Need a faster & easier method to plan meals? How about healthy meal ideas your family will actually eat?
Perhaps a way to improve your self-care? Or, are you like me and you said ‘yes’ to all of the above?
Well, that’s why I came up with this strategy for simple meal planning preps to improve self-care.
To be honest, it all started because I felt led by the Lord to start taking better care of myself, but I strongly disliked meal planning.
I was so frustrated with meal planning that I quit doing it for over a year. But I learned that was a big – no a colossal mistake. My family spent a lot more money and ate a lot less healthy.
Yet, although I realized how important a meal planning process was to my self-care, I needed some serious help.
Thankfully, I figured out that I was ill–prepared for the task – which was something simple to fix!
And, now I’m on a roll, and I want you to be on one too, so I’m sharing my meal planning preparations!
To succeed, I discovered these 3 simple meal planning preps to improve self-care.
1. Spiritual Preparation
2. Family Input Preparation
3. Flexibility Preparation
Spiritual Preparation – Simple Meal Planning Preps to Improve Self-care
Because I feel led by the Lord to take better care of myself, I had some spiritual preparation to do.
I had a bad attitude about meal planning which was not only affecting the outcome of the task; it was also making me feel insecure when it failed.
I looked up the following Scripture: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Cor 10: 31 (NIV).
Focusing on The Lord helped put this task into the right perspective. I believe this verse helps us remember our purpose and the purpose of the meal planning.
While it will save time and money, the goal is to ensure we eat healthier foods so we can take better care of ourselves. And to do the task in a way that would make it less about making a perfect plan and more about bringing glory to God.
The key – make it about Christ.
We please and honor the Lord when we do this. When I focused on Christ during the meal planning, I found that I was released from the anxiety I experienced trying to make it ‘perfect.’
It helped me be more creative too.
Family Input Preparation – Simple Meal Planning Preps to Improve Self-care
Because I was so frustrated with the system I was using (i.e., start a new menu each week from scratch), I needed to redesign it to work with my busy schedule, lifestyle, and family.
I needed a process that was:
- Easy to start
- Quick to finish
- Easily replicated and handed off to any family member
- Creative and offered variety (& seasonality)
- Going to ensure we gradually ate more healthy options
- Producing meals everyone would eat
- Flexible (easily allows changes or adaptations)
- Organized and efficient
After asking around and researching online, I came up with an inexpensive notebook system that fits all of the criteria.
Not to be overly dramatic, but this was revolutionary for me!
Create a Meal Planning Notebook
I will go through the creation of the notebook step-by-step. The notebook is a work-in-progress project. It’s simple to start because you continue to build on it as you go forward.
There are pictures so you can see how to make one for yourself. (I also added links to the products for your convenience. But, you can use anything you already have in your home, and it will work just fine.)
Because I tried to be specific and explanatory, it looks like a lot to do- but it’s not, once you read through this you will see how simple it really is.
First, I wanted to keep everything together. I decided to put it all into an inexpensive 3-ring notebook.
You will need two notebooks for this system.
I found some cute and inexpensive notebooks in a 2-pack on Amazon.
Next, I bought some clear sheet protectors.
These are Amazon Basics sheet protectors (100 count) – super inexpensive and not fancy but does the job beautifully.
I have a pretty extensive recipe book collection in addition to lots of paper and online recipes, so my other problem was that I kept forgetting where specific recipes were located.
Now, I make a copy of a recipe from one of my recipe cards or books or print an online recipe so I ALWAYS have a copy at my fingertips.
How to Put the Pieces Together and Build Your Meal Planning Process
Notebook 1 will hold:
- The Family Shortcut Lists. (2 lists – each list in a protector)
- The Weekly ‘Family Pre-Approved’ Menu Plan (1 list in 1 protector)
- All weekly recipes (listed on that week’s Weekly ‘Family Pre-Approved’ Menu Plan) (4-10 recipes will have 2-5 protectors)
- Blank printed copies ofThe Weekly ‘Family Pre-Approved’ Menu Plan templates (5-10 copies in 1 protector)
- Used menu plans (2-3 in 1 protector)
Notebook 2 will hold:
- ‘Family Pre-Approved Recipes’ (multiple sheet protectors, separated with notebook dividers)
I have listed the step-by-step process to prepare your notebook system for use below (#1, #3, #4 will be found below. Post 3 will describe the process of how to use the notebooks for meal-planning #2, #5).
Create the Family Shortcut Lists (#1)
These lists will be for Notebook 1.
1 Pull your family together to create a list of your family’s favorite MEAL FOODS SHORTCUT LIST #1. I labeled my columns as breakfast, protein & protein substitutes, sides/grains, vegetables/fruits and meals/recipes we love (which is a catch-all column for holidays and special occasion foods). You can use any label-these just work best for us.
The key – the only things that go on this list are the foods that all (or most with toddlers) of your family will eat.
2 While you have everyone together, create another list of your family’s favorite SNACKS SHORTCUT LIST #2. I labeled my columns as protein, dairy, veggie, and fruit snacks, and then I didn’t know what to do with the last column so of course, my family suggested desserts.
