I Hated Meal Planning – Until I Learned These 11 Tricks

How We Survive Mealtime as a Family of Five

As working parents of three, my husband and I have to stay on a strict schedule.  We are constantly planning ahead and doing things like packing everything for the next day the night before.

I do not like feeling rushed or to forget something. When everything is running smoothly in our house, I am a happy person and I find it easier to enjoy life.

Meal planning hacks are a must for us.

11 Meal Planning Hacks

On a typical weeknight we don’t get home till around 6 PM, and everyone is hungry. We need to have either a quick-to-cook dinner or something that has been cooking all day and is ready for us to eat.

Here are my hacks to help you get a real meal on the table as efficiently as possible!

1 – Use a Meal Planning Website

Did you know there are websites out there that will do all your planning for you? With a membership fee, sites like emeals$5 Meal PlanOnce a Month Meals or The Six O’ClockScramble make meal planning incredibly easy by providing menus, recipes, shopping lists and other planning resources.

I’ve been using Plan to Eat for several years and I love it! Plan to Eat doesn’t provide a menu, but allows you to use your own recipes. I just browse through my recipes, choose the meals I want and put them on my Plan to Eat Planner.

My grocery list is automatically generated with the ingredients needed for those meals.

You can also add friends to see their recipes, or browse and search for recipes that are publicly shared. Plan to Eat makes it very simple to add online recipes to your Recipes.

There is a membership fee to join Plan to Eat, but you can try it free for 30 days to see if it works for you. (Also- insider information: Every year they run a Black Friday sale and you can renew your membership for half off!)

2 – Make Larger Batches of Freezer Meals

Freezing meals is one of my favorite ways to prep dinner. I pick recipes that I know my family enjoys eating, because I tend to freeze multiple batches of the same dinner.  (You will need to set aside at least a couple of hours to get multiple meals ready, but you save time later on when making the dinner.)

If you’re at a lost on where to start, many bloggers or food-based companies such as Tastefully Simple have put together freezer meal lists or kits.  So, make it easy and use a pre-existing list that someone else has put the time and effort into.

Don’t forget to set a reminder on your phone to take out of the freezer 1-2 days before eating.  If meat is in your meal, try to make sure the meat is thinner sliced, or spread out, lying flat in the gallon bag before freezing.  This will speed up the defrosting time.

3 – Double a Recipe and Freeze Half for Later

When making dinner, have two batches going, and before cooking one, put it in a Ziploc bag and freeze.  This method works great for dinners that use a meat marinade or rub.

4 – Keep an Ongoing Grocery List

Some people use an ordinary pad a paper for their ongoing grocery list, but I’ve also seen super cute list ideas on Pinterest.

Whatever you choose, just remember: do not rely on your brain. Even have Siri remind you later to write milk on the grocery list – I do!

5 – Create Theme Nights

I love theme nights, because it cuts down on my thinking.  There are so many different nights you could plan, and each week could change. So here are some of my go-to nights, please list yours in the comments.

Meatless Monday – With apps like Pinterest, it has been pretty easy to find vegetarian recipes that we are willing to try. Still haven’t touched eggplant yet, but my husband can make some pretty good sweet potato and black bean burgers.

Taco Tuesday – I should actually call Mexican Food Night, because we make more than just tacos.  I have a killer taco lasagna that I make often as well.

Sandwich Wednesday – We like warm sandwiches so we use our panini press or oven. Everything from buffalo chicken to grilled cheeses to pizza subs will be made.  I always joke my family could live off bread and cheese.

Leftover Thursday – We will either eat leftovers or make something new with leftovers. I’ve always been jealous of my husband, because he is really good at coming up with meals that use the leftover food. Let your mind explore different ways to use your food.

Take Out Friday – Hot and Ready, need I say more?

6 – Prep Those Fruits and Veggies as Soon as you Buy Them

I think Rachel Ray introduced us to this concept.  When getting home from the store, don’t put your produce away.  Wash it and cut it up, and store in appropriate container.  Then during the week you can just grab it and cook.

My kids prefer raw vegetables over cooked; during the week, I put out the container of pre-cut veggies on the table while making dinner. Most of the time the kids sit at the table and munch on the veggies while talking to me about their day. Win win!

7 – Invest in a Pressure Cooker / Crockpot

Crockpots are great for meals that require a slow and low cooking method. Some of my favorite meals are Sunday’s roast and shredded beef tacos.

This past Christmas I was gifted a pressure cooker and didn’t think much of it. Let me tell you, it was a game changer.

It’s quick, it’s clean, and its added new meals into our dinner schedule.  I was using it almost every day.  You can even buy more attachments to even get into making desserts and sides like rice.

8 – Freeze Herbs in Ice Cubes

I wish grocery stores would sell smaller amounts of fresh herbs, because let’s be honest, we don’t really use the whole package of basil for a meal! The recipe only called for one tablespoon, yet I just had to by a whole basil plant!

My solution: grab an ice cube tray, cut up your herbs, measure the amount you want in each space, pour a small amount of water on top and freeze! You now have fresh herbs for you next meal! Frozen herbs are also great for making sauces.

9 – Use Liners for Easy Dinner Cleanup

Sometimes the food gets cooked a little more than it should along the sides of my crockpot and it becomes a pain to clean. My husband’s cousin introduced me to crockpot liners, and my life changed! So easy, so great, go buy some right now!

You can also use tin foil or parchment paper for sheet pans.

]10 – Keep a Well-Stocked Pantry

When stores like Family Fare have mega sales, please take advantage of items like pasta, beans, rice and sauces.

A well-stocked pantry makes meal planning so much easier, especially if you are trying to save money.

11 – Make and Freeze Sauces

I like to freeze sauces, especially when you have fresh in-season ingredients. Fresh tomatoes for spaghetti sauce, and fresh basil for pesto are two of my favorites.  But what I like best about making your own sauces, is that you can make them the way you want them.  We eat spicier food in our house, so I always add a kick to my sauces.

Think outside the box on this one too.  Besides spaghetti and pesto, I also make enchilada and BBQ sauces (so many different varieties to choose from).  I make a double batch when making for a specific meal, and freeze half. Sometimes I don’t even plan, there is just leftover sauce, and I put it in a jar, label and freeze.


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