Our Simple Healthy Family Meal Planning System

Our Simple Healthy Family Meal Planning System

Keeping a whole family fed is such a task! So I have finally made an official family meal plan to simplify grocery shopping and meal prep.

I can not believe it has taken me all of these years to sit down and take the time to do this. I am at a point in motherhood with 2 small children though, where anything that can be simplified, needs to be! 

Making a healthy meal plan to reference throughout the week is a great way to streamline meal prep and grocery shopping. It also helps my family stick to a healthy eating routine with budget-friendly home-cooked meals.

Coming Up With Meal Ideas

A good starting point when meal planning is to write down 7 meal ideas each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Here’s a sample of what our weekly menu plan looks like.

Family meal planning menu

If you do not already have some favorite recipes in mind, you may need to experiment with a few recipe ideas before coming up with your weekly meal plan.

One of my favorite recipe resources is the Minimalist Baker. They have simple recipes with healthy ingredients, that are usually beginner-friendly recipes as well. 

Starting Small

Trying to tackle breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks is a lot if you are new to meal planning, like me and my family. So while I included meal plans for breakfast and lunch, we are instituting our family dinner plans first. Once we get that down, we will expand into breakfast and lunch.  

Snack List

In addition to meals, a snack list is important! Especially with young kids, a full arsenal of both homemade and packable snack ideas is essential.

It’s really easy to overload a pantry with snacks though, so coming up with an organization system is helpful so you can always clearly see where you are at snack-wise.

We designate a couple of pantry drawers for kids’ snacks, and when these are full, we try not to buy any more snacks until there is room for more.

kids' snack drawer

Having a container for items like granola bars, fruit leathers, and pouches is a nice way to create some organization and save a little space.  

Writing Up a Weekly Menu Plan

The next step is to write up your weekly meal plan. 

When I first started making a menu plan I started testing out some meal planner apps. Unfortunately, I could not find one that I liked. Many of them had unnecessary features that crowded the user interface, and they took too long to write down the meals and ingredients I needed. 

So instead, I used Google Docs. I do not know anyone who does not have a Gmail account, so I’m just going to go ahead and recommend Google Docs as the easiest way to write out a meal plan.

If you do not know how to get to Google Docs, simply go to your Gmail account. In the upper right-hand corner, click on the Google Apps icon (9 dots organized in a square) and scroll down until you see the icon with “Docs” written below it. 

Once you open Google Docs, click “blank document” and a fresh page will open up for you.

From there, click on “Insert” from the toolbar, and scroll to “Table”. You can select as many rows and columns for your table as you would like. 

I make a table with 7 rows and 6 columns for my family’s meal plan menu. 

Just because you have a weekly meal plan, does not mean you are going to stick to it 100 percent. It is helpful to see all the options written down though, and then you can easily swap meals for different days.  

Meal Planning Tips For The Busy Family

Backup Meal Options: Take-Out and Frozen Meals

In addition to our weekly meal plan, I like to have a list of backup meal options. Sometimes there are just those busy overwhelming days where cooking seems impossible. Or, sometimes you just really want take-out! 

I like to have some easy-packaged freezer meals from Trader Joe’s on hand as well as a list of our favorite take-out spots when it’s just one of those days.

Trader Joe’s has surprisingly good frozen meals. Some of our favorites include;

  • Beef Brocolli
  • Lasagne
  • Fried Rice and Pot Stickers
  • Spinach and Feta Ravioli 

Slow Cooker Dinner

Is there a day of the week that you know you are always exhausted by the end of it? This is a great day to throw some ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning so all you have to do is dish a yummy nourishing meal up at the end of the day. 

Tortilla soup in a slow cooker is one of our favorite dinner recipes. It is such a simple recipe and tastes so good. 

This is how simple it is, just throw the following ingredients into a slow cooker;

  • chicken breast (you do have to take the chicken out once it’s cooked and shred or dice it, but this only takes a couple of minutes)
  • chicken broth
  • 1 can of corn
  • 1 can of beans (white beans, pinto beans, or black beans)
  • 1 can of tomatoes with green chiles
  • a good sprinkle of cumin and chili powder
  • Serve it up with a dollop of yogurt, shredded cheese, and diced avocado thrown in along with some tortilla chips!

My 1-year-old loves this soup, but it’s on the spicy side for my 4-year-old. So for him, we make some nachos or a quesadilla, with some of the soup ingredients rinsed off to go on top of the nachos or inside the quesadilla. 

Batch Cooking and Freezing Meals

Choosing a couple meals that you can cook in bulk and then freeze is also worth incorporating into your meal plans.

