Growing up in a family of six, I understand how meal planning for an entire week would be overwhelming and stressful.
Whatever the situation and lifestyle you find your family in, we are sure to have a solution that will resonate with you that you can try out with your family. And hopefully, something will stick, and you’ll be able to find that meal planning isn’t so overwhelming and stressful after all. Because, of course, our first goal is for you to eat food and to enjoy it.
Food is an essential part of life – and one of the best – so we must ensure it lives up to that! Read on to learn solutions to your meal planning problems!
How My Family Did It
My parents are early birds and hard workers, so they constructed their schedules to wake up at 5:30 every morning to exercise for an hour, then come upstairs and make breakfast, by which time we would all be awake and sitting at the table by 7 a.m.
My mom believes in eating whole, healthy foods, so we would never discover sugar cereals on the table when we sat down.
We would wake up to the smell of eggs, bacon, sausages, or muffins just out of the oven or sit down to a buffet of yogurt parfait ingredients.
We would all sit together every morning, pray, eat, go over the day’s schedule, do some scripture study, and talk. Then, if we were heading off to school, we would make our lunches out of leftovers or whatever we found we liked in the fridge.
In the evening, my mother would come home from work and go right to prepping dinner, or, as a remote worker, my dad would start cooking before she got home.
By 6 o’clock, we would all be sitting around the table again with a delicious, hearty dinner in front of us.
We’d all spend a while eating, talking about our day, and enjoying the food and the company. Then, we’d move into the living room and spend the rest of the night together, watching our family TV show or playing games, reading, or talking.
When the weekend hit, my mom would make a list of what was needed for meals in the coming week, and one of my parents would go grocery shopping on Saturday afternoon.
We would help unload and put away all the groceries and put ingredients in convenient places, ready to be taken out when the time came, but the food was rarely prepared beforehand.
However, that was how my family’s schedule worked out. We were all able to eat breakfast and dinner together daily, and my parents had time to make breakfast and dinner every day.
As teenagers and older kids, we could all handle making our lunches for school.
But not all families are like that. Not all parents have the time or want to take the time to make meals every single day before every meal. Perhaps one parent needs to sleep in because they work different hours.
Maybe things get more complicated based on the age of your kids or their busy schedules.
Time for Meal Planning
Knowing how much time you have to spend on meal planning is vital.
Based on the time you have over the weekend, in the mornings and evenings, and just generally every day will help you figure out what meal planning strategy is best for you.
Examine your schedule.
Are you a stay-at-home parent? Remote working or just not working? That gives you a set amount of free time.
Are both parents stay-at-home or just one parent? When does the other one leave for work and get back home?
Are you both working parents? When do you each leave and get back from work?
These are all essential questions to help you make an effective meal planning plan.
Meal Planning for Stay-At-Home Parents
If you or your spouse (or both of you) are stay-at-home parents, you’ll have much more flexibility in your meal planning schedule.
You may be working remotely or have errands and other things you need to accomplish during the day, but the fact remains that you are at home for the most part and can utilize that fact.
Before going into your office space and starting work for the day, you can make breakfast for yourself and your kids and sit down and eat together. You can pack lunches if need be as well.
During your lunch break, you can access leftovers in the fridge or whatever open options for food there are available to you.
To make dinner, you can begin after work ends for the day or start it during a quick snack break and make it in time for the whole family to enjoy when your spouse gets home from work and your children get home from school.
Ultimately, for those parents at home, the meal plan you choose is more based on what you’re willing to spend your time doing rather than what time you have to spend on meal planning.
Meal Planning for Working Parents
For those parents who are both working, meal planning is a little trickier.
Think about what time you need to leave, factoring in the commute, to get to work on time. Think about what time you get back from work in the evening.
Do you have time to make breakfast or dinner when you’re home? Or do you have to leave before the kids wake up and don’t arrive back home until after they’d need to eat?
These are all bits of information you’ll need to construct your meal plan.
