Article originally published in Fix.com. Edited and published with permission.
Mealtime is powerful. Family therapist Anne Fishel writes that she often wants to tell families to go home and eat dinner together rather than spend an hour with her. Cooking at home and gathering around the table with family or friends provides countless benefits, and it doesn’t have to be stressful. With a good meal-planning system, it may even become everyone’s favorite part of the day.
Planning meals has benefits, including:
- Happier Cooking: Meal planning helps eliminate the frustration of staring into an empty refrigerator or racing down shopping aisles at the end of a long day. And you will probably have much more energy and enthusiasm for cooking.
- Healthier Diet: Planning ahead makes cooking healthy dinners from scratch much easier.
- More Domestic Harmony: Most families don’t share the same tastes. Planning meals as a family lets everyone have a say in the decision-making. Studies suggest kids who help cook meals are better eaters.
- More Eating In: Meal planning helps reduce impromptu trips to restaurants and fast food spots, where families spend more money and eat more calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
- More Family Dinners: Perhaps most importantly, planning meals encourages families to eat together around the dinner table, a ritual shown to keep families healthier and happier.
Meal Planning Made Simple
If you’re new to menu planning, start by planning one week of meals on a day when everyone’s home and you have time to go shopping. Later, you may want to transition to monthly planning to better take advantage of buying in bulk. For the first few meal plans, it’s usually easiest to use pen and paper. Later, you can explore fancier ways to plan if desired.
Plan the Week's Meals
Once you’ve decided on a method to make meal planning easier, it’s time to plan the specific meals for the coming week. Here’s the simplest way to do it with pen and paper:
- Make a grid with columns for the days of the week and enough rows for the meals you need to plan for: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Fill in the first meal. Note where you found the recipe, so you don’t have to search through cookbooks or hunt the Internet for it when it’s time to cook.
- On the other blank piece of paper, list the ingredients you need from the store for the meal, leaving off what’s already in the fridge or pantry. This is your grocery list. Divide this list by where things are located in the store if it makes shopping easier.
- Repeat until you’ve planned every meal.
- Post the menu on the command center, on the refrigerator, or in a common area, so everyone knows what’s for dinner.
- Take the list and go shopping.
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Cover photo courtesy of Reader's Digest
Infographic courtesy of