I get asked a lot about what kind of things we eat in our house. I spend a bit of time each week (about 20-30 minutes) thinking about it because I feel it’s very important.  Meal planning is interesting process and one I’ve grown to enjoy. I find much fulfillment in the time I spend filling and fueling my family with good, nutritious food. Am I always perfect? Heavens no. My kids eat McDonalds. We have candy around the house. I get a bag of chips every couple of weeks. But for the majority of what we eat, I follow what I detail below.

I’ll step you through how I plan our meals for the week! Again. I’m not telling you this will work for everyone but I pray that you can pick up some helpful tips!

First thing I do is sit down and look at our calendar for the week. Out of 7 days a week, I usually cook a full meal 4-5. The other days are leftovers, going out to eat, or “fend for yourself” days. I take note of any evenings where we will be gone or maybe we’ll be rushed at home. For example, I teach pilates on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I don’t want to be slaving in the kitchen nor want to return home to a mess so I typically do a soup in the crockpot on Tuesdays (which gives my hubby leftovers for lunch the rest of the week) and do a left-over/fend for yourself night on Thursdays. If I know we will be attending a church meeting or sporting event, I plan accordingly. This really helps because then I’m not lost staring at a cupboard at 5pm trying to put together food. I HATE thawing meat in the microwave so this also prevents that. When my husband walks in, I typically have food on the table within 20-30  minutes. Does this take some time and discipline? Absolutely. But I feel it is 110% worth it. It really cuts down on the stress for me and my husband is totally thrilled every night. (He LOVES to eat!)

Next, I pull out my grocery flyer. Because I am very budget conscious, I also take into consideration the sales of the week. I try to stock my pantry with foods that have been on sale that follow my basic guidelines here, and then fill in from there. I am really into variety. I get bored cooking the same things plus I want to make sure my kids are getting a chance to try different foods. So I glance at my freezer to see what proteins I have in stock and do the same with the pantry. Then I glance at the grocery flyer and go from there.

Now it’s the fun part. I piece together meals! I try a new recipe at least once a week. Most of them I get from friends who have recommended them on facebook, but I also choose some from watching Food Network, from my friend Janelle at Comfy In The Kitchen, or actually *gasp* pulling out a cookbook! (How many of us have awesome cookbooks that sit on our shelves and collect dust?!) I am big into variety. Who would want to eat red meat 4 out of 7 days a week? (Not to mention it’s not very healthy) Because I try and space things out, I don’t get too worried if I have an “unhealthy” meal in the mix. I really go for balance and moderation. I find it’s too hard to live in the extremes. Another way I get ideas for meals is thinking through different styles or cultures of cooking. I’ll go for a Mexican dinner one night, an Italian another, and a good ol’ homestyle cooking yet another. These are ways that I keep things fresh and interesting each week.

What I’ve listed below is a basic way I think through my meals.

Protein. I always start my meal planning with (generally) a lean meat. I rotate between red meat, chicken, pork, and seafood. I can’t miss the occasional sausage or bacon either!

Vegetable. The veggies come next. I first try to cook off of what is in season and in sale in the store. I am very basic when it comes to veggies. I don’t do lots of creams or cheeses with them. It’s typically steamed or just microwaved if it’s from a can (gasp) or frozen. I put most of my effort into the main entree, however there are times when I have fun making a good veggie side.

Carbohydrate. Who doesn’t love a good carbolicious meal? haha! Depending on the meat, I choose rice, couscous, pasta, or potatoes. I have lots of varieties out of these categories so I choose something different each week. Again, I try not to go heavy on the creams and cheeses here.

Fruit. This doesn’t always get added to our dinner. Of course, my kids love fruit so if they aren’t particularly fond of a meal I have, then I will bring out the applesauce or blueberries etc. However there are days when fruit is a big part of the meal.

Dessert. We don’t always have an official dessert. There is usually something here for us to munch on if we have a sweet tooth, but I don’t always plan for this. I’d say that I make a nice dessert about once a week and that can last us–and if it doesn’t, then that’s fine. We don’t need dessert every night!

Finally, I take out my handy dandy piece of paper and pen and actually write out “Mon, Tues, Wed etc” and then scribble the meals beside it. (I know I’m archaic using a piece of paper, but I love it!) I keep it close to me while at the grocery store so that I can refer to it in case I have a question.

One additional thought. Another big reason I meal plan is because it gives me a guideline for that day’s food. When I used to work outside of the home and I’d go out to lunch with my girlfriends, they would always make fun of me because I’d say, “Hmm. What am I making for dinner?” then make my lunch selection off of that. Again. I am trying to balance things out. I try to remember the trusty Food Pyramid and make sure I don’t get that out of whack. It just keeps me aware and I find that’s a very important thing when you are trying to live a life of balance. You have to know where you’ve been and where you are going to stay on track!

Please share. How do you meal plan for your family?