With the leaves changing all around me and the air getting crisper, I start to crave all things warm and cozy. Sweaters, candles, and most importantly warm food.
When I was growing up, autumn was welcomed by trading our Friday night meal of vegetable sandwiches straight from the garden with warm soup. All kinds of soup.
Each week my mom would let a different person in the family make a request for the coming Friday. Which is a clever way of making one less decision herself while simultaneously making one person feel a little special when their favorite soup was prepared.
One form of meal planning that is often over-looked is meal planning with the seasons.
Sometimes we can get stuck in the rut of serving the same meals all year, but I love planning my meals to match the weather. (More or less, anyway, I live in the Pacific Northwest and sometimes our seasons get confused.)
What is Seasonal Meal Planning?
Seasonal Meal Planning is when you plan your family’s meals based around the season you will be heading into.
People who seasonally meal plan typically think about these three things:
What produce will be in season and how can I use it in my meals?
What foods will feel good to eat during this season? (Salads in the spring? Soups in the fall?)
What will my weekly theme nights be for this season? (More on this below.)
Why You Should Try Seasonal Meal Planning
It will save you money: Vegetables and fruits are not harvested all year round as grocery stores would have us believe. And they are cheapest in the season that they are harvested in.
Have you ever tried to buy strawberries in December? It’s pricey! But in the spring, they are practically giving them away (especially near the end of the season!)
It is healthier: If you do buy those strawberries in December, the have been sitting in cold storage for the past 8 months… getting old.
If you eat with the seasons, not only are the fruits and vegetables at their peak of nutrients, but there are also vitamins and minerals that you need for that season in those fruits and vegetables.
For example, citrus fruit (ripe in the winter) has loads of vitamin C to help your body combat the germs and sickness that come along with the cold weather.
It will save you time: If you plan your meals for the entire season at the beginning of the season, you will spend much less time planning your meals than if you do it weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly meal planning.
Don’t believe me? Try it out!
I only spend about 6 hours or less per year now that I do my meal planning all at once. (Check out this post if you want to see the crazy way I meal plan for the WHOLE YEAR in ONE DAY!)
It makes each season special: My family loves to grill in the summer. When we are grilling on the weekends we look forward to it all week long.
It is a fun way to celebrate summertime together. Almost every evening my oldest daughter will ask “Can we grill tonight?!”
In the winter, we love eating our soup out of bread bowls to make a less flashy meal special.
(And because sourdough bread = happiness 🙂
How to Meal Plan With the Seasons
Now that we know why we should meal plan with the seasons, let’s move on to how it’s done.
Take into account work schedules, school schedules, extra-curricular activities, and anything else that happens reliably in your late afternoon and early evenings.
If you know that you typically work late two or three nights a week, put one of your easy staple meals on those nights. Think pasta, tacos, sandwiches, etc.
In our family, swimming lessons are typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So I do Leftovers on Thursday night (easy peasy!) and Vegan Mac and Cheese on Tuesdays.
Sometimes we have to switch lessons to Monday and Wednesday for a session, and in that case, I just switch those meals to Monday and Wednesday.
As you look at your typical weekly schedule, I recommend having your busiest nights of the week be “Year-Round” them nights and your more relaxed days being “Seasonal” theme nights.
In the examples below, you’ll see that I put year-round meals for the weekdays and seasonal meals on the weekends when most people have more time to cook.
2) Pick Theme Nights for Each Day of the Week
Choosing theme nights is the easiest way to plan your meals no matter which meal planning method you use.
Picking a theme for each day of the week keeps you from reinventing the wheel every time you sit down to plan your menu.
All you have to do is plug and play with the same theme nights every week for that season.
There are two ways that you can choose theme nights when you are seasonal meal planning:
Option 1: You can choose a seasonal themed meal for each day of the week. This means in the summer you would have six summer meals each week plus one night of leftovers. Then in the fall, you would have six fall themed nights and one night of leftovers.
Option 2: If that seems like too much work for you, have some theme nights that stay the same all year. This is the way I plan my meals. In our house, my Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday themes stay the same; while my Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday meals coincide with the seasons.
When picking your themes, the sky is the limit! Your themes can be anything from a specific meal that you make every single week because your family loves it, to choosing a theme that gives you more variety, like having an ethnic food night!
One of our favorite themes in our house is Build-It Meals. This is our Friday night tradition all year round. It gives us tons of variety while still feeling a little like a tradition (we do burgers, fajitas, falafels, sandwiches, burritos, nachos, personal pizzas… anything where each person makes their own dish!).
This is a great theme for families with little kids who want to be involved in the cooking. Our girls love creating their own food and getting to put however much they want of each thing on their plate.
Here is an example of how you can use both seasonal and year-round theme nights:
Example Summer Weekly Theme Nights
Sunday: Grilled Barbecue Pizza Night (Seasonal)
Monday: Pasta Night (Year-Round)
Tuesday: Taco Night (Year-Round)
Wednesday: Out To Eat (Seasonal)
Thursday: Leftover Night (Year-Round)
Friday: Grilling Night (Seasonal)
Saturday: From the Garden Night (Seasonal)
If you want over 50 different theme night ideas, check out this post!
3) Choose Your Seasonal Theme Nights for Each Season
If you only want to start with one season, then decide on your theme nights for that season and skip to step four.
Once you’re on a roll, why stop?! Plus it’s so easy to plan your meals when you are done with this step!
When looking at the rest of the seasons, decide if you want to start from scratch and create a completely new and exciting plan for each season… OR you can do what I prefer. Keep the bones of the plan (the Year-Round theme nights) and switch out the seasonal theme nights for each season.
