Eating dinner together is a meaningful time for our family to connect and talk about highlights from our day. Dinner is also possibly the hardest meal to plan for. These simple meal planning tips help us eat well, save money and minimize time in the kitchen. My husband also enjoys cooking, so I often switch off with him when making dinner. I also enjoy serving a family-style assortment of food with sides and salads. But mostly we appreciate turning dinner into regular family time after a busy day.
Create a List of Favorite Meals
My first meal planning tip is to create a list of your favorite meals. I often repeat a food category on specific days of the week, such as tacos on Tuesdays or pizza on Fridays. When we’re busy, meal planning is something that easily goes out the window for our family. When I stop meal planning, we definitely notice it. Knowing in advance what I’m going to make each day helps us eat healthier. I often use our list of favorite foods to plan out a flexible meal schedule. I also save recipes that we like in a folder, to make again later.
Keep Dinner as Simple as You’d Like
A good family meal can easily be filling and simple. Our favorite protein-packed meals include beef stir fry, grilled chicken, and ground beef or shrimp tacos. We also enjoy pasta and homemade pizza. As mentioned, I like serving sides along with the entree for each meal. I often make cups of sliced fruit, a salad, rice, sauteed vegetables or homemade biscuits. This way our family can enjoy an entree, 1-2 sides and a salad for dinner. I think that having a simple selection of food makes dinner feel more special.
Stock Up on Most-Used Ingredients
Another meal planning tip I use is to keep a stash of regular ingredients on hand for our favorite meals. Our basic go-to ingredients include ground beef, chicken, pasta, tomato sauce, rice, tortillas, cheddar cheese and ranch dressing. To stock up, instead of buying 1 of something, I’ll often buy 2 or 3 of an item we regularly use. By knowing which ingredients I have on hand, I can easily accomplish meal planning for the week. I can also quickly make a shopping list of perishables such as salad ingredients and fresh fruit.
In this video, I share some general family preparedness tips as well as how I keep our kitchen stocked up with our basic family essentials.
Make Filling & Inexpensive Meals
It’s also very helpful to make meals that are inexpensive. We typically eat tacos and quesadillas once a week, which are super cheap. My husband loves all kinds of Mexican food. Incidentally, cheese and tortillas make up two of my kids’ food groups. Tacos are filling and fast to make, which means less clean up for me! You can customize tacos with any meat and toppings your family likes.
We also often make homemade pizza together as a family. I make a batch of homemade pizza dough in the afternoon and let my kids choose their own toppings. Making pizza is also a great way for kids to help in the kitchen.
Plan for Leftovers
When I plan out meals for the week, I often plan to make extra for leftovers. Leftovers are the best, especially if you don’t want to cook lunch. I often eat dinner leftovers for lunch the next day, which significantly improves my lunch options. You can also divide up a large batch of food and freeze it for future meals. This works for soups, stews, pasta dishes and casseroles.
Schedule Dinner Around Family Activities
Finally, once you’ve planned out your meals, it’s helpful to schedule a time to enjoy dinner with your family. If possible, set aside a regular time for dinner so your whole family can eat together. Our family really benefits from eating dinner together each day. Ask your kids questions, share the daily news, and enjoy your family’s favorite budget-friendly foods!
Ultimately, these tips have helped me be a better mom and a more organized meal planner. Creating a meal schedule saves me from searching the refrigerator for last-minute dinner ideas. It’s also nice to stock up on regular foods so I don’t have to go to the store as often. If I make extra food, it’s nice to enjoy the leftovers for a future meal. I hope these practical tips are helpful for your own meal planning efforts!
If you have any of your own tried and true meal planning tips, please share them in the comments!
Hi, I’m Katie! I live with my husband and 3 kids in beautiful Coeur d’Alane, Idaho. I love Jesus, coffee, DIY projects, photography, homeschooling my kids, traveling, and serving people. I’ve previously worked as a graphic designer, web designer, journalist and barista. I started Create. Play. Travel. to share some of our creative projects and family adventures. I hope you enjoy the highlights of our creative family life!