Keep It Simple! 7 Family Meal Planning Tips and Tricks

With more people spending extra time in the kitchen and less time ordering out or going to their favorite restaurant, those in charge of cooking for the family have started to hit a wall.

Trying to come up with something to prepare every day can get redundant, boring and your favorite meals start to lose their pizzazz.

It's no wonder that more people are looking for family meal planning tips and tricks to help them spice up their menu.

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Family Meal Planning Isn't As Difficult As You May Think

One of the most common reasons people avoid meal planning is their preconceived notions that it's a time-consuming, difficult process and will only lead to wasted food that the family won't want to eat.

Nonetheless, family meal planning is becoming a regular practice for millions of families. In fact, statistics show that 29% of people in the United States try to meal plan for their entire week, while 42% try to meal plan for a few days at a time.

Benefits of Family Meal Planning

Some of the most common reasons families turn to meal planning are to save time and better budget their grocery shopping money. However, did you know there are many other benefits to the practice?

For instance, family meal planning is a great way to help cut down on your family's overall food waste. According to the FDA, In the United States, food waste at the retail and consumer levels (including food that gets thrown away after you purchase it) averages approximately 31% of the food supply. Meal planning helps to combat food waste by teaching you to buy only the essentials each week. By sticking to your meal plan's grocery list, you're less likely to purchase the random items that go to waste in your pantry or fridge.

Another excellent reason to meal plan for the family is to increase the variety of food in everyone's diet. When you stick to what you "usually" do, there isn't a whole lot of room for experimenting with new dishes and flavors. When you plan your meals ahead of time, sure, you can stick to your tried and true meals. However, you can also explore alternative recipes that may be a bit outside your usual repertoire.  

Finally, family meal planning can be an excellent opportunity to spend a little extra time with your loved ones. Let's face it; most people don't like to sit down, write out lists, shop, and then spend hours cooking – at least not alone. When you get the whole family involved, the time seems to simply fly by!

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7 Family Meal Planning Tips and Tricks 

If you're ready to dive into the practice, then you'll want to make sure you check out these seven family meal planning tips and tricks to help you keep meal planning simple!

1. Save Extra Time by Meal Planning and Building Your Shopping List

If time is what you're concerned about, there are plenty of tips to help you manage your planning and prep time. One of the best tips is to plan your meals and your shopping list at the same time. As you’re deciding on each meal, take an extra moment to write down the necessary ingredients. That way, once your plan is in place, you'll already have a list to work with. Then, simply shop your pantry and freezer, crossing off items you already have, and you'll have a ready list to take with you to the store.

2. Cook Bulk Meals and Freeze Them for Later

Another excellent tip, especially when meal planning for a larger family, is to cook items/meals in bulk, separate them into meal servings, and put them in the freezer. Sure, while it may involve more time to cook these larger portions, it will significantly cut down prep time later on when you need something quick and easy – especially if you can't prep something in advance for whatever reason.

3. Keep Your Pantry Stocked with the Essentials

If you don't already, you should consider stocking up on your pantry essentials. These are condiments, spices, sauces, and other non-perishable items, such as pasta, rice, and canned goods. These are all staples in the kitchen, and since they tend to have longer shelf lives than fresh meats and produce, it's easy to stock up and only buy them when necessary.

4. Build a Recipe "Book" or Have a Place to Save Your Family's Favorites

Once you've started experimenting with different recipes, you'll want to make sure you are saving any that your family falls in love with. While it may seem tedious at first, it will become a lifesaver down the road, especially if you find yourself short on meal planning time due to special events, last-minute occasions, or you simply don't want to research something new.

While some people enjoy printing out their favorite recipes and building a cookbook of sorts, others simply don't want to deal with the unnecessary clutter. The good news is that there are plenty of online resources and smartphone apps to help you digitally store your favorite recipes for use later on.

For many, Pinterest is not only an excellent source of fun, innovative new recipes; it's also an easy way to save your favorites for later. All you have to do is "pin it" to your boards!

5. Experiment with "Themed" Nights

Let's face it; even after you've experimented with some new ideas and family meal planning tips, you may still find yourself in the same rut of not knowing what to make. An awesome way to avoid this is to play around with different meal-themed nights throughout the week.

Not quite sure where to start? Here are some common meal themes you can use throughout your week:

  • Meatless Monday – a great way to introduce your family to some other high-protein, meatless options
  • Taco Tuesday
  • What's New Wednesday – perfect for introducing brand new recipes into your routine
  • Tuscan Thursday
  • Fave Friday – where you pick a family favorite
  • Soup/Sandwich Saturday
  • Sunday Supper – where you prioritize sitting down for a nice large meal with the family

Another way to theme your week is by simply planning some of your family's favorites:

  • Pizza Day
  • Pasta Day
  • Wing Wednesday
  • Ethnic Night
  • Crock Pot Night
  • Grill Night, etc.

Themed meals are also an excellent way to get your family involved. Each week doesn't have to be repeated. Instead, at the beginning of the week, ask your family what they are craving and make a list of ideas. From there, you can plan out each day's "theme" and even take turns letting your family pick out different themes each week.

6. Keep an Eye Out for Sales at Your Favorite Shops

If saving money is your primary reason for wanting to meal plan for your family, then you'll want to make sure you are considering various sales and specials that your stores may be having. This is crucial when it comes to stocking up on family favorites or when trying to budget out for certain products. For instance, fresh meat can easily become the most expensive part of your weekly budget. So, instead of planning for the meal, consider planning for the protein and building your meal plan around what's on sale for the week.

While many stores send out weekly circular ads to those in their local area, another great family meal planning tip is to download coupon or savings apps, such as Ibotta, Groupon, and Coupon Sherpa. These can help not only alert you to deals but help you better manage your grocery budget.

7. Plan for Leftovers

Leftovers are inevitable. Instead of letting food go to waste, plan a day or two throughout the week to "empty the fridge" and use up those leftovers. You can either reheat your leftovers as is, or you can get creative and use them to create something completely new. 

Say, for example, you have some leftover rotisserie chicken from earlier in the week. Instead of letting it go to waste, why not consider using it to make a homemade chicken noodle soup or chicken pot pie?

Get Everyone Involved with These Family Meal Planning Tips

With these seven family meal planning tips and tricks, planning fun, healthy meals for your family will be a breeze! When you get everyone involved, it can become an enjoyable way to spend extra time with your loved ones.

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