Creating a Rhythm for Family Meal Planning and Preparation

There are a lot of nuances that come into play when it comes to meal planning. Add in homesteading principles and a type B personality, and they get even more nuanced. We’re going to address that and go over how to establish a consistent family meal planning and preparation routine that works for a homemaker/homesteader with a type B personality.

Kids around the breakfast table

Why I am talking about this

Out in the blogosphere, there are many tricks, hacks, and tips on family meal planning. Lately, however, it’s been coming up more and more in my day to day conversations and connections. For instance, I have a friend who is working on canning more meals in jars for quick meals for her busy family. It has brought about many discussions on planning for what everyone will eat and how much food is actually needed for those meals.

Jill Winger from “The Prairie Homestead” has also been talking about this a lot lately. She even has a whole new program coming out for those who find typical meal planning too rigid and confining. It allows for more flexible meal planning without the stress of lists. This is especially true for if you have a well-stocked pantry and freezers to pull from. You will want to find out more about that on her podcast, Old Fashioned on Purpose: Why Meal Planning Doesn’t Work for You (And What to do Instead!).

My personal approach to family meal planning definitely leans more toward that of Jill Winger, with many of our basic principles being the same. Even so, I find that there is place somewhere in the middle of both that has yet to be addressed. It’s a place that frees up some of the mental load from having to come up with something every day, while also allowing the process to be flexible.

This approach to family meal planning just might be for you if:

  • You are working toward self-sufficiency, but are still working on creating a well-stocked pantry and freezers (or don’t have the space to fully do so).
  • You still make relatively regular trips to the grocery store.
  • Typical meal plans with grocery lists and random ingredients stress you out.
  • You have a general idea of what substitutions to make when you are missing an ingredient (and/or love asking Google for help with this!)
  • Your goal is to feed your family nourishing meals on a budget and are okay with making compromises.

Before we dive into these, please know that your family meal planning rhythm can and will shift and change in your different seasons of life. That’s okay. So often we just want one and done, but that is not usually realistic – especially with a growing family. Yet, it is my hope, that the following tips help make meal planning just a little more bearable.

Stocked chest freezer with the focus on bags of home grown chicken

How to stock your pantry and freezer to the best of your ability

The idea of having a stocked pantry and freezer can feel so exciting and yet, completely overwhelming. From worries about upfront cost to not enough space, the benefits can quickly become clouded over as you steep in analysis paralysis.

So – take a deep breath and a step back. Start by determining where you will store food. Will you be using space under the beds? Or will you stick to your kitchen pantry space, whatever size that may be? Do you have room in the basement for an extra set of shelves? Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. At the same time, it’s okay if you decide you don’t want to fill every nook and cranny of your home with food items.

Once you know where you will be storing your food, it’s time to evaluate how much space you actually have. You could measure and get all technical, but that gets tedious (and as a type b personality, it just gets to be a bit too much). Instead, look at how much space your current inventory is taking, and think about how much space a typical week’s worth of food takes up. Then guestimate. Altogether, can you store a week’s worth of food? Two weeks? A month? More? This is your baseline.

In our current home, we have a relatively large pantry, two small deep freezers, a small cabinet in the basement, and our standard refrigerator with freezer. I know that I can store at least a month’s worth of freezer and pantry food, and about 2 week’s worth of perishables. This is what I base a lot of my planning off of.

Smiling child holding on the back of grocery cart

Cut down your trips to the grocery store

When we were first married, and many years after, money was tight. I played around a lot with how I meal planned and shopped for groceries. What I found, was the less I went grocery shopping, the more I saved. Going to the store less often also saved on gas, so it was a big win in a lot of areas.

When working on your family meal planning, it may feel daunting at first to shop for a longer time period. It’s okay to feel that way. While typical meal plans and shopping lists can feel overwhelming too, having a plan makes the process a whole lot easier. I’ll go over that more in the next section. Before we do though know, there may be grocery trips where you do miss something. At that point you have a choice, make substitution from what you have or be okay with having to make an extra trip. Just watch out! It’s easy to make an impulse purchase during those quick trips. Take it one step at a time.

Currently, I go grocery shopping every 2 weeks. For us, perishables like fruit, veggies, and milk don’t really last much longer than two weeks. I figure that, if I’m going to have to go out anyways, I might as well plan on two trips.

full pantry

A different approach to meal plans and shopping lists for family meal planning

It seems like it should be a piece of cake, right? Download a meal plan with it’s corresponding shopping list, go to the store, and you’re set for a week! Then you see what’s on the meal plan and realize your kids won’t eat half of it. When you look at the shopping list, it’s full of random ingredients you would never usually buy. You are now back at square one and can’t seem to find a meal plan that suits your family’s particular likes and needs.

How to create your own family meal plan

Instead of finding the perfect meal plan, it’s time to create your own. It’s a lot more simple than you might think.

