10 Totally Doable Meal Planning Tips for Busy Families

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Do these 10 family meal planning tips to get dinner on the table in less time! 

family eating dinner

Keep family mealtime, ditch the stress!

Nothing beats the togetherness of a good family meal, but if you’re struggling to find the time for to actually cook something – we got you. In fact, we’ve got 10 solid meal planning ideas and more team feedback so you can get dinner on the table faster and spend more time with your family at the end of the day. ❤️

Here are the 10 EASY family meal planning tips for busy people:

1. Plan meals ahead of time.

weeknight meal plan next to canned goods

This might go without saying, but there is something about putting a pen to paper (or expo to whiteboard) that helps immensely with family meal planning. You can even use the notes on your phone, just the simple act of writing it down and planning it out will help you stay accountable and stay out of the drive-thru 😉

Prefer something reusable? Our team loves these acrylic menu boards or calendars that look beautiful too!

writing on acrylic menu board

You may even consider sharing your phone calendar or showing the weekly whiteboard to the family at the beginning of each week. When they know what to expect, you may be able to avoid the ‘can we go to ____ for dinner?’

Need some meal planning ideas? Download our FREE printable meal plans now!

2. Make your grocery list in the order that you walk the aisles.

Lay's chips in a Walgreens cart

Actually shopping for your ingredients is half the battle (& half the time spent) on family meal planning, but this helpful hack saves you both time & money.

Thanks, Hip Sidekick, Madison Hayslette, for this awesome tip:

For the grocery list: write your list in the same order as you walk through the grocery store (I swear by this hack). It keeps me from forgetting items, walking back and forth through the store, and buying more items than I need!

3 white Kroger Pickup bags in the trunk of a gray car

Doing an online order? Try Hip Sidekick, Emily’s, hack…

I only do this on occasion because we don’t usually do big grocery orders, but when I know we need a big restock, I schedule out a Walmart grocery pick-up a week in advance, typically on a Monday. As we go through the week, I’ll add to the existing order as we think of meals we want the following week, run out of everyday essentials, etc. This helps cut back on the “gah, I forgot to grab [product]!” and avoid making another trip back to the store during the week.

3. Stock up on frozen vegetables.

adding frozen veggies to soup

While you’re at the store, and you see those deeply-discounted frozen fruits and veggies, stock up! Since these items have a longer shelf life than fresh produce, they’re much easier to whip up family meals in a pinch later on!

Bookmark our CVS, Walgreens, & Target weekly ads to know when the best deals hit the shelves! 

Also, I always stock up on frozen vegetables and frozen fruit when they are a good price. These items are great to have on hand. They still hold a lot of nutrition but busy families don’t have to worry so much about the produce spoiling. – Hip Sidekick, Kara Smith

3. Work around the family schedule.

tsa pre-check — schedule in person interview

At the end of the day, the only meal planning that will work is the one that works best for your family. Sit down together at the beginning of the week and talk about sports practices, appointments, etc. so that everyone is on the same page. Knowing which days you might be out late will help you plan meals (or skip meal planning) accordingly.

That being said, give yourself some grace. If you’re new to meal planning, start small with only two or three nights per week. Then, progress to four or five once you figure out which system works best for your family.

4. Utilize the crockpot for hearty family meals.

crock-pot with pumpkin chili

Crockpot meals are a HUGE time saver during a busy week. If you’re pretty crockpot savvy you can do the dump-and-go method each night of the week, OR if you’re really pressed for time, you can prep FIVE crockpot meals in just one hour with these easy recipes! That means all you need is just ONE hour of your time (maybe on a Sunday) to prep and you’ve got family meals planned for the entire week!

Need more meal planning ideas? Here are EIGHT weeks of family-friendly meal plans from thekitchn.com!

I’m a fan of any sort of crockpot/slow cooker meal. You can make a lot of food that will last for a few meals depending on the size of your family. I think these meals are easy to prep, cook, and to reheat. Chili is a favorite in my household.– Hip Sidekick, Kara Smith

7. Wash & cut produce ahead of time.

chopped veggies on a cutting board for soup

Even if you don’t plan out every family meal this hack can save you loads of time when you want to whip up something quickly! That way, whatever recipe you do decide on, even last-minute, all your produce is ready to go.

You may even consider doing this trick with meats (like chicken) if you know you’re going to cut them up for smaller children or shred it at the beginning of the week if you know you’ll be putting it in stews, bowls, soups, etc.

I have been really good this year about washing, prepping, and cutting all my fruits and veggies right when I get home from the grocery store and putting them in containers so they are easily ready to grab for the kids and everyone in the family! I have noticed the kids more and more will go and grab these containers from the fridge on their own and make themselves a really health snack plate after school and on the weekends versus going to the pantry for a bag of chips! It also makes it easy for me to make super-fast breakfasts and lunches! Hip Sidekick, Erica Rimer

Need some containers to store all your cut fruits & veggies? Check out our team’s favorite food storage containers!

