Family Meal Planning Tips to Save Your Sanity

Meal planning: the nemesis of every busy parent. 


Before getting married and having kids –– back when life was loosey-goosey and the only person I had to feed was myself –– I loved cooking. Finding new recipes, experimenting with spices and ingredients, and savoring the dishes I created –– what a luxurious way to spend time with friends and family.


My life looks a little different now. I get off work, drive back home (sometimes during messy, traffic-filled Denver snowstorms), pick up my kids from school, and get home fifteen minutes before dinnertime. It doesn’t leave much time for cooking!


Serving a quick, balanced, delicious, easy meal can feel impossible. (In fact, it seems like you only get to choose one or two of those adjectives at a time.) But when it comes to family meal planning, it’s all about finding ways to work around your family’s busy schedule for some good eats.


Solution: A Weekly Menu


Our weekday afternoons and evenings used to cause great anxiety in our house. Especially with two young, picky eaters and a rushed family schedule. It’s taken many years of experimenting with meal planning strategies for me to come up with family dinner ideas that work for us.


Here’s what it looks like:

  • Monday: Macaroni Monday (some kind of pasta dish, like lasagna or spaghetti)
  • Tuesday: Taco Tuesday (beans, cheese, taco shells, and other Tex Mex accoutrements) 
  • Wednesday: Wacky Wednesday (breakfast for dinner, like scrambled eggs, bagels, or fruit)
  • Thursday: Thank Goodness It’s Thursday (“diner” food, like grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, or soup and salad).


We’ve had this system in place for about two years now, and it’s been an awesome improvement. It means I can keep a standard grocery list of staple items that we must have in the house to make the menu work, and that I don’t have to remember to shop for anything crazy. The kids love knowing what to look forward to each night. Plus, as they’ve grown older the routine has allowed them to step into “helper” roles to get dinner on the table, like slicing the fruit, putting the bagels in the toaster, or setting the table.


More than anything, this template offers some much-needed structure and predictability to our week. It helps all of us feel calmer and more organized (especially me!), while leaving our weekends free for fun recipe experimentation.


Easy Family Meal Planning Strategies


Though cooking for a busy family is still (and will likely always be) a work in progress for me, I’ve gathered several other timesavers over the years as well. Try a few of these to help make meal preparation easier and more fun:


  • Shopping at Trader Joe’s! This is a new store for us here in Denver, and we’re thrilled to have them. Their shelves are always stocked with healthy, time-saving foods that make cooking a joy. Some of our favorites include bean taquitos, pesto tortellini, and superfood pilaf. We’re also in love with their sauté sauces for curries and stir fry, as we can combine them with frozen or fresh veggies plus any protein we have on hand for a quick meal over rice. Not to mention their entire produce section, complete with pre-chopped veggies that can be tossed into a stir-fry or casserole on a whim.
  • How to Cook Without a Book. This is the actual title of a cookbook, and it’s one of the best resources I’ve ever brought into my kitchen. I’m not an intuitive chef, and historically I’ve had to follow recipes pretty closely to create anything edible. This book has helped tremendously in that area. Each chapter is a different “formula” for how to make a certain dish; the cook simply changes things up based on the ingredients on hand in the kitchen! As a result, I’ve learned how to throw together a soup with a mix of ingredients without actually having to follow the recipe. And I amaze myself every time!


What are your favorite go-to strategies to create meals for your family? Share below!


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