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5 Realistic Meal Planning Tips

Ahhh, the beginning of the year—freshly purchased lunchboxes and backpacks ready. New calendars marked up with activities and meetings every night and somehow we still dream big with intentions of Pinterest-worthy meals on the table by 6:00 every night. I admire people who can plan, shop and cook all their meals on Sunday, proportioned out for each meal and snack… but anyone who has kids knows you can barely complete ONE meal without someone tugging on your leg, so prepping a whole weeks worth is out of the question.

I have mentioned before that I do love meal planning, but I’m talking real life here. The kind of meal planning that makes me feel organized and prepared for the week, even if that means it’s just a box of Macaroni and Cheese for dinner. I am going to share some meal planning tips that work for me in a busy season of life in hopes to set you up for success this fall.

Get Inspired

My first tip is to get inspiration from food instagrammers and bloggers. Some of my favorites are PinchofYum, SkinnyTaste and GimmeSomeOven. So many of these famous inta-bloggers are just as busy as us- they almost all have options for quick dinners. Another favorite of mine is NYT Cooking emails. They come on Sundays- “What to cook this week”, and have ideas for every night of the week. I screenshot things that I want to try, and when I’m in a cooking rut I can always go back and get some inspiration on what to make. Another tip, always read the reviews! They are normally spot on for taste, and will give you a good idea on how long the recipe will take or any other shortcuts you can do.

Use Walmart Grocery Pickup

I don’t know you, but Walmart Grocery Pickup is my current saving grace for meal planning. I schedule it for early morning on Monday, load up the car in our pajamas (my mom is cringing right now), and pick up all our groceries for the week. It saves so much time, I hardly ever forget things on my list, and I don’t have to battle my child at the grocery store. BUT, every now and then I just have to do a big store run. My best advice for those times- sit down and plan your dinners, a couple breakfast staples for the week, lunch supplies, and snacks. Write down everything you need in the order it’ll be in at the store and the way you walk it. I start with produce, then meat, cheese, dairy, and then up and down the aisles. This sounds SO ridiculous as I’m typing it out. Trust me though; this makes meal planning as quick and painless as possible and hopefully lets you have ONE grocery store run for the week. Having a detailed list helps me stay on track with budget, too. If I’ve forgotten one key ingredient for a dinner, we are way more likely to call the whole thing a wash, and drive thru somewhere.

Keep It Simple

I have regular staples in our rotation and add in one fun or new recipe to try each week. It keeps things fresh and exciting for me without having to overthink cooking dinner every night. I shoot for cooking 4 meals a week depending on what is on our schedule and most of the “regulars” I can throw together really quickly, and often have the ingredients on hand so I just have to purchase meat and sides. If your family likes something- make sure to write the recipe down to add into your rotation. As for a new meal, look for shortcuts. Sub rotisserie chicken in rather then cooking chicken breast when you are short on time; buy the precut vegetables at the store if something calls for it. I have a great friend that says in parenthood, there is a cost value on your time. Sometimes paying extra for someone else to peel and cut your butternut squash is flat out worth it!

Invest In Solid Tupperware

This tip is big. Throw out or donate all of your old mismatched tupperware and pick up Pyrex glass tupperware at Walmart. It’s microwavable, dishwasher safe, durable, and sturdy—the lids won’t cause any leaks, and it keeps your food sealed tight so it stays fresh.

Give Yourself Some Grace

My last piece of advice as we get back into the busy season is to give yourself some grace. Everyone is tired in the beginning of the year. Things go back to schedule, we’re all worn out and overcommitted. There are great, healthy options out there now for takeout, and pre-made meals that you can bring home and bake are awesome, too. I mentioned the rotisserie chicken earlier, and that is a common dinner in our house year round. Find what works for your family, and ease back into the routine of things, leaving plenty of time for whatever kink will get thrown into your schedule. Meal prep doesn’t have to be intense or elaborate, just practical and something that makes your life easier, not over complicated.