Maybe you don’t have time to make breakfasts, lunches, or dinners for anyone during the day. That’s okay! That’s where the planning comes in.
Think about your week – when DO you have the time to prepare meals? Found it?
Maybe it’s the weekend, with Saturday and Sunday off from work. Perfect! You can grocery shop and prepare all of your week’s meals in this free time.
Plan out a menu for the week, and make sure it is firmly established what is for dinner every day.
Buy the ingredients at the grocery store, spend a few hours over the weekend making all of the week’s dinners, and store them in different containers in the fridge.
Then, every day for dinner, your kids can pull out the assigned meal and easily feed themselves before you get home!
You can do the same for breakfasts if you want to make muffins or granola beforehand. You can buy fruit too, most requiring no prep to eat.
This will make it easier for your kids in the morning and ensure you have something to grab and eat before heading off to work.
For lunch, you and your kids can eat leftovers from the previous dinner, or you can buy specific lunch food such as sandwich ingredients for them to use every day.
I recommend leftovers because sandwiches are only interesting for a short period, and it’s not healthy to eat the same thing every day regardless of what it is.
Try to fit lunches into your meal plan as much as possible, and remember, you need to eat lunch too!
What About Your Kids’ Time?
It’s not just your time that is important to keep in mind – you also have to think about your kids’ ages and availability!
If you have elementary school kids or even younger, your meal plan will be different for teenagers, not just in the types of food you buy, but in who does the preparing and what you eat.
If you have young kids, you will have to take most of the responsibility for making the food, including their lunches for school.
However, if you have older kids or teenagers, they can be responsible for making their lunches.
If making food for the whole week is overwhelming, you can even assign each of your kids a day of the week to plan the meals, and they can be the ones to make those meals as well.
This will make your life just a little bit easier and give your kids some involvement in making the food they eat, which can be fun and help them learn to cook and be self-sufficient.
But what about their time? Usually, little kids don’t have to do much other than go to school and maybe whatever T-ball practice you signed them up for.
But as your kids age, they’re going to be involved in so much more, from sports practice to play rehearsals, clubs, dances, and parties.
Not only will you have to plan meals around your schedule, but theirs as well!
Ask yourself the following questions to determine the best way to meal prep for your kids:
- What time do they have to leave in the morning for school? You’ll need to make sure breakfast is ready by then. Does their breakfast need to be portable so they can eat it on the go?
- What time will they be back? Dinner doesn’t need to be ready until then, so there is no use in making it early and letting it get cold!
- Do they need just a lunch or snacks as well to get them through the day? If they’re staying late, does their dinner also need to fit in their lunchbox?
These are all things to consider and plan for to ensure your children are adequately cared for. Keeping meals healthy is an essential goal for you to have, for your own well-being, and for the growing bodies of your kids.
So, try to find the healthiest options that fit your meal plan needs, and if you need to, look into healthy options that are pre-prepared or easy to grab on the go.
Meal Plan for the Event Itself
As we’ve discussed thoroughly, meal planning isn’t just about food. Meal planning is about the time it takes to prepare it and the time you have to eat it.
Now we’re adding one more layer: the timing of when you eat it.
Think about the goals you have for when you eat your meals. You’ve successfully planned out who’s making the meals and when. But who do you want to be at the table when you’re eating?
Do you hope to plan meals so that the food is ready for everyone to come in, grab, and eat in their own time?
If so, make sure it’s food that will last on the counter for a couple of hours without going bad, and decide who will be in charge of putting it away.
But perhaps you’d like your family to be able to do breakfasts and dinner together at the table every morning and night as my family did.
This will take another type of planning and timing.
You may have to get up a little early for breakfast or wait until later for dinner, but if eating together is something you value, you can plan for it and make it happen.
Thankfully there are many approaches to meal planning. Whatever approach you choose, you want mealtimes to be delicious, nutritious, relaxing, and enjoyable for you and your family, and we do too.