The kids are yelling, the husband’s grouchy, and all I want is to hide in the bathroom and cry. They want to eat… again?! But they ate yesterday!

Look, keeping house and raising kids is a lot of hard work. And you want to be sure that you have food on the table, preferably with some healthy things thrown in occasionally.

Let me throw you a line, Mama, and give you some advice on family meal planning made real simple. Cuz that’s how I do it.

Why should you meal plan? Honestly, lots of reasons: it’s helpful to ensure that you’re eating healthy, balanced meals; it ends up saving you time and money in the process; and you’ll feel better prepared knowing what you are going to cook on a given day. It won’t take long to make meal planning a habit!

Family Meal Planning Made Real Simple - Real Simple Mama

make-your-own tostadas!

There are also meal planning kits and printables that you can buy, if you wish. That’s not my goal here. I’m not selling anything; rather, I’m just teaching you my tried-and-true system. It’s taken me a year or so to tweak it, but now it’s something I look forward to doing.

But first, a confession: I don’t really plan breakfast, lunch, or snack. I always have healthy options ready, but those meals are usually pretty informal. They look something like this:

  • Breakfast: usually either some type of eggs, or homemade oatmeal.
  • Lunch: usually leftovers, or I can do a quick protein like some grilled chicken or peanut butter sandwiches.
  • Snack: morning snack is a veggie or a fruit; afternoon snack is some sort of crunch/carb like crackers.

Dinner is where I do my meal planning, and where I spend most of my energy. It’s often the only meal where we all sit down as a family.

So, let’s get to it!

Family Meal Planning Made Real Simple - Real Simple Mama

Here’s the deal: meal planning, at least to me, is all about balance. So when I’m planning my dinners for the week, I look at balance in many aspects. Balance in my cooking method (crock pot, oven, stove, grill, etc.); balance in what protein I’m serving (fish, chicken, beef, pork, etc.); and balance in what sides we’re having (green beans, broccoli, squash, etc.). Keep this in mind as you go forward.

And here’s all I need:

  • A way to write down (and display) your weekly meal plan – I use a dry erase board
  • Pinterest
  • A grocery list or grocery app

As far as Pinterest… I don’t claim to be a chef, nor do I really have my own recipes pinned there. But I do have various boards on my Pinterest for ideas, like one for slow cooker recipes; a board for recipes using the oven or stove; a board dedicated to desserts; and even one for baby led weaning ideas! If you want to check them out, feel free. If you see a *** in the notes on Pinterest, those are notes from my experience with that recipe. Things like “We didn’t like the sauce” or “More garlic!” will help me when I cook this again.

image of dry erase board, iphone with grocery iq app, and pinterest app on an ipad. real simple mama for family meal planning made real simple

this is all you need!

And real quick, as far as a grocery app… I honestly don’t have one that I love. GroceryIQ is what I currently use, and I mostly tolerate it because it has so much customization (aisles, etc.). My second favorite is the HEB app. If you have a grocery list app that you love, let me know! And bonus points if it’s free.

Here’s what I do:

  • Pick a consistent day of the week to meal plan. That means building your weekly dinner plan, as well as checking for ingredients and building your grocery list, too. I plan on Sundays and shop on Tuesday mornings.
  • Think about anything unusual coming up next week: any late night ball games, meetings, or church events? If something will affect your ability to cook dinner, or if you’re going out instead, note that first.
  • Ask if anyone has any requests, or see if you have something in the fridge/freezer which needs to be used by a certain date. Fill those in if applicable.
  • Now look at the days that are left. Keeping balance in mind, and using Pinterest for inspiration, fill in dinners for the rest of the week.
  • Don’t forget to build your grocery list as you go! I personally like to do meal plan for Monday, then add those things to the list with a different device (see how I have both my phone and tablet in the photo above?). You could, of course, do all the meal planning first and then go back to do all of the ingredients you need, but I find I’m not good at this… and end up forgetting to do it. Whoops.
  • Post the meal plan for all to see! This is good for a nosy husband, or just for reminders on when things need to be prepped or thawed. My dry erase board stays in a prominent place in my kitchen and I glance at it throughout the day.
  • Addition as of Fall 2017: We have officially dubbed Monday as “Leftover Night”. Aka, it’s the first day of the work week, Mama’s tired, and there’s a lot of crap in the fridge. Warm it up and make what you want. Easy!
image of preschooler and daddy making their own pizza in the kitchen - real simple mama

pizza is yummier – and healthier – when you make it yourself!

Finally, a thought for you: How you can make this meal planning thing into a lesson for your kids? Can they help prep and cook? What can be educational? We have discussions all the time about protein, superfoods, fiber, etc. I’m hoping that it will help encourage my children to really understand healthy food, so that they can make great choices even when I’m not around! (School lunches, anyone?) You can also make games out of grocery shopping and teach your kids to know the difference between fruit and vegetables, practice letters (what do you see that starts with “L”?), etc.

I hope that this has been really helpful for you and your family! It’s really not complicated, and doesn’t take long once it’s an established habit.

If you have any other tricks or suggestions, please share them below in the comments!