How to Build a Weekly Meal Plan for Your Family

Have you ever come home from a busy day only to discover you have nothing planned for dinner? How about making your rounds on the soccer practice, ballet, and school pick-up circuit without having any time to plan out what your family will eat that week? Do you have picky eaters and no idea how to please them? All of the above? Good, us too. But there’s an easy fix and that’s where nutritionist and mom Sarah Waldman comes in.

Waldman, the author of new Mini Must-Read Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work, lays out all of the tools you need to get out of your mealtime rut and reclaim the family dinner, making it a fun and happy occasion again. We caught up recipe guru to grab a few tips on how to get started building your family’s weekly meal plan and here’s what she had to say.

Be realistic. Aim to cook three or four dinners a week. Fill out the rest of the week with quick pantry dinners (like rice and beans served alongside a topping bar or egg sandwiches served with fruit salad) or leftovers. Maybe you even delegate one day of the week to your partner or an older child to take charge. The goal is to build a sustainable practice of weekly meal planning and cooking.

Choose recipes together. Plan your weekly meals as a family by looking through cookbooks, magazines, or reviewing a small notebook of favorite recorded meals. Sometimes just thinking of what to make is exhausting for one person to take on alone and kids love to feel like they are a part of the process. Added bonuses- when you sit down at the table, there will be no surprises and everyone will be more invested in the meal that is served. Score!

One big shop. Over the weekend, pick your meals for the week and do one big shopping trip. This way, you won’t have to run to the store every day after work. You’ll always pick up more groceries on spontaneous last-minute shopping trips than you really need. And, let’s be honest, the last thing you want to do at 5:30 PM is battle the hungry, stressed shoppers at the local market.

Build a strong foundation. Build and maintain a well-stocked pantry. Filling your pantry with dried fruits, flours, legumes, nuts, oils, pasta, spices, natural sweeteners and whole grains saves you time, money and sanity. There is nothing better than opening pantry doors to find a lot of yummy stuff staring back at you. You’ll feel like a rockstar.

Think seasonally. Produce that is in season not only tastes better but is more affordable. Just think of a February tomato versus an August tomato— the two are hardly the same food. When drafting your weekly meal plan, think about what is growing outside and take inspiration from the season’s goodies. 

Measure the crazy. What does your week look like? Sure, all weeknights are somewhat crazed, but some days are more challenging than others. Plan slow-cooker meals or make-ahead sheet pan dinners that just need to be popped into the oven for the craziest of the crazy nights.

Prioritize meal planning. Compare how much time you spend each week on extracurricular activities versus cooking and eating together. Is it out of whack? I don’t think anyone needs to give up what they love to make mealtime a success, but I do think we need to take meal planning, cooking and eating as a family seriously and dedicate real time to the cause.

Continue on your planning kick with these 6 New Cookbooks with Ideas to Feed Your Family or read How Kourtney Kardashian’s Kids Eat Gluten and Dairy Free.

Opening Image: Elizabeth Cecil