Top basketball coaches would never let their team go into a game blind. Before the game, they study and prepare their team for the opponent they’ll be playing. Come game time, they are ready. The team knows what type of defense they’ll be running; they have practiced and perfected their offensive plans. There are no surprises.
With such preparedness comes ease and confidence going into a big game. I like to think of myself as a coach for my family. Dinner is game time, but there is a lot of preparing that comes before the critical hour.
But wait. This silly analogy doesn’t work. Because once game time arrives, I don’t get to sit back and watch my team perform–I have to perform! I guess that makes me the coach and point guard.
Oh well, I’m sticking with the basketball analogy. The point is, if you want your family to eat healthy foods, you have to plan for it. It is so much easier to go into a week with a meal plan in place and all the ingredients you need ready to go.
I’ve had some readers request that I let you in on the process of my meal-planning madness. (Kind of like March Madness–the basketball theme continues!) It’s been an evolving process for me, but I have found a system that works well and helps me plan for ultimate nutrition for my family. Check out the steps I take when I’m planning my family’s meals for the week:
Meal Planning Steps:
Step #1: Check Out What You Already Have
I always start by looking in my pantry,refrigerator, and freezer. It helps to have a well-stocked healthy pantry. I take note of which ingredients I have, things that need to be used up, and things I might be running low on. I write down the items I want to use and keep them in mind for the next step.
This week, for example, I had some extra-firm tofu that I didn’t use last week. (Sometimes plans change.) So I made a note to plan a meal to use it this week.
This step also helps me remember certain ingredients I have that I may have forgotten about. Sometimes I buy an ingredient for a certain recipe and would forget about it if I didn’t do this step. This helps me save money by making sure I’m always using the ingredients I have on hand.
Step #2: Recipe Inspiration
During this step, I go to a few different sources to decide what recipes I want to make for the following week. I have a folder on my computer of bookmarked web pages entitled “Recipes to Try”. I glance there to see if there’s anything I want to try. Sometimes I browse through my cookbooks. I look on my own blog. If I have any food magazines around, I look in them. I check out past week’s meal plans.
On average, each week 4 out of the 7 dinner meals are ones we’ve had before (with at least one familiar favorite for my husband) and the remaining 3 are new dishes we are trying. I like to try new things, so this works for us.
I get all of my recipes together in one place that I want to try. Depending on the week, I can end up with a pile of printed recipes from the Internet, simple post-it note ideas, and/or cookbooks with flagged recipes.
Step #3: Filling in the Meal Planning Guide
At this point, I start using my Meal Planning Guide. This week it looked like this:
After I’ve already done step #2, this doesn’t take all that long. I use the recipes I decided I would use to fill in the spaces. I also have certain things that appear on this guide week after week, like green smoothies. Meghan has a green smoothie at least 3 times a week, so that’s easy to fill in. Other favorites that I include every week are avocado sandwich and peanut butter and jelly. I can’t deny her the good ol’ PB&J. 😉
I like using this format because it helps me keep track of the number and variety of vegetables and fruits I am going to offer Meghan over the course of the day. That’s all I can control, right? I can’t force her to eat them, but it is my job to continue to offer her at least the minimum recommended servings. It is recommended that toddlers eat 1 cup of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit per day, so I aim for that as a minimum. I also look over the course of the week to ensure she is getting a variety of colors throughout the week. This also helps me to make sure Tim and I are getting a good amount and variety of veggies, too.
I keep this on the fridge during the week, so I can always glance at it and remember what’s coming up and what preparations I need to make.
If you would like a blank copy of this meal planning guide to use, click here.
Step #4: Make the Grocery List
Once my meal planning guide is in place, I can make my list. I look at each item and think of what I need to make it. Then I re-check my pantry to see what items I already have, and add to the list things I need at the grocery store. I also check my staple items, like almond milk, to see if I have enough for the week. I like to have a list organized by category as it helps me not waste time in the store. Here’s what my list looked like this week:
If you would like a blank copy of this grocery list template, click here.
Notice that sometimes I don’t plan everything 100%. For two meals, I just wrote “veggie side”, but didn’t know what I was going to have. Sometimes I just wait until I’m in the grocery store to see what I’m in the mood for or what might be on special. This week I ended up with Brussels sprouts and green beans as my unplanned sides. I also left Sunday dinner and Sunday lunch for Tim and me blank. I will get creative with pantry items and use up any unused produce on Sunday!
I could go into so much more depth with meal planning, but this post is already long enough. I hope these steps will help you as you try to plan healthy meals for your family.
Questions: Did I leave any of your meal-planning questions unanswered? I can always do a follow-up post if you want more information. Do you have any great meal-planning tips that you use?