6. Make sheet pan meals in a pinch.

sheet pan with gnocchi and veggies

If you do tip #5 it couldn’t be any easier to do this family meal planning hack! Plus, with all the veggies prepped and cut, it makes a super nutritious last-minute meal option for busy families! Even after that late night football practice, anyone can dump a few veggies and chicken on a sheet pan and call it good! 😉

Drooling over that image above? ⬆️ It’s this tasty MeatlessBaked Gnocchi & Butternut Squash meal OR try this team-favorite Shrimp Boil that you’re sure to have on repeat! 😋

7. Cook in big batches.

holding a bowl of sausage green beans and potatoes

Leftovers for life! If you can’t get the hang of meal prepping or planning at the beginning of the week at least do yourself the favor of making EXTRA big meals whenever you do cook and plan on having enough to feed the family the following night. That way, you can spend fewer days in the kitchen, but still enjoy the tasty homecooked meals your family loves.

Another thing I do is I always cook for 4 people even though there are just 2 of us. As I’m making plates for dinner, I put the extra servings right into meal containers so we both have lunch ready for the next day. My boyfriend loves this because it cuts back on his lunch spending while at work and it’s a huge time saver for me the next day too! – Hip Sidekick, Emily Saramak

8. Make ONE family meal.

homemade sloppy joe sandwich on a plate

Picky eaters, I’m looking at you. Family meal planning can quickly get out of hand if you’re planning three different meals each night of the week 🥴 Try to agree on meals that everyone will enjoy when planning for the rest of the week!

This kid-approved sloppy joe recipe can be whipped up in just 10 minutes! 

9. Go with a theme.

hand holding edge of tortilla shell with food and beans on plate

Make Taco Tuesday a real thing. 😅 And then try Meatless Monday, Pasta Friday– the options are endless! When you narrow down the type of meals you’re making on that day of the week, it makes it easier to plan meals from just that category.

BONUS TIP: Need a week off from grocery shopping AND meal planning? Another easy solution is meal delivery boxes! We’ve tried them all and are always coming back with the BEST deals on meal delivery kits on the Hip2Save homepage!

10. Take it easy on yourself.

lifting a piece of square pizza

Just remember, any way that you can keep your family happy, healthy, and bellies full is a success ❤️ – even if that means cheating on your family meal planning with some quick takeout or an impromptu pizza night. 😉

Want to SAVE on your family meal planning too? Here’s how to make FIVE meals for UNDER $50!

About the writer:

Chelsey is a writer & photographer with both a Bachelor's and Master's Degree from Arizona State University. She holds 3+ years blogging experience not only for Hip2Save, but various other publications in the health, lifestyle, and education field.

Join The Discussion

Comments 11

  1. tipaye

    Love this!!! ❤️

  2. kati

    Your kids are loved and fed…they will remeber the loved part.

  3. Dee

    I love 5 day meal plans. More, please! One thing I did, esp. back when I was single, was do planned overs (as opposed to leftovers). First day, I would cook a small beef roast in a slow cooker, with carrots, potatoes, etc. Next day, I would shred some of the leftover beef and make stroganoff. If there was any beef left, the next dinner it would become a shredded beef barbecue sandwich. Third meal was usually barbecue or stir fry. Also, since I get tired of eating the same thing, there may be a point where the shredded beef goes into the freezer, so I can use it later.

  4. kadysiga

    I love this post, thanks so much!

    • Jessica (Hip Sidekick)

      You’re so welcome! Thanks so much for the feedback – glad you enjoyed this post! 🤗❤️

  5. Chantel

    One thing that helps me out lots is making double, triple or even quadruple batches of foods. For example, if I am making spaghetti one night, I will use my food processor to chop a bunch of veggies like carrots, onions, celery, peppers and mushrooms. For a single meal I do this by hand so the chopping of a bunch of veggies ends up taking roughly the same amount of time. So does sauteing and simmering. On top of that I save a bunch of money by using the bulk cans of tomatoes, which only cost about $3 at Costco vs $1 or more for a normal 14.5 oz can. I use a portion of the sauce that night and then fill up Ball jars and freeze for several other meals. I also do this with Mac and Cheese, refried beans, pulled pork and cooked rice. Doing this gives me quick frozen food style options that are homemade and healthy.

    • Jessica (Hip Sidekick)

      These are such helpful tips, Chantel! Thanks for taking a moment to share what works well for your family! I’ve started freezing many more things lately when prepping or finding them on sale, so I can relate to this! 🙌❤️

  6. Pat Goff

    Thank you for sharing your ideas and tips.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re very welcome! 🥰

  7. SamShops

    I go meal planning with the Whisk app. There are tons of free recipes and it creates meal plan and populates a grocery list. Then it’s connected to Walmart and other grocery stores so the shopping list can be automatically added to your Walmart cart. You can edit things and remove them if you already have them on hand. It saves me so much time and I don’t over buy any more. Also, I get free delivery with the discounted Walmart + account I signed up for through H2S!

    • Jessica (Hip Sidekick)

      Awesome! Thanks for sharing about that meal planning app SamShops! So glad to hear that it makes putting recipes together and buying the ingredients seamless! 🙌❤️

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