Create your initial lists

  • Make a list of 20-40 dinner recipes that your family enjoys (or at least most of them) and that you enjoy making.
  • Make a list of 5 routine breakfast options
  • Make a list of 5 special (read: more time consuming) breakfast options
  • Make a list of up to 5 lunch options
  • Make a list of up to 5 snack options
  • Make a list of grocery items of things that you ALWAYS have on hand no matter what you are making
  • Bonus List: Create an inventory of what you already have in your pantry and freezer.

Make your plan

  • Breakfasts: Instead of planning out what breakfast on which day, choose from a few breakfasts that you and your kids can have access to and pick from throughout the week. Some of our favorites are: Eggs (any way they want them), bagels with cream cheese, oatmeal, and yogurt with granola. The favorites always do run out first, but they still have other options.
  • Lunches: Keep it simple. Again, instead of planning lunch out day to day, have a list of options your kids can choose from throughout the week. We keep it really simple: the options are leftovers or pb&j.
  • Snacks: Once again, have specific snack options that your kids can choose from during the week. My family can choose from cheese, apples, clementines, and bananas. It does get a little rough towards the end of that second week, so random requests might be granted if there are no other options available. Quick tip: I hear a lot about how kids are constantly eating through their snacks super fast. Establishing snack times works really well to combat this. My kids know that they can have a morning snack around 10 and an afternoon snack around 2. Sometimes they are allowed an additional snack if dinner is running late. If your kids are used to eating whatever whenever they want, it will take some time for them to adjust, but don’t give up.
  • Dinner: This is the meal that is truly planned out day to day. Pull from your list of dinner ideas and don’t be afraid to repeat certain meals bi-weekly or even weekly.
  • SANITY SAVER HACK: Don’t be a slave to your meal plan. If you planned roast chicken for dinner tonight and you end up getting sick, don’t be afraid to do the spaghetti that you planned for 3 nights from now. It gets to be flexible.
  • SANITY SAVE HACK 2: On that same note, take a look at your calendar while you are meal planning. Plan easier meals on busier days, and more involved meals on the days that you can devote more time to it.
sample family meal planning sheet

The family meal planning shopping list

This was already started when you created your initial lists. Finalize your shopping list by going through each category. What do you need for breakfast, lunches, and snacks? Now pause over each dinner plan and write down what ingredients you need for each meal.

Budget tip: Don’t forget to check (“shop”) your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. What do you already have? Is there anything you want to stock up on based on how much space you have?

A lot of our grocery shopping is still done at a Walmart Supercenter. While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I really love being able to order groceries on the app. When you have a large family or a lot going on, it makes the whole process more smooth and efficient.

Where do bulk items fit in?

For those of you who have a little more space, you may be thinking about how to incorporate bulk items into this rhythm.

Before making a purchase, consider your typical buying habits, or meals that you typical make, or that are on your list of 20-40. This will give you an idea of how much to purchase, along with the amount of space that you have.

Start with one – three bulk items at a time and watch to see how you utilize them and plan for them. If you buy 10 whole chickens at once and put them in the freezer, you don’t need to know exactly what you are going to do with them. However, you will be buying them because you are taking into account that you typically have a specific amount of chicken dinners within a specific time frame.

When it comes to meal planning, go back to your inventory or take a look in your freezer to determine what types of meals you want to put on your meal plan.

Baked chicken chicken dinner with rice and broccoli sides

Budget hacks for family meal planning

I don’t know about you, but I try not to over-stress about the whole foods that I am purchasing. While I do buy organic and whatnot when I can, I am not above buying the non-organic stuff either. If this is you, read on. If you’re unsure, check out this podcast episode with Lisa from Farmhouse on Boone and Emily from Really Very Crunchy.

  • Take advantage of sales: Check your local grocery stores for sales – especially sales on meat. Stock up on as many as your space or sanity allows! Just recently, a local store had chicken quarters on sale for $0.59/lb. I had my husband pick up 4 bags which equal 4 cheaper, but wholesome meals for our family.
  • Go to multiple stores (for those who are in town or closer to town): I don’t do this as often as I used to (unless there’s a sale), but it did really help to lower our grocery bills! After a little while, I had a pretty good handle on where I could find our most used products for the best price!
  • Learn to make some of your own basics: I am currently still getting into a routine of making our own bread and most bread products, one thing that I have been consistently making from scratch for a while now is homemade yogurt! You can find my recipe here!
homemade yogurt and granola on a while plate cradled by a child's hand

Family Meal Planning Preparation Hacks

  • Soaked oatmeal: Have soaked oats ready to go in a bowl in the fridge. All you or your kids have to do is add to a pan with some milk to warm up on the stove – this is especially helpful with it’s just one or two people who want some.
  • Lunch veggies: Keep a container of washed and cut up vegetables in the fridge for your kids to pull out during lunch or a quick veggie for dinner.

That’s all I can think of for right now. Honestly, I don’t like a lot of typical meal prep hacks. I find making freezer meals laborious and takes away from the creative process. Some moms also swear by pre-cutting all of their veggies for future meals, but I love the rhythmic motion of chopping up veggies every evening. This is just your reminder to do what works for you and allow yourself to release what doesn’t. It doesn’t have to “make sense.”

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family meal planning pinable image featuring chicken dinner

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