At the end of a long day, the last question a parent wants hear is “what’s for dinner?” This question is especially tough when you have no idea. We all know that planning meals for the upcoming week saves us time and energy, yet there are good reasons why it doesn’t get done. Some of the challenges include menu idea fatigue, lack of time, and uneaten meals that took time to make. While I often fly by the seat of my pants at dinnertime, I have found the following strategies to make meal planning easier:

1. Meal idea fatigue

As creatures of habit, we find ourselves throwing the same foods in our grocery cart week after week. Kids complain, chicken again? As the primary meal planner, grocery shopper and cook, I understand how hard it can be to come up with new menu ideas the family will enjoy. So how can we generate new ideas without having to subscribe to a meal planning service? A good place to start is to spread meal planning over the course of the week. Take a few minutes to indulge in a magazine with recipes or when you scroll through Instagram or Pinterest take note of the meals that sound good to you. The next step is to create a simple and easy place to save your ideas. I use the notes app on my phone. If you do this a couple times a week, you generate a running list for inspiration when you sit down to plan for the week.

Assigning a daily theme to a night of the week can help as well.  In our home, Mondays are “Meatless Monday” and Friday is “Healthy Fast Food Friday”. By narrowing down your options, you make it easier on yourself to generate meal ideas.

2. Meal-planning is time consuming

I would argue that you save time by planning how you are going to fuel for the week’s future activities. My favorite time-saving tip is the organized shopping list. Keeping an organized grocery list in the kitchen makes it available to all family members to add foods when something runs out. If you organize you list by grocery store aisles, it helps speed up grocery shopping.  Download my meal planning worksheet/grocery list plus instructions on my 3-step meal planning when you sign up for our Moms and Dads new private Facebook group HERE.

3. Your family doesn’t eat the meal you cooked

This happens to us all. You take the time to plan and prepare a meal that no one eats but you. However, it helps to remember that exposing our kids to new foods is important to raising healthy eaters. If you worry about the kids not getting enough to eat when you offer something new, pair it with a familiar food. Enlist your family for menu ideas but make it easy on them by asking them to choose between two menu ideas. Engaging your kids in an age-appropriate tasks increases the odds your child will give the new food a chance.

Finally, you aren’t letting perfection get in the way of progress are you? Don’t be stuck in the mind set that meal planning = home cooked, made-from-scratch meals. It could mean ordering out pizza on Monday, turkey sandwiches with veggies on Tuesday, and grilled chicken on Wed! I know it can be easy to get caught up in Pinterest perfection, or maybe reminisce about the homemade meals mom cooked. However, the goal of meal planning is not about serving up home cooked meals, but more importantly, making it easier to bring the family together to eat.

Breaking Through Meal Planning Barriers on Fox 2 Live for STL MOMS

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.