you that we are a completely average family when it comes to cooking and eating. We have, pretty much every week, a night where we eat leftovers. We often have a breakfast for dinner, which the kids love, and sometimes that breakfast is cereal. Those days I’ve been known to grab a bag of baby carrots, some ranch dressing and some berries or apples and just toss them in the middle of the table with the cereal boxes. The variety is there but the presentation is often lacking. Our kiddos don’t seem to care, to be completely honest. The only one judging me… is me.
Another service that I utilize that was born out of both necessity and from getting clear on my priorities is Instacart. Instacart is this awesome service where you order your groceries online – you get to choose the store and fill your virtual cart with everything you need – then a great, kind instacart shopper shops for you – you choose what to buy and when you want your groceries delivered. They do have a curbside pickup option, but we elect to have the food delivered right to our front door. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Instacart has saved me hundreds of hours of grocery shopping since we started using them two years ago.
I’ve reached this point in my life where time is my currency and to me, being able to be skiing with the kids or enjoying family breakfast, still in our pajamas, while our groceries are being shopped for, it’s so in alignment with my values during this season. Before I started using instacart, grocery shopping was such a chore. I’d drag myself to the store, alone or with the kids, and I would not enjoy it because I was missing a precious saturday morning with my family.
If you are intrigued and interested in trying it, use the link in the show notes to save $10 off your first instacart order!
My process for meal planning is 5 simple steps. I typically do these on a Saturday morning while the kiddos are watching their cartoons.
1 – LOOK AT THE CALENDAR
I look at the calendar for the week. I’m looking at each day of the week. I check if Dan will be working from home or is commuting to the office and if we have any evening events – karate that runs late, book club, volleyball, etc. When I look at each day I want to know two things: 1- How much time will we have that evening? 2 – How much energy will I have for cooking? I choose the meal based on the amount of time we will have an the energy that will be available to me that night.
2 – WEATHER
In the Spring and Summer, seasons when we do a fair amount of grilling or using Dan’s pride and joy – his OONI pizza oven – I look at the forecast. What days are good weather days for grilling and having the food prep happen outside?
3 – SHOP THE PANTRY
About once a month, before I sit down to make the meal plan and do the grocery shopping, I shop the pantry. I take a look in the pantry in our kitchen, the cabinets that house things like rice and pasta, sauce and spices, and also into our freezer. I try to pull a couple of meals out that will use what we have. This is a budget friendly way to make sure that food isn’t going to waste and we are using what we have.
4 – PLAN THE MEALS
I choose the meals we are going to have for each weeknight. Dan is the weekend meal planner, so at this time I’ll ask him for meals and plans for what he needs and what we are going to have for weekend breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
As I plan the meals I add them as an all-day event on our shared google calendar. This way, Dan and I both know what’s for dinner each night and whoever isn’t picking up the kids, whoever is home first, can start on the meal. We do sometimes make pivots if time isn’t what we thought it would be but we try to swap a meal for another meal.
5 – ORDER INSTACART
I put the ingredients that we need to make that meal into our instacart cart. I always add things like bananas, apples, berries, veggies, yogurt, granola – things that we use every week for breakfasts, snacks and lunches – and then the specific ingredients for the meals.
For us, this process helps us to avoid the head scratching on wednesday night at 6pm, wondering what we are going to feed our hungry, grumpy kids before bed. Happy meal planning and, in case you’ve been thinking that a 4-pot meal with two vegetable sides and warm bread is the only way to feed your family – every thursday night our kiddos eat chicken nuggets and french fries on the couch and that’s a-ok. Give yourself grace in this process – you are feeding your family and that gets an A in my book.
Until next time, keep on taking one more step towards fulfillment. You’ve got this!