We all know that meal planning is the way forward. It saves time, money and waste. But how many of us struggle to stick to a plan? If you’re one of those people, then check out my top 11 meal planning tips for busy families. I hope they will help you to stay on track. Let’s dig in:
1) Do an audit
My first bit of advice for busy families who are meal planning is to do a cupboard audit. Have a look at what you have in and make a list? If you do then you’ll be less likely to overbuy (I know I’m not the only that’s guilty of buying beans when I already have six cans already sat in the cupboard). If you do this, you’ll be also be able to plan some meals around what you already have.
If you often buy without checking, then you could have an endless supply of rice, beans and tuna. But instead of keeping it stored in the cupboard, look to donate some of it. The food bank is always crying out for donations, so you’ll be able to clear some space, whilst helping out somebody else.
3) Clear out your freezer
When you’re meal planning, you need to make sure you can see exactly what you have. So periodically clearing out the freezer is one of my favourite meal planning tips. It can feel wasteful, throwing out a portion of spaghetti bolognaise that’s been sat in the bottom of the freezer, but will you really eat it? Does it still appetize you? If the answer is no, then you’ve already wasted it, so throw it out.
Meal planning for busy families is made a lot harder when you’re playing freezer Jenga. You need to be able to see what you have and what you need, easily. Otherwise your freezer can become a sea of overwhelm and food waste.
4) Label leftovers correctly
How many times do you put leftovers in the freezer and forget to label them? ‘I’ll know what that is by looking at it’ you think. Fast forward 10 weeks and you’ve got no idea what it is and the idea of freezer roulette does not appeal. To avoid this scenario, store some stickers in your kitchen drawer, along with a pen. You can then add a sticker containing the date and the item, each time you freeze an extra portion of something. Doing this will reduce food waste and it will help you to know exactly what you have in when you’re devising your meal plan.
5) Produce a list of options
I find it hard to stick to a rigid meal plan, so I don’t try to. Instead, I create a 7-day dinner plan with options and then I decide on which option to go with when the day arrives. This really works for our family, as it enables us to have some flexibility within our choices.
6) Try to shop online
I find it much easier to stick to a list when I’m doing an online shop. I also manage to avoid being lured in by the end-of-aisle offers. The other advantage of shopping online when you’re meal planning for a busy family is that you can search for ingredients by typing them in, rather than aimlessly wandering around the supermarket for 20 minutes, trying to find artichokes and then giving up because they’re nowhere to be seen (yes, I’ve been there).
You can also do your online food shop in front of the tele, so everybody’s a winner!
7) Try some new recipes
The monotony of eating the same things week in, week out, may be hindering you from sticking to your meal plan. So mix it up! Try a new recipe. If you regularly find yourself in need of inspiration, then consider making a spreadsheet of healthy dinners that you can refer back to when devising your weekly food plan. That way, you can mix things up regularly, without having to think too hard!
You could also order a fresh vegetable box, so that a variety of different vegetables are sent to you each week. That delivery could provide you with the inspiration you need to try something new!
8) Factor in treats
Planning doesn’t have to mean ‘boring’. You are still allowed treats, so factor them in. You could have a planned takeaway, or give yourself the option of having one.
9) Do some batch cooking
Some nights you can’t be bothered to cook and that’s ok. To prepare for this eventuality, make up some dump bags which you can throw into the slow cooker. If you need further inspiration, then check out my vegetarian batch cooking tips.
10) Buy some easy weekday dinners
Sometimes, even remembering to take a dump bag out of the freezer is too much. So for these occasions, make sure you have some easy weekday dinners stashed away. This could be leftovers, ready meals, or just a packet of fish fingers. Emergency meals look different for us all, but make sure they feature as an option on your meal plan.
11) Involve the family
Making sure that the whole family is fed every day is quite the task. So share it. Get another family member to cook one night. Or, if your kids are old enough, get them to prepare a meal.
The final word
I hope that you found my meal planning tips for busy families useful. You should also take a look at my roundup of ways to save money on a tight budget. If you’re struggling to find the time to prep, then read my Gousto review (which includes a 60% off discount code), as that could provide a solution for the time strapped!