Yes, it takes time, but it gives time back and gives the confidence that you never have to panic what to cook and from what.
I share my free downloadable Family Meal Planner below.
A meal plan is really important - I think - as every family member has different nutritional needs by age. Also, they may have a different lifestyle (like an active athlete in the family) different daily routine (like early starts) or different nutritional restrictions (like weight loss diet, or gluten/dairy free diet or vegan diet).
I know it is not easy to plan for a family where the nutritional needs are very different but to manage our time wisely - I reckon - this is the clever way to do it.
Meal planning is especially important if we want to lose weight.
All those fancy -and pricey - weight loss systems, what promise us result fast, are based on a detailed weekly menu. (And to be fair some of them offer exercise programs too which is equally important in a weight loss program.)
So it is important to work out a weekly menu in advance and synchronise it with the family menu - in order to save some time.
Under detailed weekly menu I mean all food and drink what you will consume on the following week: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner - and probably an after dinner snack if you have an early supper.
It is also important to add serving sizes for ourselves. Let's say our snack is bagel and cheese and apple. This should be on our weekly meal plan like this: 1 apple, half of a bagel and one thin slice cheese.
Just a reminder: the key here is they the plan must be feasible. And of course - as every diet plan - it will work only if we stick to it. So no extra feasts, no binge.
Recipe finderI have good, old recipes - family favourites I would say - what I know well, but I always try something new too.
My criteria to choose a recipe:
- It must be healthy, low in fat and sugar, usually high vegetable or fruit content
- It must be quick, I do not have time to make very complicated meals
- Will the kids eat it? I can judge more or less what will my daughters' reactions will be to a new dish. The texture and the spiciness are important criteria, but I watch the ingredients too. I do not mind to offer them new meals and to introduce them new tastes, but I want to be sure that they still have an option. For instance, if they do not want to eat the parsnip they can just pull the parsnip pieces aside and carry on eating the rest. I also want to leave the allergen ingredients for later in their life.
- As every family we have a kind of "family taste" - so I know what our family overall like. I keep this in mind when I am looking for new recipes.
- Budget friendly recipes are always welcome, so the price is also an important question. I think it is better to have less but good quality food. I try to combine the recipes not just by their nutritional value but by their price too.
- If I find a very interesting recipe, but there is something that our family would not like, then I try to make an alteration: can I just omit that ingredient or replace it with something else?
- I also think ahead: what I can do with leftover ingredients? Is the ready meal freezable? Or can I use the leftover to create a new dish?
How to put together a weekly meal plan?
First I plan the lunches and dinners as these are the main meals. I always know our plan for the following week - well I like to know, - so I know in advance when I have time to cook and when I can make just a quick meal, where I need to prepare things in advance.
I leave complicated and/or new recipes for special occasions, and keep our everyday meals simple and flexible.
It is worth to keep meals simple - especially if you would like to lose weight - as this makes easier to judge the calorie content and nutritional value of your meals and much easier to balance out your diet.
Download your blank meal planner clicking here:
First I draw up the main meals for the week, starting with the dinner and lunch. I try to balance out the source of protein (fish, meat, poultry and pulses). I also make sure that there are raw vegetables included into our diet - like vegetable and fruit salads, no-cooking soups, smoothies, snacks).
Then I plan breakfasts and snacks. These can balance out the carbohydrate intake. For example, if I plan pasta for lunch I try to avoid a high carbohydrate dinner. Same for dairy products: I plan dairy products throughout the week (keeping an eye on the serving sizes). Calcium in dairy products helps the weight loss. Natural live yoghurt is the best source, but I can recommend quark and cottage cheese as well. Completed with fruit or vegetable sticks they can make a perfect snack.
I always plan simple snacks, which can be dropped into a bag, no preparation needed and they are not messy to eat - like a small pot of yoghurt with oat cakes, or carrot sticks with walnut or individually wrapped small piece of cheese.
Then I add alternatives and additional food for the children according to their nutritional needs.
I do not like time-consuming ways and wasted food, so usually on Monday, I use up the weekend leftovers. And I always cook a big bunch during the weekend - to make sure there is leftover on Monday :-)
Friday is the other leftover day, only this time I use up leftover ingredients, for example, creating a nice home-made pizza I use leftover ham and vegetables.
I know this all sounds very complicated, but it is really not. And it definitely is worth the time.
Having my weekly family meal plan is done, I can put together my weekly shopping list too.