Meal Planning Tips for Families

One of the easiest ways to save money and stick with a budget when raising children is to start meal planning. You can easily plan out a week of food for the entire family and end up saving quite a bit of cash. If you’re looking for some easy to follow meal planning tips for families, then you’ve come to the right place. Today I am sharing the best meal planning tips for families to help you save money and get your weekly meals organized to alleviate stress.

Meal Planning Tips for Families

Make a Master List

You will know best what meals work great for your family and what meals are not so popular. Create a master list of 10-20 meal ideas that your family will enjoy. This master list will be your go-to whenever you start to make up that weekly meal plan. It helps save time and stress involved with prepping for your weekly family meals.

Save Easy Recipes

While you will want the master list of meal ideas that have worked for your family in the past, consider looking up new easy recipes. When you add a few more new meal ideas that cost less and are easy to whip up, you’re helping to use meal planning to the best of its abilities. This will save you time and money which is usually the sole purpose of learning how to master meal planning.

My Favorite Of All Meal Planning Tips – Plan to Eat

I use Plan to Eat and absolutely love it!  Click my referral link here to learn more about it.  It’s an app that saves all my recipes so easily (just a few clicks if I’m saving a recipe from a blog or a recipe website), it automatically creates a shopping list that I can click off as I shop (or find that I already have that item on hand at home), and I can easily add additional items as I think of them through the week so they’re already on my list when I’m ready to shop.  My husband introduced it to me a few years ago and it has been life changing.  If I don’t know what I want for the week, I pull up the app and add them to my week with a few clicks and my store list is ready.  It does cost a little after the free trial but it saves us so much where we eat out less and do less grabbing whatever while we walk around the store that it easily pays for itself within the first month of using it.  Of all my meal planning tips, this is the best!  Plan to Eat, check it out. 🙂

Consider Meal Prep Sunday

There are many meal options online for families who are perfectly okay with taking Sunday to meal prep. You can use your meal planning menu to have homemade frozen meals. You will need gallon size freezer storage bags, the ingredients for each meal and room in your freezer if you try to cut corners with this method of creating meals ahead on Sundays.

Predict the Meal Mood

Sure this may sound silly but if you think about, it makes sense. Your family may not be in the mood for hearty soup recipe at dinner time if the weather has been warm all day long.  I’m really bad about wanting a hearty soup in the middle of summer and it never goes over well with my family.  (I should try a cold soup but the idea of one doesn’t sit well with me.  One day, I’ll try one, one day!)  Consider what each day holds for weather patterns and prepare your meal plan for the week based on the appropriate weather patterns. This ensures you make lighter meals on warmer days and heartier meals on colder days. (Like this Crock Pot White Chicken Chili Recipe)

Chocolate Pie Recipe

This Chocolate Silk Pie is always right no matter the outdoor temperature! 🙂

Use a Calendar

Whether it’s a white erase board calendar or one that you have for use in your purse, you will need to keep a calendar that organizes the meal planning for each week. This will help you stay on track and prepare properly each day for whatever is on your meal plan agenda for the day. Having a family calendar on the wall with your meal plan is even better to keep everyone in the loop.

The last few tips I have to lend to you when it comes to meal planning for families is to always use a grocery list when you head to the grocery store. You will want to ensure you stay on track and on a budget when it comes to meal planning success.

The Surprising Thing That Simplified My Meal Planning

Simplified Meal Planning

As you know, we’ve been sorting and going through items to make our living and spaces more intentional {If you don’t, see here}. Though this topic, meal planning, isn’t a typical space organization system you can create in your closet or basement at home, it does affect your space for the positive, as well as other components of your life.

