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I have a confession. I have a love/hate relationship with making my family’s meal plan. It is not a task that gives me warm fuzzy feelings, but it is ministry to my family. I know without a plan in place, I have a greater chance of caving in to a quick run to the store for that frozen pizza. So twice a month I suck it up. With my big cup of hot green tea, comfy pants, and my arsenal of Google, cookbooks, and the family calendar, I plan.
I prefer to meal plan when the house is quiet and the kids are in bed, allowing me to focus. I have a food budget, desire to provide my family with the most nourishing foods possible, and not waste any food I bring in the house. All this means… I need concentration!
When I first started planning real food meals, I felt overwhelmed. I was clueless as to what I would offer for snacks or dinner without pulling out a box. The longer I have been at this real food thing, the easier planning has become. In the beginning, it could take an hour to meal plan. Today, it takes about 20-30 minutes.
Before I share my meal plan strategy, here are some things you need to know about how I shop for our food.
Simplify School Lunch Packing
Over the years, I’ve developed strategies that help me simplify packing my kids’ lunch. I created the Simplified School Lunch Kit to end the school lunch overwhelm and share all my simplifying strategies and lunch plans. It’s possible to simplify and even enjoy lunch packing!
Here’s what you’ll find in this kit:
- ready-to-use lunch plans
- a food prep guide
- my stress-free approach to planning and packing lunch
- nourishing recipes my kids love
- 20 fully-packed lunchbox printable cards to make building a school lunch super easy
- I have a grocery budget for a family of 4 humans (plus two dogs and 8 laying chickens) of $600. Update: as of December 2013- $800. We’ve cut our budget in many ways to afford good food– going out to eat, cable, and other “luxuries.”
- I shop bi-monthly at a local co-op, where I get fresh, raw dairy and fruits and veggies, along with eggs, raw honey, and a few other goodies.
- During farmer’s market season, I shop weekly for fresh produce visiting my favorite farm stand.
- I visit our local health food store on a weekly basis where I restock items such as bananas, a local brand of fresh OJ, and other staples.
- Our family recently became members at Costco. I visit monthly for a few items like Kerrygold Grass-fed Butter, Kerrygold Cheese, organic tomato paste, Wild Planet Tuna, and a couple of other items.
- I purchase our meat twice a year through a farmer. Recently we bought 60 pounds of beef, soup bones, whole chickens, and 15lbs of pork.
- I purchase grains through a local co-op which specializes in grains, oats, and a few other products, twice a year.
How I Effectively Meal Plan
I thrive on routine! I’m a former 1st grade teacher who lived 7 hours a day on a precise, calculated schedule. I decided early on, if I was going to be successful with planning real food for my family, I needed to have a food routine! This is what I came up with– I do have impulse days, where I change something up, but this is what I strive for when planning.
Scrambled Eggs with homemade baked good
|Oatmeal/Fruit||Omelet Day:Omelet with filling and toast and fruit||Homemade Granola with milk and fruit||Smoothies with breakfast burritos or egg sandwich||Easy Breakfast Day:A baked good with hard-boiled eggs and fruit||
Pancakes, waffles, or French toast with fruit
|Meat Day:Whole chicken, steak, meatloaf, hamburgers, fish
||Salad and Sandwich Night:Grilled cheese, leftover meat sandwiches-with salad (beans, greens, fruit) or quiche||Mexican Night: Tostadas, fajitas, quesadillas, stuffed peppers, tacos||
Spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, pasta dish
|Homemade Pizza Night
||Soup Night: Soup, homemade bread, and salad||Easy Night:Leftovers or an easy meal, such as a casserole
Meals include veggies and/or fruit as well.
I usually don’t plan lunches. I use lots of leftovers from dinner or the boring ol’ homemade pb&j (hey, I have two kids) or some type of more adult sandwich for the husband and I. You can find over fifty real food lunch ideas for kid here. When I do plan lunches, I always plan lunch meals after breakfast and dinner so I can plan to reuse leftovers.
Planning Snack Options
- Fresh Fruit and veggie slices (or veggie cutters)
- Ak Mak Crackers (where to buy) or Mary’s Gone Crackers with cheese, peanut butter, cream cheese, or homemade jam.
- Yogurt with fruit and homemade granola or crushed nuts
- Veggies: cucumber slices, carrot sticks, and celery. I use these little veggie cutters with the kids. Dipped in homemade hummus, guacamole, or homemade ranch.
- Air-popped (I use this) organic popcorn (where to buy) with coconut oil (where to buy) and/or grass fed butter and good-quality salt.
- Brown Rice Cakes (where to buy) with nut butter.
- Whole wheat sprouted or sourdough toast with peanut butter, cream cheese, coconut oil (where to buy), or grass fed butter.
- Hard-boiled pastured eggs
- Cheese slices from grass-fed milk.
- Smoothies (such as this recipe)
- Raisins and other dried fruit with no added sugar
- Homemade Gummy Snacks
- Homemade chips (such as beet chips or kale chips)