You never thought you’d be making THIS many meals at home in your entire life.
But here we are and I’ll just cut to the chase: it’s time to simplify meal planning, friend!
If you’ve never done the math to calculate how many meals one person eats in a year, it’s over 1,000. Not including snacks.
No wonder meal planning under quarantine (or even under “normal” just-trying-to-eat-more-at-home circumstances) is so difficult.
The grocery bill is one of our best opportunities for overall budget savings and the way we meal plan has the same benefit for time savings. We can either spend an hour every week planning things out, or we can consolidate and save that time for something else (like that dream of a side hustle that you haven’t had any time for lately …)
If freeing up your day is important to you, then we need to simplify meal planning.
Since meals are essential, unfortunately we cannot ignore this topic.
You could hit the easy button to solve this problem, though. Just grab takeout or pop a frozen pizza in the oven.
But, you’ve already thought of that, and you realize that’s not a great option for the long haul. Budget and health goals are important to you too!
What’s the solution then, other than slaving away in the kitchen all day?
Today, I’m sharing 7 super helpful ways to simplify meal planning. This will help you cut time spent meal planning by at least HALF if you choose to implement a couple of these options.
True story, friend! Save your energy for something more fulfilling instead of reinventing the wheel with meal plans each day or week.
I vote that the extra margin carved out should also go straight into the self care bank to be used as you please. Agree?!
You’re so many things, but let’s try to get you OUT of the constant kitchen life (and yes, that involves thinking about it, too).
Why You Should Simplify Meal Planning
Now, I’m guessing you might actually enjoy the cooking process. Just a lil’ bit (or more). Serving a healthy and hearty meal for you family does wonders to your heart.
But that’s the end of the road. Once it’s served and eaten, that’s the very last step in a looooong process to get there.
The process begins the moment you decide WHAT to serve, and that’s where we can begin to simplify the process overall.
There’s a healthy balance between enjoying excellent meals and keeping the process simple.
Please don’t equate time in the kitchen laboring over a meal as a measure of the amount of love put into it.
In fact, I challenge you to consider flipping the script. That by spending less time in the kitchen, you’re able to pour even MORE love into your family.
So why should you simplify meal planning?
Because you can have delicious, healthy and exciting meals even when you’re only spending a fraction of your time planning, prepping & cooking them.
Here are 7 efficient and helpful ways to simplify the meal planning process in your home.
7 Ways to Simplify Your Meals
Bulk Meal Plan
Last week, I outlined our summer seasonal meal plan process and it’s the most epic way to simplify meal planning. Not one thing has improved the process for us better than this method!
The concept is to plan meals for 90 days in one sitting, instead of less frequently like monthly or weekly. It’s so simple and will save hours or your time over the entire quarter. Not to mention, when the season comes up again, you’ll have historical data to tap into for inspiration.
Time saving gold mine, right there!
Communicate the Week’s Meals
It’s frustrating when you’ve done the work to plan the week’s meals, purchased ingredients, mentally prepared … then the family “feels like something different.”
Raise your hand if this happens to you …
My recommendation is two-part.
First, make use of a whiteboard or chalkboard in the kitchen or living area (think: command center) that clearly states the menu for the week.
Talk through the plan on Sundays so that if anyone has an issue, they know to “speak now or forever hold their peace.”
The Home Management Balance Guide is an awesome tool for this type of communication, too.
Second, you might also consider using the bulk meal planning process to bring everyone together on the chosen recipes for the season.
Alignment up front will make a huge difference in expectations and will keep you focused on the plan instead of making last minute adjustments.
Master & Use Kitchen Tools
Tools in the kitchen are built for exactly this – to simplify!
I know that some tools might seem more complicated than they’re worth, but if you spend a moment to master them, your whole world will open up into greater productivity in the kitchen.
Some favorite heavy-hitting tools of ours are the Instant Pot®, Crock-Pot®, rice cooker and grill! All of these tools help us create meals with less effort, mess, and stress. We’d love to get a bread maker one day, too.
But these tools require some up-front “onboarding time” before they’re mastered.
Think of them like your own personal kitchen assistant and voila, you’ll have hired help in the kitchen in no time!
Prep Ahead & Use Repeatable Ingredients
You can still achieve variety and excitement with meals while also simplifying the process. Try using repeatable ingredients in your week’s recipes with a change in preparation only.
Instead of having 7 different dinners planned, choose 4 days of chicken, 2 red meat, and 1 vegetarian day. Use spinach and tomato sauce as the top two flavor add-ons for that week and use creative ways to incorporate both into the meals. This is a bare minimum example that even we wouldn’t likely follow, but you get the idea. Just keep it simple!
Further, prep ahead! Whether that looks like seasoning the dishes for baking on the day-of or fully cooking and prepping the whole meal so it’s ready to eat. It’ll depend on the recipe, but if you have less options, it’ll be much easier to prep & clean up.
Do a Freezer Meal Day
Reserve one day each month (or every other month) to prep 4-8 meals for the freezer to lean on during “struggle days.”
We all ride the struggle bus at times, but having a default option for meals ensures we won’t let these days get us down.
You deserve a break!
Now, I know it’s hard to plan this far ahead sometimes. But it’s SO worth it.
You’re investing in your future self … the sweet mama who has had enough and just wants a night off without spending money for take out. You may not feel this way today, but we both know she’s coming.
She gets a freezer meal, Oprah-style!
Keep a Recipe & Meal Planning Binder
All of the effort you put in to plan, prep & enjoy your family meals should be documented for next time. Don’t reinvent the wheel!
Create a simple binder or notebook that holds clips of your favorite meals, (most enjoyed & simple) weekly meal plans, freezer inventory, grocery lists, etc.
Keep it all in one place and easily accessible so you can access it quickly when you sit down again to plan.
Recruit, Recruit, Recruit!
I saved the best recommendation for last, so if you made it all the way down here, you get the best nugget!
No matter what strategy you choose above, recruiting your husband AND your kids to contribute to this process is an excellent way to simplify meal planning.
I know, this might feel uncomfortable and maybe impossible too, but hear me out.
- Involve them in the meal plan choices. Don’t block them from the process. Allow them to make submissions for recipes that they might want to try.
- Communicate the meal plan weekly. Use the Family Meeting Agenda found in this free Home Management Balance Guide.
- Assign meal prep jobs. Maybe that’s sending the husband to the grocery store to retrieve the Instacart order, or asking him to set up the rice cooker during meal prep. Maybe this looks like asking the kids to set the table or help you measure ingredients.
- Get their feedback on the process too. Your family has great ideas and input. Allow them a chance to speak up on ways they can help or suggestions for making things better, easier or faster. Don’t forget to grab the Home Management Balance Guide for this!
Next Steps to Simplify Meal Planning
I hope this list brought some renewed motivation your way.
There’s only one next step … pick 1 strategy!
As long as you continue to adopt the mindset that getting takeout isn’t the only way to simplify your meal planning and prepping process, you’ll be on the road to improvement for life. I’m so excited to hear how this list helps you going forward.
And it’s not just for you … know a mama who could benefit, too? Pass this post onward and work together to simplify!