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Ready to cross “make a meal plan” off your to-do list for an entire year? This post explains how the annual meal plan saves me time, and details how to create one of your own.
Growing your business or a blog takes time. That means you have to find time in your day to devote to writing. And marketing. And everything else. If you want to find time to work, you’ve got to minimize your decisions. An annual meal plan can help!
Before I switched to meal planning this way, I didn’t plan very consistently at all. I struggled to find the time each week to sit down and figure out what we were going to eat.
The kids were always asking what was for breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.
I had to stop and think. I even resorted to rummaging through cupboards and Googling what to make with two or three random ingredients.
It took a lot of brain power that could have been focused on something else.
So I started looking for a better way.
The Annual Meal Plan
And that’s when I created an annual meal plan.
It took away some of that stress each day from trying to wing it in the cooking department. I no longer had to search through cupboards and hope something easy and tasty would jump out at me.
And everyone knew what was on the menu each day. The kids stopped asking me what they were going to eat, because they already knew. There was a routine to our meals that they could rely on.
Instead of trying to find an hour every week to make a meal plan, my annual meal plan takes a couple of hours. Once a year. That’s it
Each July (when we’re not homeschooling) I work with the kids to create a new annual plan. We find the recipes, build a master shopping list, and go all out to get the plan complete.
And when we’re done? Our meal planning is done for a whole year.
Talk about a time and sanity saver!
How to Make an Annual Meal Plan
Meal planning doesn’t have to be daunting. Or complicated.
If you’re a busy mom with young kids, you probably don’t have time to spend constantly trying new recipes, while you’re also growing a business.
There’s not enough time in the day for everything after all.
You already have some family favorites.
Those favorites? They’ll create the backbone of your meal plan. By creating food you know your family will eat, you’ll minimize meal time stress. You won’t constantly be trying new things, or buying ingredients you’ll only use one time.
Here’s how I create my annual meal plan.
My kids each have a day. This structure helps me build my meal plan. I want my kids to have input on what we’re going to eat.
So, I ask each of them to pick a breakfast that we’ll eat on their day of the week. I encourage them to pick breakfasts that:
- Are fairly easy to prepare
- Taste good
- Are nutritious
- Aren’t super expensive
As the mom, I have veto power. If they pick something (like cupcakes!) that isn’t going to work, I work with them to think of something else.
Once we have breakfast figured out for each day of the week, I repeat the steps for lunch.
The kids also pick what’s for an afternoon snack on their day. I ask them to help prepare their snack, or take over cooking it altogether based on their age and ability.
After these three items, the bulk of my meal planning is done. It’s kid-friendly and simple. My kids each have a day of the week where they know they’ll LOVE every single meal.
Rotation of Breakfast, Lunch, & Snack
Each Monday, we repeat the same breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack. We do the same each Tuesday, and so on.
These meals are on a 7-day rotation.
It’s simple for me, and for the kids. There’s no thinking required because everyone knows what we’re going to eat.
Dinner Is Different on Our Annual Meal Plan
My family doesn’t mind eating the same breakfast or lunch each week of the year. But, dinner is a little different. Having the exact same meals every week would get old.
So I switch things up for dinner. Instead of each kids picking one item for dinner, they select a theme. This theme sets the basis for dinner that night.
Here are some themes we’ve use in the past:
- Noodle night
- Taco Tuesday
- Crockpot Favorites
- Soup & Sandwiches
- Salad night
- Breakfast for Dinner
- Around the World
- Family Favorites
- “Fry”day Friday
On their day, my kids each pick the theme they want for dinner on that day. This means we might eat seafood on Fridays and noodles on Thursday. To maximize the variety in our annual meal plan, I avoid repeating themes.
Once we have selected the seven themes for that year, it’s time to plan a little more.
Selecting Dinners within Each Theme
For each theme, the kids and I brainstorm 4-5 meals that our family enjoys. I try to mix up simple and a little bit complicated meals. That way I have options depending on how crazy the day is going.
I also pick one super simple meal in each theme. This is either something that I can put together in 20 minutes or less, or a processed option that can be for emergencies.
Once we have all of our meals lined up, I make a master shopping list. We go through each meal and every recipe, and write down every ingredient that we need. Then, I decide how much of each item I’ll need for a month’s supply.
I get it all typed up into Excel, arrange it by store, and add my price-points.
After all my work is done, I’m able to get my monthly shopping trip prepped with very little effort. I go through my list, and update the quantity of each item. I know exactly how much we’ll use because I know what we’ll be eating.
Annual meal planning sounds complicated, but it’s so simple.
And it’s freed up so much time.
I’ve used that time to grow my business. To pitch for clients. Or write blog posts.
Annual Meal Plan 2019-202023-24
The first meal plan I shared here was from 2019-2020. Now here it is 2023, and we’re still using this method for meal planning. Here’s what our plan looks like this year:
A few changes to note from years past:
- Breakfast has moved to make your own – the kids are responsible for getting their own food and cleaning up after themselves before the kitchen closes (typically at 9 am). This saves me a lot of time and helps teach them responsibility while providing independence to eat what they enjoy, at a time that works for them. (Some kids eat immediately upon waking, others lounge a bit and move more slowly.)
- Leftovers are always an option for lunch – it helps ensure we don’t waste food.
- The kids are helping cook the meals they picked, which gives them more ownership.
Do you find meal planning helps you devote more time to your business?
What’s your favorite method of meal planning? I’d love to have you share your tips in the comments section.
Do you need help meal planning? Check out the content upgrade available on this post. You’ll get a copy of my annual meal plan planner.
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Lisa Tanner is a former teacher turned homeschooling mom with 11 kids. She's also a successful freelance writer. Lisa enjoys helping other busy moms find time to start and grow a side hustle of their own.