Meal-planning is my little secret for how I make sure my family eats well, that there is always something on-hand for even the busiest weeknight and that I stay on-budget when at the grocery store. Meal-planning is actually quite easy, once you get into the routine, and it can be a real sanity-saver. Grab a notebook and a pen, the kids and other family members, and get started. Here are my 5 top tips for meal planning.
Every family member gets a say.
Studies show that kids are much more likely to eat the food they were involved in creating; whether helping hands-on in the kitchen or deciding what foods they like to eat. Your criteria can be that it be healthy and balanced, but let them come up with some of their favourite meal ideas. You can even make a game out of it! During a family meeting, brainstorm as many meal ideas as you can. Write one meal on each recipe card and shuffle into a deck. When it is time to set your weekly menu, ask one member to choose a card from the pile. Now it is even easier to decide what to have on Wednesday night!
Turn to cookbooks and blogs for inspiration.
There are so many yummy cookbooks and blogs out there, with wholesome and healthy meal ideas. Take a trip to your library or favourite bookstore and see what grabs you. Trying new foods and being adventurous in the kitchen builds up your repertoire, and it also teaches your kids that trying new flavours is fun, and all a part of healthy living. How many new recipes can you try this week? Maybe each time you sit down to meal plan you crack open a new cookbook. Ask a family member to choose one recipe and commit to trying it out! You can also turn to our meal plans, cookbook and recipe cards for inspiration.
Choose a prep day.
With all this adventurous food planning it can feel overwhelming quite quickly. The key to successful meal-planning is designating time to prep meals in advance. Maybe you can spare a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. You can either make meals in advance and freeze them for a week, or prepare some of the ingredients ahead of time (like cutting vegetables, shredding cheese, cooking broth, cooking pasta). I have even heard of friends getting together to have meal planning parties; they cook up freezer meals in big batches to share.
Always ask yourself, “How can I make two meals out of this.”
Leftovers are a gift to busy families. If you could cook two meals at once, why wouldn’t you? Always make sure you cook up extra portions when making a meal and think about how you might re-purpose some of the ingredients. If you are having BBQ chicken one night, cook up an extra breast and shred for tacos the next night. Make an extra batch of chili and freeze it for another week and extra rice can be thrown into chicken soup, or added to a casserole. Always think ahead.
Have a good meal-planning template.
There are a lot of meal-planning templates out there (just google “meal planning template” and you’ll see just how many there are). Choose one that provides you with lots of room to write, with space to jot down the preparation you need to do the night before and choose one that makes sense for you. Or create your own! It takes just a few minutes and you can always have it on-hand for weeks and weeks of meal-planning fun.
What are your tips for healthy meal planning?