It’s back to school at my house, which means back to meal planning, but with grocery prices rising, I’ve been thinking about taking a different approach to “find something that looks good and just make it.” I honestly can’t afford to spend money on a meal that my kids don’t end up eating.
You already know the meal plan approach where you look at recipes, either in a cookbook or online, and then pick 5 (or 7), then grab all the ingredients. And hey, it totally works (though we hear that the Paprika app makes it easier, which we’ve recommended for years now).
But, that doesn’t always work for everyone! So, I hit up our Recipe Rescue Facebook Group to see what meal plan approaches they used, and whoa, there are so many great ideas! Whether you’re looking to save money like me, or just want to make life a little easier (or hey, a combination of both), check out these 5 meal plan approaches that might work for your family.
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Meal plan by type of meal
Many moons ago, our friend Meghan Francis of The Mom Hour shared this approach to meal planning and I’ve used it on and off ever since. While it doesn’t necessarily help you pick recipes, it really does help narrow things down, which can be a huge timesaver. Simply put, just choose a type of meal for each day of the week: Mondays = Sandwiches, Tuesday = Tacos, Wednesday = Stew/Casserole… you get the idea (salad night, pasta night, pizza night).
Then, you can pull from family favorites, or branch out with recipes from your go-to cookbooks (we have lots of suggestions), or existing meal plans (we’ve got lots of those too). I also love this method, because it makes dealing with “meals on the go” a whole lot more easily. If you know Mondays are sports nights, you’re not going to make a stew or casserole; sandwiches are much easier in the car!
Pro-tip: You might not actually need a recipe for every night of the week. Look to see if you can jazz up leftovers!
The infinity meal plan
One of our Recipe Rescue members shared the “infinity” meal plan idea (though Jonathan says he’s not sure he can take credit for the name), and it’s a great way to save money. Essentially, you choose a flagship item or two, preferably on sale, and use that for all (or most) of your meals. Jonathan’s example was as follows: “Tonight, pizza with breaded eggplant on top. Extra eggplant for eggplant parm tomorrow, extra sauce for spaghetti squash Monday.”
Another great example might be getting a couple of rotisserie chickens, and making a bunch of different meals from those two chickens for the week; even better if you can pull in items from your pantry to make that happen. Will your kids get sick of chicken? Not sure! But it doesn’t always have to be the “main event.” Going from a rotisserie chicken dinner with maybe some mashed potatoes and vege, to chicken pot pie, to chicken caesar salad isn’t a stretch for us!
Pro tip: If you like this approach, Grab a cookbook (or two) that focuses in on one item that your family loves. We love our friend Stacie Billis’s book Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, which has a ton of easy, tasty chicken meals.
The shop-the-sale (and your pantry/freezer) meal plan
This method, which was very popular in our Recipe Rescue group, takes a little extra planning, but can really help you save a lot of money. It works really well if you’ve got a lot of cookbooks on hand or a bunch of recipes saved on Pinterest because what you do is cross-check between what’s on sale at your local grocery store with the recipes you know your family loves.
I realize that this isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking idea, but I know many of us (if you’re like me) can get caught up in picking based on what our kids will eat and like first, versus looking at what’s on sale and then using that as inspiration to pick recipes our family enjoys. If you plan ahead with this and have a smart bookmarking system for recipes that you know your family loves (definitely check out these meal planning apps), this is a solid way to keep your grocery bill in check.
Pro tip: This can also be a combo of shopping the sale and “shopping” your pantry (or freezer, which just so happens to be my nemesis!). Take a few minutes on Saturday or Sunday to go through your pantry items and see what you already have. Combine that with your sale list and your pantry/freezer and you can really cut down on your bill.
What’s our schedule meal plan
In our Recipe Rescue group, Jen shared her simple, smart approach to meal planning which was simply checking the weather and her family’s calendar. That’s it! Which nights can we grill out? Which nights will we be home? Which nights will we need to eat on the go? Once she figures out her family’s schedule, she plans around that, which makes so much sense. If your family is like mine, we spend a lot of time in the car in the afternoons, and on some days, I’ve got to make dinner during my lunch hour that we can eat on the go (or, my crock pot comes out to play). Other nights, I’m home and can make something that a few of us can sit around the table and eat.
Pro tip: If your family is constantly on-the-go, save recipes in a file (or folder) that are easy to eat on-the-go. And give yourself a break if you can’t eat together. You’ll find other ways to have quality family time!