How to Meal Plan for a Family in 5 Simple Steps

Learning how to meal plan for a family is becoming a rather trendy topic, given all the uncertainty surrounding us. While we've been learning just how important our diet is to our overall health and wellbeing, how much thought have you actually put into what your entire family consumes?

Research shows that children between the ages of 2-18 years old consume approximately 40% of empty calories throughout their day. These empty calories come from added sugars and solid fats and can have a profoundly negative effect on their overall health and wellbeing. Further research shows that poor nutrition that is high in empty calories has contributed to approximately one-third of children and more than two-thirds of U.S. adults being either overweight or obese.

While these numbers can be a bit scary, the good news is that you can help keep everyone healthy by learning how to meal plan for the family.

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How to Make Meal Planning a Family Activity

Trying to learn how to meal plan for a family can seem like a rather daunting task, especially if you have a larger family with rather picky eaters. Sure, the road will be a little bumpy at first. However, if you turn meal planning into a family activity, it will become much less of a chore and can turn into a fun and educational family project.

Take Time to Get to Know Your Family's Tastes

One of the primary reasons that meal planning for a family doesn't work out well is because the lead cook sets the meal plan in stone, and the kids and significant others are "required" to eat what's on their plate. Now – how many children do you know that will sit and willingly eat a salad for dinner?

So, instead of making mealtime something the family dreads, take the time to sit down and talk with everyone. Ask them what they enjoy eating, what they would rather not, and have them give you some examples of meals they love.

Once you've got some ideas to work with, you can start looking up healthy options that will work for the whole family.

Take Turns Having Each Member Be "In Charge" Each Week

Another fun way to get the family involved is by having each member of your family take a turn at being "in charge" of the menu for the week. This is especially fun when you have older children with particular tastes.

Of course, you'll have the final say in the official recipe; that way, you can ensure that your family is eating a well-balanced diet. However, having your child and significant other "plan the meals" for the week will make them feel like they have a say in what goes on their plate and more involved within the home.

Make Shopping a Fun Activity

Grocery shopping is not a fun family outing – at least not usually. However, there are some fun ways to get your family involved in shopping days. If your kids are older, you can put them in charge of visiting certain stores for you. If your children are younger, you can turn shopping into a fun game of recognition, such as finding certain foods or certain products of a specific type/color. 

Allow Your Family Members to Get Hands-On During the Prep Process

Once the meals are planned out, and the groceries are purchased, the best way to get your family involved in meal planning is allowing them to partake in the prepping process. Not only is this an excellent way to spend time as a family, but it can become quite an informative session. Think about it; your kids will likely have plenty of questions to ask about why that or what is that.

Alternatively, meal prepping is an excellent way to introduce them to a life skill that they'll need as they grow older. As they grow, they'll start to learn the actual cooking processes and how to make informed decisions on their own about what is good for them and what isn't.

How to Meal Plan for a Family in 5 Easy Steps

Now that the whole family is on board, it's time to start formulating your plan of attack! If you're left scratching your head at how to meal plan for a family and not just for yourself, you simply need to follow these five steps.

1. Inventory Your Freezer/Pantry

Waste not, want not – a great saying to live by, especially if you are trying to maintain a budget. So, before you start making your list, take a stroll through your pantry and peek in the freezer to see what items you already have on hand to work with. This will help your budget once you hit the store and help you formulate meal ideas in step two.

2. Sit Down and Start Planning Your Meals

This step is probably the hardest, to be completely honest, because you have to think with the whole family in mind. It's also why you want to get your family involved in the process. This way, nobody's voice goes unheard, and you are sure to make something that everyone enjoys.

Once you've got some ideas ready, you can start breaking down your menu in several different ways. If you are meal planning for only dinners because you're a busy family and that's the only time you can all sit down and eat together, great! Simply list out meals for each night and plan accordingly.

However, if you are planning full-day meals for the whole family, you'll want to make sure you are making the most of your budget. That means repeating some meals throughout the week and planning meals according to the ingredients you plan on purchasing. For example, instead of having different meat each day for dinner, pick two, and make different meals out of each protein. This ensures you still have some variety throughout your week.

3. Make Your Shopping List

Once you know what you already have at home, you can compare that to the needed items to make each recipe on your meal plan. Anything that you may be missing should be written down on your shopping list or added to your smartphone's shopping app.

A great way to build your shopping list is to break it down by either the aisle the items are in (if you go to the same store regularly) or by the type of food you plan to purchase. For example, you could print or create your own shopping list template that carefully organizes your list into:

  • Produce
  • Pantry Items
  • Meats
  • Dairy
  • Frozen
  • Household Goods
  • Other

Once your list is ready to go, so are you!

4. Hit the Stores

With your list in hand, you can finally hit the store running! Just remember to plan accordingly, so you aren’t stuck in long lines or forced to go back and forth between stores because you forgot something. That is why strategically planning out your shopping list in advance is so crucial. Again, you can make your list by store, by aisle, and by the "type" of food you need, to help you move through the store efficiently.

5. Let the Prep Begin!

With everything purchased, it's time to dedicate the necessary time to meal prepping. Yes – prepping the food is just as important as the "planning" when learning how to meal plan for a family because having the ingredients is not the same thing as getting it cooked and ready for the week.

So, either dedicate a few hours in a day to prepping your meals for the week or dedicate your weekend to it and get it all done and out of the way. You'll feel much better knowing all you have to do later is warm it up and serve!

Don't Let Meal Planning for Your Family Be a Chore!

Yes, learning how to meal plan for a family is an ongoing process. However, once you've put it into practice a few times, you'll find out just how easy it can be. As soon as it becomes a part of your regular routine, it will become nothing more than additional time to spend with your loved ones!

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