I have been asked so many times about meal planning.  How do I do it?  When do I plan?  When do I shop?  Meal planning has became really important to me because I am a girl who likes to have a plan!  When I was a single mom of 2 and owned the deli, I was terrible at meal planning.  Ask my kids…most of the time there was not a plan beyond going back to the deli and pulling something together.  We would eat standing up around the island in the kitchen and half of the time it was 8 o’clock in the evening.  I was a huge failure!  I knew it but I was so busy and tired from doing it all-that dinner wasn’t a priority.  Looking back I can tell you that I have a lot of fond memories of those meals but I also have a ton of mommy guilt.

When I got remarried I knew that one of the things I needed to work on was getting dinner on the table.  I didn’t have the deli to fall back on anymore and with 4 kids…eating out…was out of the budget.  Here are my top 8 tips for upping your meal planning game.

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1. Plan one week at a time.  I have tried to plan two weeks or even a month at a time and I just can’t seem to do it.  If I concentrate on one week than it is doable and I don’t get overwhelmed.

2.  Look at your calendar.  I sit down with our schedule for the week and plan around what I need to.  We have things that happen during the evening and if I know that ahead of time then it makes meal planning much easier.

3.  Plan accordingly.  Make it easy on yourself.  Don’t try planning a 4 course meal on a night with a game or meeting.  I almost always use the crock pot on nights that I know we will be getting in late or at different times.  Dinner is ready when we are and then we are not tempted to give into tiredness and order out.

4.  Shop your pantry/fridge/freezer and sales ads first.  Before you start planning…shop your pantry/fridge/freezer.  What do you have that you can use for the coming week?  Does something need to be used before it goes bad?  If you are on a budget {which aren’t we all} then check the store ads to see what proteins are on sale.  Meat is the most expensive part of any meal.  Use the sale as your guide to getting the base for each meal started.

5.  Don’t forget breakfast and lunch.  I admittedly do not make breakfast for my family…they are on their own but I want to be sure that I have things available to them that are easy to make.  I always have toaster waffles, mini pancakes, cereal, pop tarts and other things on hand.  Lunch can get a little trickier.  I always pack my Darb leftovers from the night before but if you need sandwich items or other lunch foods then add them to the list.

6.  Make a list according to the store layout.  This might be my slight OCD but I like to use my grocery store as a guide when I am writing my list.  I start on one end of the store and then add items to my list according to each aisle.  This helps get you through the store faster and keeps you from having to back track.

7.  Pick one day a week to shop.  I normally shop on Sunday mornings but any day will work just as long as you get it done.  It works so nicely to do my big shopping for the week at one time.  I still have to run back to the store for a few things during the week but it keeps me from going every day.

8.  Prep what you can right when you get home.  Try to make enough time in your schedule so that after shopping you can prep foods.  Cut veggies, wash fruit, bake chicken breasts…anything you can do to make your life easier during the week.

There you have it!  My tips for meal planning success.  I hope they help with getting dinner on your table.  For meal ideas be sure to check out the recipe section above…there are some great ones!!