A family sitting down for a meal

Family Health

How To Start A Family Meal Plan

Jan 12, 2018

Even though I’ve always had the best of intentions, and know that I should, I’ve always struggled to start and follow a family meal plan — and this is coming from a registered dietitian who develops recipes for a living! I stress to my nutrition counselling clients how important it is to have a weekly meal plan, especially with kids, but also know firsthand that it’s challenging (and sometimes overwhelming) to create a new habit and routine, especially when you’re a busy parent.

Menu planning doesn’t have to be overwhelming or time consuming.

The truth is, a good weekly menu plan can save your sanity and make your life a lot easier. There’s nothing worse than coming home from work or daily outings without a dinner plan then scrambling to figure something out last minute, with hungry kids crawling up your legs and all. Meal planning can also save your family a lot of money and cut down significantly on food waste. And if better nutrition is part of your new year’s resolution or plan, menu planning almost always results in more balanced meals.

To make things more realistic and attainable for myself and my family, I’ve decided to make things really, really simple — no fancy templates or complex, gourmet recipes here! Just a realistic plan that I can stick to and that makes sense for my family and lifestyle. Here are my three keys to successful meal planning:

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Focus on suppers only

Forget about planning out the entire week of meals and snacks, it’s too overwhelming and it’s a lot of pressure to try to stick to. Breakfasts tend to be simpler and more repetitive (in our house it’s usually oatmeal, eggs or smoothies), and lunches tend to be easy — leftovers from dinner, or easy options like sandwiches, wraps or finger-food lunches. Instead, focus on dinners only, because they’re generally the more time consuming and labour intensive of the meals. And they can usually spill over to future meals, whether it’s the next day’s lunch, or repurposed into a different supper the next night. Once you’ve mastered suppers, you can venture into other meals if you’d like — or not!

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Keep recipes simple

As tempting as it is to buy a new stack of beautiful cookbooks and spend a fortune on expensive ingredients that you’ll only use once, keep it simple. Forget the fancy, complicated recipes and focus more on easy, nutritious, quick meals that your family loves. I have a collection of simple, healthy and kid-friendly recipes that I rotate through, and you can start your own too! Pinterest is a great resource, where you can search for recipes that contain ingredients that you always have on hand and that your family loves. Keep the recipes that you find in one place so they’re easy to retrieve, whether that’s a document on your computer or a file folder of printed recipes — organize them in a way that makes sense for you!

Some families find it helpful to choose a daily theme for recipes, so Mondays are Meatless Mondays and Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays and so on and so forth. Doing this provides a bit of a template for meals, which can simplify things. I’m a big fan of one-pot meals because they’re not only easy, but don’t require a lot of cleanup, which is key! I also like to choose recipes that make for good leftovers that freeze well. Which brings us to the next tip…

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Make big batches and repurpose

I never plan to eat a meal only once (if that makes sense). I always think ahead and plan to eat it at least three times, or repurpose one part of it for another meal later in the week. For example, if one night we have barbecue chicken breasts with veggies and quinoa, I will cook two or three times as many chicken breasts as we need and plan on making things like barbecue chicken pizza, chicken fajitas or chicken fried rice and veggies with the leftovers throughout the week. If we’re making spaghetti, I’ll make a triple batch of sauce and freeze two thirds of it for future meals. If you spend the time cooking, you may as well make extras!

Menu planning doesn’t have to be overwhelming or time consuming. When you simplify things and focus on easy, nutritious recipes and getting the most out of each meal, you’ll find that meal planning is easier than you thought, and much more helpful than you ever imagined!

Article Author Sarah Remmer
Sarah Remmer

Read and watch more from Sarah here.

Sarah Remmer, RD, is a pediatric registered dietitian and owner of Sarah Remmer Nutrition Consulting, a nutrition consulting and communications company based in Calgary, Alberta. Her website and blog contain practical tips and advice for parents and families on feeding and nutrition (everything from pre-natal nutrition to teens), as well as nutritious and easy recipes and videos. Follow Sarah on Facebook for free advice, tips and family-friendly recipes!

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