Snack ideas were always hard for me to come up with and we’d end up eating junk or nothing. Now, as we try more ideas for snacks, or as seasons and schedules change, I’ll add them to my Shortcut List (if they get the thumbs-up)! This list isn’t really a list of recipes, it serves as an eye cue of snack food ideas to make the process faster. That said, this one was my very favorite of the simple preparations for really awesome meal plans
I typed the lists initially, but have written in more additions with my erasable colored pens. Whatever keeps you happy is great on this step!
Put each sheet into a sheet protector and put into a notebook. This notebook has now been christened to be Notebook 1.
Create the Weekly ‘Family Pre-Approved’ Menu Plan Template (#4)
These will be housed in Notebook 1.
I created a 1-week menu planning template, made several copies (front and back), and placed a stack into a sheet protector. I now have a clean form to use each week at my fingertips. (Week two is ready on the back. If you’re feeling adventurous, start week two’s menu plan on the back ahead of schedule!).
Want a copy of my menu planning templates sent to your inbox? You can get a copy of my Menu Planner template, the Meal Food template, and the Snack Food Template by clicking below [link coming soon]:
Create ‘Family Pre-Approved Recipes’ Notebook (#3)
This section is for Notebook 2.
Make copies of all of the recipes from the foods listed on the Family Shortcut Lists. Group them into categories that make sense to you. I purchased several notebook dividers from a discount store and have the following categories:
Meat – with subcategories of beef, chicken, fish, pork, seafood & turkey
Grains – with subcategories of corn, pasta, potatoes, quinoa, rice, and wheat
Fruit/Veggies – with subcategories of berries, leafy greens, and zucchini
Soup/Sauces – with subcategories of sauces and soups
Desserts – with subcategories of healthy and treats
Snacks – with subcategories of fruit, veggies, dairy, and protein
You can label these in whatever way it works best for your family. Ours isn’t overly pretty but it works great!
Flexibility – Step 3 of 3 Simple Preparations for Really Awesome Meal Plans
I keep the ‘used’ menu templates to watch for trends or areas I can improve by substituting with healthier options or different planning. I make this part easy by using
erasable colored pens.
These pens have been a life-saver and seriously reduced my frustration because now the ink doesn’t smear like a pencil, and I can quickly change anything that interfered with our busy schedule. I use the blues or purple for all of the initial meal-planning entries.
And, I use the colors to circle words as codes for myself.
–RED circles are the foods running low in my pantry or frig.
–PINK circles are new recipes I’m trying (which means I may end up not having the time to do it, so I put a * by it and have my backup plan at the bottom in the margin).
–Black circles are fails. Maybe a new recipe was not-approved for The Family Shortcut Lists, or perhaps it took too long to prepare, etc. I don’t want to put them on the menu plan again!
–GREEN – circles are the most prominent reason why I like using the colored pens. It’s a way to identify where a healthier ingredient or cooking method can be substituted the next time.
My most noteworthy discovery – circling the food item with a green pen serves as a reminder to look for a healthier substitute moving forward – even if the substitution is to be determined. This was a refreshing bonus after doing the 3 simple preparations for really awesome meal plans
I save the forms for 2-3 weeks (in their sheet protector). Green circles are cues to remember to watch for ideas to try.
After I decide on a new food ingredient, recipe or cooking method, I test it with my family and ask for feedback because this is supposed to be family-approved.
If it is deemed as something they want to eat at least once a month I add the new healthier option to the Family Shortcut Lists. This is how I’ve been able to get meatless options on the official lists!
Once a healthy choice is on the SHORTCUT LIST, it becomes easier to remember which healthy foods your family likes to eat.
And then as a result, although it takes a few weeks, you’ll start making healthier menus just by making these 3 simple preparations for really awesome meal plans.
And, if you keep your old menus for a couple of months, you’ll see how fast you can make progress when you use a Weekly ‘Family Pre-Approved’ Menu Plan, the Family Shortcut Lists, and inexpensive erasable colored pens.
This meal planning process has worked out to be a super awesome solution for me. I hope this works out awesome for you also. I can usually complete the 7-day menu (3 meals & 2 snacks a day) in about 5-15 minutes, depending on what’s available in the frig, freezer or pantry (lots of left-overs make it fast).
In closing, meal planning is a wonderful way to save time, provide your family with healthier options, and save money at the grocery store. With the Meal Planning Notebook System, you can create Weekly ‘Family Pre-Approved’ Menu Plans quickly and easily. Now that you know how to have simple preparations for really awesome meal plans, you are on your way to having some fun.
And, of course, more importantly, you can keep making better choices and healthy meals for your family and you move forward. Keep reading to see how I use the notebook to make meal planning quick and easy! Share this post with a friend!
Lisa Kimrey is a 30-year veteran registered nurse, speaker, and author of the Bible study, The Self-care Impact: Motivation and Inspiration for Wellness. At Mylifenurse, Lisa writes about simple ways to care for yourself to stay happy, healthy, and rejuvenated while you serve and care for others. Combining her years of nursing expertise with Scripture-based encouragement, Lisa shows readers easy ways to begin and maintain their self-care journey – without feeling guilty. Be sure to grab your FREE Self-care Starter Guide!