Guide for Effective Family Meal Planning

There are many parents that I speak to on a regular basis who struggle with meal planning for their families. This can be for a variety of reasons including a busy schedule, worry about food waste, overcommitting to a big cook then not feeling like following through.

There are many benefits to meal planning evening meals for your family including:

  1. BUDGET. Families who go to the supermarket daily are more likely to spend more money on groceries per week than those who do one big shop with perhaps one additional visit during the week.
  2. Families who do not meal plan are also more likely to purchase takeaway food on a regular basis due to the lack of preparedness once the evening meal rolls around. Not only does this once again add huge amounts to the weekly meal budget but as we know takeaway food is not as healthy as a home cooked meal.
  3. Reduced mental load during the week. Yes, you do have to set aside 10-15 minutes somewhere in the week for meal planning to occur, however everyone hates the dreaded “what are we going to have for dinner?” after a busy day with the kids or a long day at work and meal planning reduces the overall mental load for the week. You will thank you organised self!

Create a Family Meals Document

This is the best thing I ever did to help with my weekly shop.

Create a word docor Excel Spreadsheet (If you are super fancy) listing all the meals your family currently eats regularly. I categorise mine into protein types, i.e. beef, chicken, fish, vego. You could also organise it into meal types E.g. pasta, meat and veg, one dish wonders, slow cooker OR busy night meals, meals with bulk left overs, budget meals etc.

Add in the meals your family enjoys and eats regularly. Don’t try to start meal planning with a whole new repertoire of recipes. This is unrealistic and will likely be short lived.

Mine looks like this

I then use this to choose meals for the week, depending on how busy the week is. I choose a couple of beef some chicken and some fish. This prevents me sitting there trying to remember what on earth I usually cook.

Using the Meal Document

Take 10-15 minutes out of your week to sit down either as a family or alone (my preference) to pick out dinners for the week. It is often best to have a day of the week you do this on to keep things consistent. Consider what you have on, busy nights or days where you have more time to cook meals that will stretch over two nights and plan accordingly. This may seem like a chore but it really only takes a few minutes.

Choose Meals with Overlapping Ingredients

We all know those recipes that require some rogue ingredient that costs $8 and cannot be used for anything else and 80% of it ends up in the bin. Often this is our fresh produce which is why I like to include what I call versatile vegetables in my shop. Imagine those that can go with any meal, roasted zucchini and carrot with your baked chicken and grated zucchini and carrot in your spag bol.

I also like to utilise some frozen veg alongside fresh veg to add variety and limit the cost and wastage of just using fresh produce and tinned lentils and beans are great for adding additional fibre/ veg into meals at allow cost. Think along the lines of a can of beans in your taco mince.

Try an Online Order

While there a pros and cons of shopping online, it is a great tool for meal planning when starting out for a few reasons.

  1. You can keep an eye on your budget as you add to cart
  2. You can take your time! The search function is your friend, and it is easier to sit down with your planned meals and shopping list and make sure you have everything
  3. You can do it anywhere, anytime. Only have time when the kids are in bed when sitting in front of the TV? Perfect.
  4. Quick re-order is your friend. Once you have ordered once or twice you can use the quick reorder function to reorder your usuals such as bread, milk, fruit, veg and snacks to make shopping quicker and less of a chore.

Add New Recipes Slowly

If you are keen to try new recipes and add some variety, I suggest one-two new recipes a week max. If you love it, add it to the regular recipes doc so it can become a part of the regular meals and watch that document grow over time.

You may still need an additional dash to the shops during the week for an additional ingredient or a few extra bits of fruit or veg and this is 100% ok! Remember practice makes perfect and every week will differ slightly as we know family life is busy and hectic, but your meals do not need to be!

By Caitlin Scane, Accredited Practising Dietitian