meal planning basics

I have a love-hate relationship with meal making and meal planning. And I imagine that I’m not alone in this. Household chores  tend to exist on a never-ending loop. It’s enough to drive anyone mad with monotony. Laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, dishes. And here we go again, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, dishes. But the thing that usually gets to me, is not just the fact that I need to feed my family while I’m on the hamster wheel, but that there is so much complexity attached to that very simple task.

factors that contribute to meal planning & food preparation via

As with most systems, success depends entirely on each component running smoothly. Any time there’s a clog in the system, you get a derailment of the entire thing. So, addressing hold-ups is my #1 priority. Here are the complex challenges that live in my family’s system:


1 //   Manage the Recipes.  This is the most challenging part. This is where you juggle likes, dislikes, food aversions, special needs, and diet. We all have likes and dislikes within our diet. Our kids have them. And sometimes everyone’s needs don’t quite match up. Not to mention, there’s also the balance between pushing ourselves and our family to try out new things, and sticking with the stand-by’s. Whatever your lifestyle, food is essential. So, start narrowing down the possibilities to a list of foods your family can and will actually eat.


family recipes


2 // Set the Mood. This one’s a biggie. I don’t think it should be overlooked. This one derails my meal planning more than any other factor. Maybe I’m not in the mood for chicken tonight, or not in the mood to spend the hour and a half preparing that particular recipe I planned. Not to mention that I might not be in the mood to deal with my kids complaints when they see that I’ve prepared roasted cauliflower. Whatever the mood, it can destroy even the best of plans.


by Jake Givens 2


3 //  Time management.  Along with mood, time is critical. Time to thaw, time needed for preparations, time for grocery shopping, time to cooking. And while it seems like there is never enough time, it is possible to tackle the challenge of time with a little bit of planning.


clock by Sonja Langford 2


4 //  Available Ingredients.  Nothing kills a great recipe, when you have everything ready to start cooking and find out that you are missing that one ingredient.  Or, because of lack of planning,  good ingredients weren’t used in time and had gone bad in the back of the refrigerator. Sigh*


grocery list time to get...2Time to Get… Printable


5 //  Budget.  This one bleeds into lifestyle. Do you go out to eat once a week? once a month?  Do you eat only organic? Or gluten-free? Whatever your lifestyle, this will impact the budget. And this will impact what you can and can’t have in your pantry.


grocery list


6 //  The Plan.  Now that you’ve come up with your 20 recipes and have a stocked pantry, it should be pretty easy to keep the rotation going. As long as you are flexible and cut yourself some slack on the difficult days. I like to use this menu planner from (featured above) and I’m in the process of designing a menu planning notebook that combines these tips. But, in the mean time, there are a gazillion of free printables online that can meet your needs. Write down your menu items for each week (I keep mine to 5 recipes, to account for the occasional pizza, or leftovers), and purchase groceries based on your list.


Just to recap…..

rules for successful meal planning from

* What tips have been the most successful for your meal planning adventures?  Leave a comment below.

Photo Credits//  Sunset Image by Jake Givens, Clock Image by Sonja Langford,  All other Images Ann Neslen via Dripping Paintbrush

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