Fall is my absolute favorite season of the year. It is nearly perfect in every way. I love fall colors. I love fall clothes. I love fall weather. I love fall food. And, if I’m completely honest, I love that with my kids back in school comes at least a few solid minutes a day where I am blissfully alone—a respite from the non-stop togetherness of summer days in our household.
The only real drawback to fall stares me right in the face every time I glance at our nearly packed schedule. Because with fall comes the return of all the after-school things: the homework, the practices, the games, youth group, meetups, etc. When I look at our calendar, my eyes immediately cross, and I start to panic. There is just so much stuff going on every day after 3:00pm. Something’s got to give to make it all work.
If you’re anything like me, family dinner is most often the first sacrifice. It’s just so hard. The last thing that I want to do after rushing in at 6:30 from three practices and one untimely after-school detention is think of something to make for dinner. At that point, I invariably have four starving humans staring at me begging for food, and I can’t even begin to think about what to make.
It doesn’t sit well with me, though, when I continually choose convenience over health for dinner. I don’t like the drive-thru all of the time, and I feel guilty when I know I am choosing the easy way because I’m tired and can’t get creative after a day of running around.
I knew there was a better way. I knew the secret to dinner success lay in planning. With a good, firm meal plan in place, one that works with my schedule and my needs, I knew dinner time could become manageable. I knew that just a few minutes of prep and planning could make that 6:00pm rush a dream. I knew I could do it.
So I did. And this is what I learned. It does help. Even the busiest family can do it. It is not much more work than grabbing take out. And it helps save a ton of money. If you want to give it a try, I’ve included some tips below.
Here are 5 important things to remember when creating a family meal plan:
1. A Stocked Pantry Is Key
Having what you need on hand at all times makes dinner so much easier and is also a great way to manage waste and save some money. Stocking a pantry first requires a thorough inventory. I thought through what my family returns to again and again and built from those recipe ingredients. It’s not a perfect list, but I keep it running and have learned to stock up on the basics so I can always create at least a few of our favorite recipes at a moment’s notice. On my blog, I have created a free downloadable Pantry Checklist that you can check out here. It’s a good foundation for a well-stocked pantry.
2. Learn Some ToolBox Recipes and Keep Them Handy
ToolBox Recipes is a term I created for recipes I can quite literally make with a blindfold on. They are tested and approved by my family and completely stress-free for me. It’s important for every busy mom to have a few of these. A busy Wednesday at 6:00pm is not the time to try new things. It’s a ToolBox night, and once you have a few, you’ll realize just how handy they are. I believe in ToolBox Recipes so much that I created an entire section on my blog filled with them. You can check it out here for some inspiration and ideas.
3. Make a Plan
I grew up with a mom who wrote our weekly dinner menu on a piece of notebook paper and hung it on the fridge every week. I am positive at the time I was embarrassed by this. But now, 30-some odd years later, I absolutely do the same thing. On Sunday I sit down and write out my menu and my grocery list. I make sure I have everything I need to make every one of those meals by Monday morning and have even been known to do some prep work (think chopping vegetables or baking some chicken breast) ahead of time. It’s a lifesaver and also has the unintended beautiful side effect of eliminating the need for the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” conversation every single night.
4. Live and Die by the 80/20
Normally a study on productivity, the 80/20 rule as applied here means planning for 80% of your meals to fall within the plan, with 20% of them out of it—whether that is take out, delivery, or restaurant meals. If you live with this rule, you provide yourself a cushion for those nights when you just can’t, or honestly just don’t want to. The 80/20 rule builds in space for those days and takes the guilt out of saying no to cooking on a night you just need it.
5. Give Grace
Of course, we couldn’t end an article like this without mentioning grace. But it’s so important, even in meal planning. Because no matter how hard you plan, things will come up, plans will change, and you’ll have to mix it up. And that’s OK. Give grace for those moments. You were never meant to be perfect, and just trying is what matters.
If you are interested in meal planning but even after this article you just don’t know where to start, I have created a completely free menu planning series on my blog, BeautyFromBurntToast. It includes printable weekly menu plans and grocery lists. It’s a great place to start if you are curious but can’t imagine how to begin. Check it out here!
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