Meal planning. One of the most dreaded weekly tasks. Pretty sure I'm safe in saying that it's about as well-loved as cleaning bathrooms.
It helps your home run more smoothly throughout the week and avoids night-after-night of take-out, which in turn helps your budget, but taking the time to plan out each meal and create a grocery list can be a real downer. You've got the endless options of recipes to choose from (talk about decision paralysis), making that long list of items you'll need to buy, and then after all that, you still have to go to the grocery store. Luckily, there are a few ways to make the process just a little bit simpler!
Here are 5 easy ways to simplify your meal planning routine, which might just make it a little less of a pain and a bit more enjoyable!
1. Set a Date
That phrase isn't nearly as exciting when it's in the context of meal planning vs. in relation to a wedding date - regardless, it truly is just as easy as it sounds. The best way to make yourself actually tackle the meal planning monster each week is to write it into your routine! By picking a day each week to set aside the time to take care of it, you're creating a habit and it'll inevitably become part of your normal weekly routine.
I personally like to meal plan on Saturday morning while my son eats his breakfast and watches a little show; he's quietly entertained and I've got 30 minutes of (somewhat) uninterrupted time. In the past, I used Sunday afternoon to meal plan, grocery shop, and meal prep, but over time I've found that trying to cram all of that into one afternoon made me just dread the whole day. So Saturday mornings it is, which allows me to split up the planning and shopping tasks between different days and makes it all feel less overwhelming.
2. Simplify Your Choices
Decision paralysis and the overwhelm of too many choices is real. Like trying to decide what to order from the 20 page Cheesecake Factory menu vs. a local restaurant whose menu is 1 single page. While I've saved a good many recipes that my family loves on Pinterest, I've found that if I'm only searching there for recipe inspiration, I'm going to be meal planning for hours.
Instead, I like to simplify my choices by grabbing 2 of my favorite cookbooks to use in making selections for our family's weekly meals. I snag a cozy spot in our home with my 2 chosen cookbooks, a mug of hot coffee, my favorite grocery list notepad, and get to work! Not only does working from a select number of cookbooks narrow down the list of meal possibilities, but by leaving the cookbooks out on the counter during the week, it makes it a piece of cake for my husband to jump in and start dinner. He can look at the list of meals for the week, decide on which one he'd like to get started on, crack open that book and get to work. It's magical.
Not a fan of cookbooks? Try making a collection of go-to "family favorites" or consider setting a weekly rotation - taco Tuesdays anyone?? Group together a number of recipes that are tried & true in your household into one convenient place to use during your meal planning sessions, whether that's a set-aside board on Pinterest, an app on your phone, or a box of recipe cards!
By limiting your menu choices, you're limiting the amount of time spent endlessly scrolling which makes the meal planning task flow smoothly and, possibly more important, quickly.
3. Reduce Your List of Ingredients
Listen. Just because I love eating a fancy meal that comes with an ingredient list a mile long doesn't mean I have the time to make it. Especially if it requires use of multiple kitchen appliances and cookware (who's going to wash all those dishes). I'm a one-pot-and-done kind of gal. It truly doesn't take a complicated recipe to make a delicious meal that your family can enjoy! In fact, most of the cookbooks I own contain recipes that are short & sweet and take around 30 minutes to make.
To sum it up concisely - choosing simpler recipes will reduce your time in the kitchen as well as your time (and spending) in the grocery store.
4. Enjoy the Leftovers
I get it, leftovers are not exciting. Except when you get to the end of a long day and the last thing you want to do is cook. Then, they're heaven sent. In our house, leftovers are almost always used for lunches to save time during the day!
Not a fan of leftovers? Try picking recipes that can be easily modified throughout the week! For example, that taco meat you made for taco Tuesday can become today's taco salad or topped on a baked sweet potato with melted cheese! Get creative and make it work for you!
5. Make Use of Your Food Storage
Lastly, make good use of the items you already have on hand. Do you happen to have a bunch of cans of diced tomatoes? Or maybe your freezer is filled to the brim with frozen veggies? Find a recipe that calls for those ingredients, like a hearty soup! Do you have certain go-to meals that seem to be frequently in your meal planning rotation? Stock up on the staples! For example, if your family eats spaghetti once a week, keep a few jars of sauce and boxes of noodles on hand.
Making good use of your pantry and freezer storage not only makes your grocery shopping trips easier, but gives you an easy back-up plan if you find yourself needing it during the week. When all else fails and you just cannot put forth the energy to cook, make-your-own sandwich night or breakfast for dinner can save the day!
Interested in simplifying your meal planning AND making your grocery shopping trips more efficient? My Butterfly Grocery List notepad is just the thing you need! This notepad features the six main sections of grocery stores, designed to help you stay on track while making your list and while walking the grocery aisles! I use the "Notes" section at the bottom to write out our family's menu for the week while meal planning!