Meal Planning Tips + Free Meal Plan Template

Meal Planning Tips and Hacks for Busy Moms

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Meal Planning Tips

These meal planning tips with a free meal plan template are brought to you by a paid partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

Hey friends, how are your New Year’s Resolutions coming? I feel like a few weeks in is the best time to take a look at goals and recommit ourselves! It’s also a time to decide if we bit off more than we can chew and look at what we can make a habit in order to achieve those big results! Benefits of Eating at Home and Creating a Family Meal Plan are two subjects we want to help you with this year, since we decided it was time to eat out less and eat in more. There are so many good reasons to do this, but here are a few that are keeping us motivated.

Benefits of Eating at Home

  • More balanced diet
  • Less processed food
  • Lower calorie foods
  • Quality family dinner time
  • Eat more produce in our meals

We are a family who actually loves to cook and be together in the kitchen. But busy schedules sometimes take over and we end up eating out more than we’d like.

I head up meal planning in our household. Everyone helps cook and clean up but, as I like to call it, I am the chief executive meal planner. We plan a date night out and we usually go out as a family once a week on the weekend. But if more eating out happens than our intentional time together, I feel like I am failing at one of my main jobs. And these moments have made me realize how important meal planning tips are for success!

Meal Planning Tips and Hacks for Busy Moms

If anyone else can relate, I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone! But we’ve learned a few tricks for keeping this resolution and thriving with it! I wanted to share our top tips for any other families struggling to put healthy meals on the table and eat in a lot more this year!

Meal Planning Tips

  • Meal plan
    Oh, mercy the hardest weeks are the weeks we don’t go in with a plan! Sometimes I do this weekly based on sales and what’s in seasons. Often, I’ll do this monthly to help us save money and cut waste with ingredients.
It doesn’t matter your method or the timeframe, it just matters that you do it! And to make your life even easier, we have a simple meal plan template you can download!
    Free Weekly Meal Plan Template
    Feel free to print one out for each week of the year. You could also laminate one or two copies and reuse them as your meal plan template guide.

  • Plan simple meals 
    Start with meals that take a few ingredients. Look into one pot or sheet pan dinners. See if you can make your life a lot easier with more simple options.

How to Create a Meal Plan

  • Use a menu theme
    – Use a menu theme. When we were newlyweds on our honeymoon, we sat down and made a list of all the meals we love. I then went through and made a list of six categories they fell into. Ours were Italian dinners, Mexican dinners, Crock-Pot meals, all-American meals, grill night, and everything else.
We made one night a week Italian food night, and I always referenced those favorite items to fill out Italian Tuesday. At that time I worked later on Wednesdays and had church commitments in the evening, so slow cooker meals were our saving grace! I should also add as we found new recipes to try, it was easy to fit them into our themed menu. It was also easy to add leftovers on “everything else” nights!We’ve evolved with kids but using themed menus and a list of favorites has made meal planning so easy for me!Creating a Family Meal Plan

    Family Dinners Made Easier

  • Use a menu theme
    When we were newlyweds on our honeymoon, we sat down and made a list of all the meals we love. I then went through and made a list of six categories they fell into. Ours were Italian dinners, Mexican dinners, Crock-Pot meals, all-American meals, grill night, and everything else.
We made one night a week Italian food night, and I always referenced those favorite items to fill out Italian Tuesday. At that time I worked later on Wednesday’s and had church commitments in the evening, soslow cooker meals were our saving grace! I should also add as we found new recipes to try, it was easy to fit them into our themed menu. It was also easy to add leftovers on “everything else” nights!We’ve evolved with kids but using themed menus and a list of favorites has made meal planning so easy for me!
  • Reuse meal plans 
    Reuse meal plans. After I meal plan, I’ll drop our plans into a shared Google calendar with my husband. If we need to link a recipe or note a page in a cookbook, I’ll leave it in the notes. That way whoever is home from work first can start dinner.
I have literally done this for years now! And I’m to the point I can I pull up any prior year’s meal plan on our calendar and copy and paste it into this year. The odds are good those items are on sale again and in season at the same time!
If you did the work once to plan out a balanced meal, there’s no shame in reusing that meal plan months or years later!Meal Planning Tips and Hacks for Busy Moms
  • Plan a quick meal to have on hand for emergencies 
    There are nights we forgot to defrost the meat. There are times we find the key ingredient has already gone bad. Also, there are times we work late and come home to starving children.
These nights can be our pitfall in rushing to eat out.That’s why a quick meal for emergencies is a lifesaver!
 You’d better believe we typically have pancake mix, eggs, and some fresh fruit on hand for emergency breakfast for dinner in under 10 minutes!
It can be sandwiches, leftovers, or something you freeze that you can quickly heat up. You choose what works best and plan a quick emergency meal for those extra stressful nights.

    Prepare in Advance

  • Double meals and make freezer meals. 
    This may be my favorite of the meal planning tips! Not everything will double and freeze amazingly well, but you may be surprised how many meals do! I almost always create one meal now and one meal for later whenever I make a slow cooker recipe. It makes meal planning so much easier to know there’s a meal already made every week.
    I either organize freezer meal prep days with my sisters as productive social time, or I double once a week and use a freezer meal once a week to keep my stock fresh!
  • Chose a prep day/hour and get ready ahead of time! 
    I have weeks I’ll take a slow Sunday afternoon or evening and turn an hour into prep hour. I can cook and shred chicken so it’s ready to go for several meals. I’ll chop veggies or fruit that won’t go bad if chopped in advance. I may pre-measure the dry ingredients or spices and put them in a container for later in the week.
    Sometimes that hour of prep and that single time to do all the dishes makes all the difference in a smooth week!

And finally, we can’t recommend committing to sticking with your meal plans for at last two weeks! It takes about two weeks to turn an action into a habit. Get started today and keep going all year with a few of these easy tips to make eating a home a habit! Follow along with BCBSAZ on Instagram for more tips on staying healthy throughout the year for you, and your family.

Meal Planning Tips & Systems for Busy Families

Photos by Mary Jordan

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