Breakfast foods are especially nice to have in the freezer to be able to simply pull out and warm up on busy mornings. From our family’s meal plan, breakfast burritos and banana pancakes are great make-ahead-and-freeze meals. 

Get Family Members Involved

Luckily we are living in a time and society where making meals is no longer designated as only a mom’s job. My husband does more cooking than I do and makes the most delicious meals. So I love that my kids will grow up seeing both me and my husband making food.

As we get our meal planning system down, we also find that each of us naturally has certain meals we like to cook. This is a good way to divvy up the cooking throughout the week.

Meal planning and prep is also a great way to teach kids planning, grocery shopping, and cooking skills. It’s also an opportunity to teach them about nutritious foods and healthy meals.

Additionally, you can show them that meal prep can be fun. Our family loves Friday nights because we usually make homemade pizza. This is something my preschooler can help out with and we can all enjoy eating together later.  

Trying New Recipes 

To keep things interesting, it’s a good idea to try a new recipe out on occasion. Asking friends or family is an easy way to get ahold of a new recipe if you do not want to go down the online recipe rabbit hole.

For the most part, though, cycling through the same 7 or so meals usually adds enough variety to keep everyone happy.   

Streamline Grocery Shopping

Oftentimes I will feel like I have done a huge grocery shop, only to have to go again the next day. 

This has been my motivation to finally make a master grocery list that I can always have with me at the store to reference. 

Create a Master Grocery List

Rather than making a new weekly grocery list every 7 days, I just keep a master grocery list on hand. I usually have a pretty good idea of what we already have in stock in our kitchen, so I just use the master list to make sure I do not forget anything and have to go back the next day. 

To make a master grocery list, go through each meal on your menu plan and write down the ingredients for each. I use a Google Doc sheet for this.

All of our meals require pretty simple ingredients, so we do not have to buy a ton of different spices or specialty ingredients. This helps keep grocery shopping pretty basic.

I put the following categories on my grocery list;

  • Produce
  • Snacks
  • Whole Grains
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Drinks
  • Dairy
  • Proteins
  • Canned
  • Condiments/Bottled
  • Frozen

Make a Grocery Shopping List for Different Stores

Shopping at a couple of different grocery stores can be a great way to get a wide variety of great products as well as save some money.

After shopping around for a while, I’ve figured out which stores have the best products, and which ones have certain items at a better price. I also like to consider which specific grocery store sells products like produce in the least amount of plastic packaging as possible. 

Check Expiration and Freeze By Dates

Other things I am mindful of when grocery shopping are checking expiration dates and freeze-by dates. Usually, grocery stores are good about not having items out that expire in a day or 2, but now and then I’ll find something that is about to expire or has even already expired. So to minimize food waste, I always take a quick peek at expiration/best-by dates on foods, especially bread, yogurt, and meats.  

Buying in Bulk

For grocery items that do not have an expiration date that’s rapidly approaching, I will buy at least a couple of them at a time. Especially if the item is on sale or we are frequently running out of it. It’s always good to have a backup on hand of items like olive oil, crackers, jarred applesauce, canned beans, etc. 

Grocery Store Apps

If your local grocery store has an app, get it and see if they have digital coupons you can clip before heading to the store. This can bring down your grocery bill by quite a bit and help you stay within your food budget. Who doesn’t love a good deal?! 

We use the Safeway App and save a good chunk of money using their digital coupons and rewards. For every 100 dollars you get a reward point and then you can exchange those rewards for cash or deals on certain products. 

Grocery Drive-Up Order Service

When so many grocery stores offer free drive-up pick-up services, there’s no reason you can’t always have the groceries you want!

Since having a second child, we utilize the grocery pick-up service from time to time, and it makes life so much easier. Trying to take 2 small wild children into the grocery store sometimes is just not feasible for a tired mama. 

The one thing I do not like about doing order pick-up is that they pack all your groceries in plastic bags. Not only that, but they only fill the bags half-full. So that part feels very wasteful. While they are recyclable plastic bags, it still feels not quite right.

For homemade snack ideas, we like these Healthy Carrot MuffinsApple Granola BarsBanana Chia Seed Pudding, and Veggie Applesauce recipes.

Favorite breakfast recipes include, Pumpkin Yogurt Parfait, and Banana Veggie Pancakes.

And our favorite Friday night family meal is this Homemade Pizza!


  • Gussi Ochi

    Just another mom learning and growing in motherhood everyday! | BA in psychology, MA in art therapy & counseling, former licensed massage therapist

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