The Meal Planning Routine that Feeds my Family Week after Week

by Katelyn Denning March 13, 2024

mother holding kid hand teaching chopping tomato

The Meal Planning Routine that Feeds my Family Week after Week

As a busy parent, few things are more exhausting than deciding what to have for dinner.

When you're already tired from a long day and everyone's hungry, it can take a herculean effort to inventory what’s in the fridge, think about what everyone will actually eat, decide and then…cook! Thank goodness for carryout and Trader Joe’s amazing frozen meals.

Having a plan for dinner, feeling confident that you have all the ingredients you need, and then having food on the table at a reasonable time each evening would feel like a huge exhale!

Not to mention how it would affect other areas of life - feeling less stressed in the evenings, starting bedtime earlier, maybe saving a little money, or eating more intentionally.

All that from one, simple routine.

One of my favorite parenting books, which is also full of life lessons for those interested in pursuing a life of simplicity, is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. There’s an entire section of the book dedicated to routines and how helpful they can be for our kids.

Routines help them know what to expect, when to expect it, and they can help alleviate the stress of the unknown.All things that could benefit parents as well!

If you made more decisions in advance, you’d face less decision fatigue at the end of the day.

If you had stronger rhythms for your family, you wouldn’t have to shoulder all of the decisions yourself. Everyone would know and understand the process.

If you create more supportive routines, you might have more time and space to take care of yourself and maybe even have a little fun along the way.

But you have to start somewhere. So why not start with the routine that has the potential for a large return on investment - your meal-planning routine.

The when and how you actually do it, will be as different for you as it is for me, but there are a few universal steps that hold the key to a successful meal-planning routine:

1. Consolidate your go-to recipes and meals.

When you sit down to choose your meals for the week (or month), you don't want to have to spend time searching Pinterest, saved links, or screenshots for inspiration. Create a “meal index” to house all of the meals you've tried and loved enough to repeat with links to the actual recipe. (For recipes you want to try, create a separate list to pull from on nights when you have time and energy for something new.) This step is an up-front investment but will save so much time week after week!

2. Create meal themes.

Limit your options by setting broad categories for each day of the week. When you’re deciding what to have on Monday, choose between different soup recipes not from all recipes. On Thursday, choose between your favorite pasta dishes. Friday is always pizza, forever and always, and so on. Your decisions will be faster because you’re narrowing down your options. Plus, kids love a good dinner theme. (Taco Tuesday - need I say more?)

3. Use a template.

Create a go-to place where you document the meals you’ve chosen for the week and then add the recipe ingredients to a pre-built grocery list that includes all your regular staples (milk, bread, apples, eggs, etc.). It’s one less thing to think about and helps the entire process go faster - from choosing meals to shopping at the store or placing your pick-up order.

4. Set realistic expectations.

Is meal-planning fun? Maybe for some people, but for most of us it’s just a chore. It’s work, plain and simple and that’s ok. If you catch yourself complaining or procrastinating because "it takes too long" or "it sucks", remind yourself of how long it actually takes. (It’s helpful to time the process from start to finish a couple of times so you know.) For me, it’s 20-25 minutes and that is time to make decisions, take inventory of what we have and what we need, and type it into the list.

5. Share the process.

If I tried to do it all, I would burn out. So my husband and I agreed to share the process. I choose the meals and create the list. He double-checks it and goes to the store. We take turns cooking based on who has the capacity and energy. The person who doesn't cook does the dishes. That may not be possible for everyone, but it's what we've been able to configure. And when there’s a consistent routine in place, it makes it easier to share and delegate.

The reality is, decision fatigue is real and we have to eat. Making your decisions about what to have for dinner in advance and in as easy a method as possible, will save you so much time, energy, and stress throughout the week.

That’s what routines are about. They’re about creating a template, a way of doing things, so that you don’t have to spend precious mental energy reinventing the wheel every time.

What better place to start than around the dinner table?

Katelyn Denning


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