It’s the New Year, so you want to eat healthier and save money. Me, too! Whether you’ve tried meal planning in the past and it has fallen away or you want to give it a go for the first time, now is the right time. It’s time to set up the ultimate winter meal plan for the family.
Planning your meals ahead can:
- save you time and stress each day because you’re not wondering (or worrying) what to prep for your family at dinnertime
- save you time and money at the grocery store because you are shopping from a list with a goal in mind (no more aimless wandering and impulse buying)
- help you eat better, since you can plan meals around any dietary restrictions, goals and preferences
- save you money versus eating out or picking up fast food
Over the years, I’ve figured out what works for me–sticking with everyone’s favorites and adding variety here and there–and occasionally trying a new recipe when I have the energy to do so. Right now, we are teaching our tweens and teen how to cook, so we are using our list of family faves that happen to be quick and easy recipes (I don’t cook many things that aren’t).
This winter season is busy for us (lots and lots of weekend swim meets), so we truly value our family time together. Sitting down to dinner every night is a priority of ours, as is eating well. Having a winter meal plan saves us time and honestly brainpower (in short supply some days). We’ll eat these 28 meals each month of January, February and March to make it easier for us to achieve this parenting goal.
I currently shop two stores–Costco and Aldi. At Costco, I buy one month’s worth of proteins on one trip to Costco, then I prep them for the fridge and freezer based on this list of meals. For this meal plan, that means one large pork loin to cut into 4-5 pieces, an 8-pack of boneless chicken breasts or thighs, a 4-pack of ground turkey, and one package of stew beef. We also eat a couple of meatless meals each week. To do my weekly shopping at Aldi, I look at the meals for that week and make my shopping list for what’s needed, after checking the pantry, fridge and freezer first.
Why 28 meals?
We budget to eat out once or twice per month and occasionally eat at a friend’s house or have a special event. Having a couple of nights unplanned gives us some flexibility if things go awry, too.
What about leftovers?
I typically cook meals that serve 6-8. With all three of my kids (ages 10, 10 and 13) growing so fast, many nights there are no leftovers! Sometimes, I take out a serving or two before we eat dinner. That way, there are planned leftovers for lunch the next day.
What about sides?
Most of these meals are the main dish, so we need side dishes. If there isn’t rice or pasta in the meal, we’ll often make baked potatoes. I’ve been finding great produce deals on Aldi, low prices on fresh Brussels sprouts, asparagus and cauliflower, so we roast those. Otherwise, I use frozen broccoli, corn and green beans on the side. We also eat a lot of salad.
That’s a lot of cooking!
With big kids, I’m able to do this much cooking in this season of my life. By the way–many of these are seriously easy “dump” slow cooker meals. If you want to add some convenience foods to your meal plan, like frozen meals or take-and-bake pizza, go for it! You have still planned that night’s meal, which is less expensive and healthier than restaurant food. It’s still a win!
Click to download the PDF of my Winter Meal Plan, which includes clickable links to the recipes. Then, use the same meal plan all three months of winter.
Can you make a Winter Meal Plan?
Of course you can! If you like the meals I’ve shared on our list, use them. Many of them are the same foods you’re eating at your house–spaghetti, pizza, macaroni & cheese, etc. Change some out for your family’s favorites as long as they’re easy to prepare. Perhaps your family will actually eat fish (gasp!) or let you mix beans in with other foods (my hubby is the picky eater at our house). If you don’t want to think hard, just try these recipes. They use simple ingredients and have been in our rotation for many years now. They’re that good!
I’m calling this the Ultimate Winter Meal Plan because ultimate means last. Last, as in, I don’t want to spend any more time on it, no more time planning and worrying about dinner, I just want to eat!