The idea…

Here’s the scoop.  This idea will revolutionize how you think about meal planning.  How many times do you rummage for the items in your pantry or your groceries for inspiration of your next meal?  How many times do you have the discussion that begins with…So what do you want for dinner tonight…? Having to make this decision each night is an ominous raincloud over the day’s events. Solving this quandary isn’t as complicated as we want to make it. We can live simply by living with less. As home chefs, we often feel pressure to create an original feast every meal or like we must have every restaurant option on our home menu.  If you browse Pinterest for meal planning ideas you’ll see pin after pin sharing hoards of collected recipes in one place.  “52 Weeks of No-Repeat Meal Plans” “75 of the Best Healthy Recipes” “101 Cheap and Healthy Meals”  It’s no wonder people (myself included!) get overwhelmed.  Having a set number of recipes that are favorites, healthy, and budget friendly is the key.  That’s it, did you catch it?  Simply rotate your favorite recipes!

The perks…

I have around 10 recipes that I use frequently. Most of my meals are low-carb, budget friendly, can stretch for 2 meals, and take less than 30 minutes to make. You can see how this saves me a lot of time, effort, and space.

  • – I don’t have to figure out if a new recipe to try will fit into my family’s healthy eating style (& tastes). I know that these recipes work for us because I’ve done them before.
  • – I don’t have to calculate how much money this recipe will cost me before I go to the grocery store because I’ve done it before. In fact, I can double, triple this recipe to fit the number of guests I’m cooking for and know immediately how much a dinner party will cost me.
  • – I don’t have to cook as often. Since I’m planning ahead, I have the meal ingredients on hand, can double the recipe, and save myself hot cooking time (and extra dishes) in the kitchen.
  • – I don’t have to cook as long. I know the recipe. I simply don’t have to follow a recipe because I can remember it in my noggin. However, if you are one of those people who has to follow recipes, you can tape, attach, magnetize, the recipes to your most convenient surface, like the inside of your pantry door.
  • – I don’t have a chaotic pantry and fridge. Because I don’t need all the ingredients in the world, I know where the ingredients go that I most frequently use. This has a domino effect on the space-time continuum, not really but it sounds cool for saying it saves space and time. I can find things quickly; I can create a shopping list faster; I can clean out my fridge easier because I use most of the stuff in there completely and don’t have to keep checking dates of expiration.

The boredom…

I know you are thinking, don’t you get bored with only 10 recipes? To be honest, yes and no. If we solely depended on cooking those 10ish recipes, yes. If I factor all the church events, friend’s homes, and work luncheons, we don’t get bored at all. Oh, and you can go to a restaurant too. One beautiful thing to realize is our 10 recipes is the norm, which there are always exceptions to. My favorite exception is cooking for a date night. I’ll break out a new recipe and spoil us. Don’t forget you are in control, and you can always change your recipes out. If you find that you just don’t want to make it anymore, don’t. You aren’t married to your recipes, you can sub one out for a fresh recipe off the bench. Just like mixing metaphors, mixing your recipes up is your choice.

Meal Planning Made Easy

Making (and Maintaining!) a Freezer Inventory

FI 1

By Rachel Zupke

I’ve got a chest freezer and love it.  But I don’t love how hard it can be to put my hands on the package of chicken thighs or the bag of frozen peaches.   I also find that I forget what’s in there and often come home from Costco with a giant bag of frozen blueberries when I’ve already got a bag in there.  I had tried my hand at making a freezer inventory two summers ago when our garden produced way too many green beans and I had hours on end to peel, slice, flash freeze, and bag peaches (August + teacher + no kiddo).  I wrote up a great spreadsheet and marked off how much of everything I had but then I never updated it.  And when I looked at the printout thinking I had a dinner’s worth of sliced steak in a neatly labeled freezer bag (which I did at one point), our beef stroganoff ended up being mushrooms and pasta with cream sauce.

