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Because going over budget at the grocery store is NOT anybody's idea of a good time.
Meal + snack planning doesn't have to be hard. I know it's sometimes overwhelming, and irritating to have to constantly plan, sort, buy, cook - wash, rinse, repeat. But when you have a meal planning system in place, you'd be surprised how easy and effortless it can be to make sure your family is eating healthy and on-time on a constant basis.
Even if you have some picky eaters in your family, like I do, this planning system will have you happy and stress-free in the long run.
But First, What Is Meal + Snack Planning?
Before we jump into the process, let's make sure we're on the same page about what I mean when I say "meal + snack planning".
Disclaimer: My definition may be different from others on this topic, but this is what I think of when I think "meal planning".
Double Disclaimer: We are not a family to cook ahead. By that I mean, we cook our meals daily for the week. We do not cook everything on one day and then eat it throughout the week.
With that being said:
Meal + snack planning answers the "what's for dinner" and "what can I eat for snack" questions once for the whole week, instead of every chance they get; and then shopping for and preparing the ingredients, so they are ready when the time comes.
I believe the simplest way to approach meal + snack planning is with five easy steps:
Review your schedule for the week
Select your dinners and snacks
Outline your shopping list + Shop for ingredients
Prepare the ingredients
Post the list for all to see
Step #1: Review your schedule for the week
This may be the first step of the process, but it is also the most important! There is no sense in scheduling to prepare your favorite dish during the week (which happens to take 2 hours to make), when you only have 1 hour max due to practice, travel time, and other commitments.
We ALWAYS start our meal + snack planning for the week by reviewing our schedule. On most weeks we have practice at least 4 nights out of week, leaving 30 minutes (45 max) to cook dinner. That alone will let me know which meals I can and cannot make for the week, and how many days worth of snacks I need to prep.
For example, I took a screen shot of my calendar below:
You'll see that this week we literally have 4 days straight of evening practices and events (including Back to School night) that we need to account for.
Including travel time we probably won't even get home until 8:30 - 9:00 p.m., so that tells me that we need to plan for easy, thirty-minute meals or less.
Step #2: Select your Meals + snacks
In most families, this is typically the hardest part about meal planning because they simply don't know what to eat. Here is where you need to make the hardest part, the easiest part!
We do this by keeping a master list of our favorite weeknight dinners + snacks! I actually use the ColorNote App on my phone to list out all of the dinners that we make; and I keep it in checklist form so I can go through and check off the ones we want to make for the week.
As you can see here, we chose the following as some of our meals for last week:
Beef + Broccoli
Baked Chicken w/ rice + veggies
You can and should do the same with your snack list!
If you know your kiddos like to have smoothies, fresh fruit, graham crackers, and string cheese as snacks before/after practice, make a list and check off the ones you want to purchase for the week.
Step #3: Outline your shopping list + Shop for Ingredients
Wanna know the secret to not overspending when grocery shopping??? Write down what you're going to buy in advance, and STICK TO YOUR LIST!
I actually created a Grocery Shopping Organizer to use every single time I go food shopping. It helps me make sure I don't forget anything and most importantly, that I don't add anything else while at the store!
Here's how it works:
After selecting my meals and snacks using my master list (above), I add it to my Weekly Meal + Snack Planner to use as an outline; before going through each meal/item one-by-one to list out the ingredients in the appropriate section on the Grocery Shopping Organizer (see below).
This is seriously my secret weapon!
And lucky for you, you can download the Weekly Meal + Snack Planner Printable below! I'd also highly suggest you get the Grocery Shopping Organizer too! You can find it and the entire Meal + Snack Planning Kit over in my Etsy shop.
You can even use these tools to help you shop whether you shop online or off. I typically do my food shopping in person at my third favorite store, Wegmans, but I'm starting to get into grocery delivery services to help ease the time crunch I'm usually in. So far I've used Shipt and am looking into InstaCart, because guess what... they work with Wegmans!
Now-a-days there are more options than ever before. Find one that works for you and start saving time + money!
don't forget to download the weekly planner...
It'll help you to plan in advance, and again.. it's super cute!
Step #4: Prepare the ingredients
The second to last step here is to prepare the ingredients for cooking when you get back from shopping. Now, to be completely honest, I don't do like most other meal prep bloggers I've read about where they cook meals ahead of time, or even place everything in storage containers for the week. But I do organize everything in my fridge and/or freezer in the order in which it will be prepared.
For example, if I know we're having spaghetti on Tuesday, and chicken teriyaki on Wednesday; I know I need to prep and/or season (if necessary) ahead of time and leave those items in the fridge instead of the freezer.
As the week progresses I will take the frozen meats out the night before to thaw and gather all ingredients in one area in the fridge so I'm not wasting more time searching for everything I need.
Step #5: Post the Meal + Snack List for all to see
The last step in Meal + Snack Planning for busy sports families is to post the meal + snack list for all to see. I'm big on this one in my house! Probably because I hate to repeat myself for the ten-thousandth time, so instead of having to answer that age-old question, "What's for dinner?" my boys know to take a look at the chalkboard in the kitchen and find out!
BONUS Step: Eat Leftovers for lunch + snack
As a bonus, if you have any leftovers from dinner, they can make perfect lunch ideas for the next day! As a matter of fact, we have a rule in our house that if you don't finish your dinner, it will become your lunch for the next day. So if you have a picky eater on your hands, it's motivation for them to finish!
All in all, there are many benefits of meal planning. Even if you're already a healthy eating family, I'd highly encourage you to take half an hour a week to meal plan healthy meals for your family that week.
When do you typically plan your meals for the week? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, Sideline Hacker. Keep hacking that sideline, because they appreciate you for it, and so do we, for ALL that you do!