I started Mind Body Kitchen meal plans to help take a task off of people's plates. Meal prep and planning can take a lot of mental energy if someone is not used to doing it regularly. There is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach. My mom for example would ask us what we would like to eat that week, and would make a grocery list based on what we requested. That worked for my family growing up, but once I was the one doing the meal planning, I recognized quickly that strategy wasn't going to work for my new growing family.
Here are a few helpful tips that have helped me make meal planning a breeze.
Take an inventory. At the end of each month, I take inventory of what is in my pantry fridge and freezer. When I am making my new meal plan I try to base the meals on what I already have available. Essentially I shop at home first. Only after I know what I have on hand will I make a list of things I need to buy to fill in gaps. I do one big Costco haul at the beginning of the month and try to only go to the grocery store once a week to restock things like milk, eggs, and produce. *Hint: my weekly shopping trips are smaller and usually mostly refrigerated items.
Plan for a month rather than a week. I have found that I stick to my plan--and my budget--much better to plan an entire month's worth of meals instead of trying to do it each week. This helps with the one big grocery haul and 3-4 smaller ones as well. I also have found I have less food waste when I do it this way because it allows me flexibility according to my schedule and uses up ingredients that need to be first. I can plan to use my leftovers on busy evenings or use a crockpot or freezer meal on days when I will not be home for most of the day.
Incorporate leftovers. Get creative! Hardly anyone likes to eat the same things several times in a row, so instead use elements left over from one meal in another. For example, I often will use leftover meatloaf to make stuffed peppers the next day. Or leftover mashed potatoes from the same night at meatloaf to make a shepherd's pie. Doing it this way saves my family from having to eat the same things too many times in a row and eliminates quite a bit of waste from throwing food away.
Use all of your tools. I am a pen and paper gal, so I have a meal planning planner from Plum Paper that I love. Then I post the plan on the fridge with a magnetic list from Knock Knock that you can find on Amazon. Of course, I also have to put a plug-in for the meal plans you can purchase from MBK. That will take a lot of thinking out of it. I have your flexible monthly meal plan, weekly grocery lists, and recipes. I know there are also apps that allow you to do this digitally as well that a lot of people love. This leads to my last tip.
Keep a recipe "diary." When you make something your family likes, keep that recipe somewhere. Kind of like your own Pinterest board. (You could even do it on Pinterest if you want). Then all the recipes you love are in the same place. If it's one you made up, write it down so you remember for next time, if it's from a cookbook keep the title and page number in a list on your phone. Whatever way works for you is great, but then you don't have to search for new recipes every month when you sit down to meal plan.
I hope these tips are helpful in assisting you to create a meal plan that is sustainable and efficient so you can spend less time meal planning and more time on the things you actually want to do.