Why you should have a freezer inventory

If my anecdotes haven’t convinced you to make a freezer inventory, perhaps these reasons will:

  1. Stay within your food budget: buy in bulk when items are on sale and freeze until you use them in a meal.
  2. Meal plan effectively: when you are planning a week’s worth of meals (how we roll), you know what you already have on hand.  This is really great if you used up a good portion of your monthly food budget (what we do) buying in bulk the previous week.
  3. Store with confidence: foods get eaten in a timely manner before they get freezer burned, too old to eat, etc.
  4. Avoid overbuying: you don’t purchase something you already have, especially if you need to stick to a food budget.

Making your freezer inventory

So how do you make a freezer inventory?  You could use ones that are already available (ones you can find online by googling “freezer inventory” or the ones I made which are attached here) or you could make your own.  I’ll walk you through how I made mine (time estimates after each step):

Step 1: Pull everything out of your freezer and write it down – both what you have and how much of it you have.  This probably means taking everything out for a few minutes so you can get to the bottom of the freezer.  If you realize there are things that you typically buy but you don’t have on hand right now, include them on the list as well.   You can put your food back in the freezer once you record the type and amount; the rest of the steps are all done on paper or the computer.  (15 minutes – when you’ll want your crawler to hang out in the exersaucer 😉 )

If you’re also using this as an opportunity to clean your freezer, put everything in a cooler/another freezer and take a few hours to defrost it.  For us impatient folks, take the pancake flipper to the ice to hurry up the process.  While you’re at it, toss anything older than a year or that you don’t see yourself eating.  Freezer burned ground pork, anyone?

FI 2

Step 2: Organize your written inventory into types of food.  I went with fruits and veggies; main dish; breads (muffins, pitas, etc) and breakfast; meat, poultry, and fish; treats, dairy, and other. (10 minutes)

Step 3: If applicable, organize within categories.  For us, that meant listing items “ready to bake or heat” separate from “sauces” under the “Main Dish” heading. (5 minutes)

Step 4: Designate typical sizes based on how you would retrieve them from the freezer.   I chose “1 loaf” for things like banana bread since you’re not going to leave half a loaf in the freezer (unless you stored it that way, of course).  For something like pizza sauce, I chose “1 cup” because I buy a giant can of pizza sauce and separate it into vacuum seal bags in 1 cup portions (I L-O-V-E my FoodSaver – no, there’s no affiliate link and I didn’t get paid to say that).  It really just depends on how you store things in the freezer. (10 minutes)

Step 5: Mark how many of each of the serving sizes you have.  In the case of whole chickens, I’ve got 4 of those (for now). (10 minutes)

You can use the “Comments” to note what kind of product you have: i.e. raspberry and strawberry freezer jam.

Total time: 50 minutes to an organized freezer!  And since the first step is the only non-paper/part, you can spread out the rest when you have time (or tackle it all at once, of course).

FI 3 done

Utilizing (maintaining) your freezer inventory

The key for maintaining a freezer inventory is to be consistent.  For me, that means having the list on a clipboard hanging right next to the chest freezer.  Whenever I get home from the store, I mark down what I purchased before it goes in the freezer.

FI 4

I’ll use this round of print outs until I don’t have any more room to write on it.  You might want to keep it electronically or print a new one out sooner than that.  I’ve found that if I use a pencil, the OCD side of me is more willing to write on it and actually use the inventory because I can always erase an entry when amounts change and/or erase my sloppy handwriting if I need to get things in the freezer quickly.

So…grab your favorite hot drink (chai for me!), a friend or an exersaucer to watch the kiddo(s), and get going on that freezer inventory.  If you don’t want to make your own, you are welcome to the PDFs I made for myself (below).  If you discover any tips/tricks, please post them in the comments.

Happy organizing!  Here’s to a more maintained home. 🙂

~Rachel @ reprezent98201 Mason Jar Values (I got a new home on the internet!) for embracinghomemaking.net

Downloads

PDF: Fruits and Vegetables

PDF: Main Dish/Breads and Breakfast

PDF: Meat, Poultry, Fish

PDF: Treats, Dairy, Other

I’d love to hear how this goes for you!  Comment below or fill out the form to email me!