Meal Planning Tips

May 1, 2019

A couple weeks ago I asked if you all felt like you had a handle on what to make or offer for meals and it was a resounding ‘NO’! While this made me sad to think of the mealtime stress you may be feeling, I also wasn’t very surprised. There is so much conflicting information on the internet and around the water cooler about what you should be eating, it can be hard to make heads or tails of it. Not to mention taking into account what your family will actually eat. So I’ve put together a helpful post for you – these meal planning tips will be helpful if you’re just getting started or if you want to take your menu to the next level. Note: I’m using ‘family’ here to cover all sizes and shapes of families. 


Jot down a list of all the foods or dishes your family regularly eats. This list will start the base of your recurring menu template. I use this for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Here are some of our common items by meal time:

– Breakfast: Muffins, toast, cereal, eggs, waffles/pancakes

– Lunch: grain salads, veggie salads, leftovers, sandwiches

– Dinner: pizza, pasta, roast chicken, tacos/fajitas, meat + veg + starch

– Snack: popcorn + fruit; trail mix; crackers + veggies + cheese; cookies + fruit


You may have the best of intentions to cook 6 nights a week or have a balanced breakfast at home each morning or pack your lunch for work (or maybe all three!) but if you’ve spaced that you have two 7am meetings this week and a late evening vet appointment and you have family in town none of those will happen. Take a look at what you have coming up and give yourself a cushion. Assume you won’t be able to cook 100% of your goal and plan in buffer like take out or leftovers or buying lunch at work one day. You’ve likely heard it’s better to under promise and over deliver – well that goes for promises to yourself and meal planning as well! I love to jot down my food plan for each day in “>my planner to have a reminder of any tasks I may need to do (defrosting or cutting veggies ahead of time) and as a little something to look forward to.

So you have your staple recipes or categories and you know what your week looks like, now comes the hard part – or the fun part depending on how you look at it!

Make your Menu

Write down your basic plan for the week – a couple of breakfast options, a couple lunch options including leftovers, a few dinners (your final number will depend on your schedule this week). I like writing them all out on a sheet of lined paper so I can easily see any overlaps in ingredients or techniques. For example maybe I’m doing Taco Tuesday and I want to do a salad for a couple lunches. I could easily do a taco salad this week, cook extra taco meat and cut up extra veggies so then Tuesday evening all I have to do is assemble the salads with my leftovers and pop a couple lunches into the fridge. Or maybe you’re doing Manhattan Chicken with spinach and rice pilaf one night – you can buy extra spinach and put handfuls into

What to offer

There are many points in the meal planning and serving pathway where people can get stuck, but I feel like this is the hardest for parents of little ones. The pressure parents feel about setting their children up for success and making sure they eat the best foods is intense. While I do feel a high quality diet and a good relationship with food is integral to child development, a happy and low stress family life is too so it’s important to find a balance. I like to plan out details in terms of colors, textures and food groups. Unless you have a medical diagnosis or strict diet you need to follow there is no need to micromanage this, but as you’re turning your menu and plan into a grocery list think about what the plates or bowls will look like when you serve. Are the foods you’re planning to serve all the same texture, or all the same color? How could you change that? Maybe instead of doing mashed potatoes with the Salisbury steak doing mashed sweet potatoes, or adding extra colorful veggies to your chicken and pasta dish. Another way to check in on this is run through your grocery list – are all the fruits the same color, are all the veggies the same color?? If so you need to plan some swaps.


One of the most important features of a high quality diet is the variety of nutrients in contains. Dietitians have been saying for years that too much of anything is a bad thing and one big reason is that you often end up missing out on other vitamins or minerals your body needs to feel and be it’s best. So when you’re deciding what to offer make sure you have different proteins, grains/starches, fruits and vegetables. When you plate your meals aim for at least three different food groups and as many colors. Over the course of the week you want to consume foods from each color of the rainbow at least once. This is a great fast and easy way to ensure you’re getting a variety of nutrients. The guidelines are the same regardless of age, the only bit that changes is portion size.

Another way to incorporate variety is in the recipes you use – trying a new pizza dough or different variety of toppings can freshen up routines and keep things interesting.

Least Common Denominator

But you’ve got a picky eater in the house? Think of your meals as Venn diagrams. Start with comparable or base items that are appealing to all, and augment which toppings/additions go to each family member. The more the family sees the different ways to combine the foods, the more likely they are to grow curious and be more accepting of a new food. Picky eaters still need to hit those food groups but maybe they see a bit more consistency while you’re increasing the foods they’ll accept.

I hope these meal planning tips inspire you to attack your weekly meal planning with confidence and ease. If you’re excited to dive in to the Busy Mom Meal Prep life, but can’t decide where to start buy my ready made system to take the guess work out. It’s full of 71 family loved recipes, 4 weeks of meal plans, prep schedules and grocery lists. Buy now.

I hope these meal planning tips inspire you to attack your weekly meal planning with confidence and ease. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and if you’re in the Phoenix area RSVP for our Menu Planning class on May 22nd.

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