Here would be the rest of the seasons from the example we started above:
Example Fall Weekly Theme Nights
Sunday: Roasted Vegetable Pizza Night (Seasonal)
Monday: Pasta Night (Year-Round)
Tuesday: Tacos Night (Year-Round)
Wednesday: Ethnic Food Night (Seasonal)
Thursday: Leftover Night (Year-Round)
Friday: Soup Night (Seasonal)
Saturday: Vegetable Hash Night (Seasonal)
Example Winter Weekly Theme Nights
Sunday: Make Your Own Pizza Night (Seasonal)
Monday: Pasta Night (Year-Round)
Tuesday: Taco Night (Year-Round)
Wednesday: Out to Eat Night (Seasonal)
Thursday: Leftover Night (Year-Round)
Friday: Chili Night (Seasonal)
Saturday: Casserole Night (Seasonal)
Example Spring Weekly Theme Nights
Sunday: Pesto Pizza Night (Seasonal)
Monday: Pasta Night (Year-Round)
Tuesday: Taco Night (Year-Round)
Wednesday: Ethnic Food (Seasonal)
Thursday: Leftover Night (Year-Round)
Friday: Stuffed Pepper Night (Seasonal)
Saturday: Salad Bar Night (Seasonal)
4) Decide How Often to Rotate Meals
Does your family like a lot of variety? Or do you struggle to get your family to try new meals?
Depending on where you and your family fall on the spectrum, decide how long your meal rotations should be.
If your family likes a lot of variety like my husband and I do, then choose a 12-week rotation. If your family doesn’t care for much variety, try a 4 -week (or 2-week!) rotation.
If you are somewhere in the middle, try a 6-week rotation.
If you choose a 12-week rotation, then you will need to choose 12 meals for each theme night, and you will only complete the rotation once per season.
If you choose a 4-week rotation, choose 4 meals for each theme night and repeat the same rotation 3 times each season.
The next step is to brainstorm you list of meals for each theme night. So grab your favorite cookbooks (I love these cookbooks!) and open Pinterest to get your creative juices flowing!
For example, if you chose a 6-week rotation in Step 4, and you are using my example for your theme nights, then you would choose 6 different pasta dishes for your family to try. (Remember to think seasonal if you can!)
If I were looking for some fun fall pasta recipes, I would head over to Pinterest and see what I could find with a “fall pasta recipe” search…
Either way, keep a written plan near your kitchen for easy access.
In my house, if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist! Since I don’t want my hard work to go to waste, I keep my meal plan in a place that I won’t forget about it and is easy to access. (I keep my Meal Planning Calendar on the inside of my pantry door.)
7) Modify as Needed
When you are planning in advance, life is bound to happen and plans will need to change.
At the beginning of each week, I sit down and make my grocery list. As I do this, I note if there is any reason that I should rearrange any of the meals, or if I need to make any substitutions.
For example, if it’s someone’s birthday in our house, we typically go out to eat once that week at that person’s favorite restaurant. They also get to pick a favorite home-cooked meal on the day of their birthday if they decide to eat out on a different day.
If we have something going on where we will be out of the house all day, I may also move one of the easy meals to that evening so I don’t have to cook after a long day out.
Always remember that your meal plan works for you and not the other way around. It isn’t a contest to see if you can stick with your meal plan exactly the way that you wrote it.
Don’t stress if you skip a meal, just jot it down on your list for next week if you really wanted to eat it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really want to try one of those new pasta recipes…
Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Meal Planning?
When I first sat down with my calendar to begin meal planning, I had high aspirations. I planned unique breakfasts, lunches, and dinners six days a week with one day for leftovers.
Then I watched my motivation crumble over the next few weeks trying todo so much cooking with a baby in the house.
I soon realized that being in the kitchen for three or more hours a day wasn’t making my life easier.
I mean, I enjoy cooking, but not quite that much.
It was obvious that I needed to switch gears. I love having variety in our evening meals, but the time involved in cooking elaborate breakfasts, lunches, and dinners was stressing me out and wearing me down.
I started thinking about how I liked having minimalism in the rest of my life, why not in my meal planning too?
I decided to scrap my new breakfast meal plan that I had worked so hard on and try a more minimalist approach to my breakfast routine.
After shifting my expectations, changing my plans, and simplifying my approach to our weekday breakfasts and lunches, my stress level decreased and I began looking forward to mealtimes again.
In this post, I’m going to go over What Weekday Breakfasts Should Be Like, Why You Should Have a Plan for Breakfasts, 6 Tips for Making Weekday Breakfasts Easier, and 20 Quick, Healthy Breakfast Ideas for Busy Mornings!
And If you prefer to watch instead of read, here is the video that goes with this post:
What Should Weekday Breakfasts Be Like?
When I decided to revamp my breakfast plan, I began by thinking about what I wanted my weekday breakfasts to look and feel like.
I suggest taking a few minutes before you begin to think about what your mornings are typically like.
Are you in a rush, or do you have all the time in the world? Are your kids old enough to cook for themselves, or are you cooking for everyone? Do you have picky eaters, or are your kids easy to please?
(If you have picky eaters, be sure to check out this video!)
And of course, think about what kind of breakfast would make your life easier in the mornings.
Here is my list of what I am looking for:
Like I mentioned in my How to Create a Morning Routine post, I’m not naturally a morning person, so doing a lot of thinking in the morning doesn’t work well for me.
And making new recipes takes a while when you are a little groggy.
Not that I am trying to rush through my mornings (although I do have to remind myself to slow down at times), but I want to be able to get to the fun things that we have planned for that day.
Instead of spending the whole morning cooking, eating, and cleaning up after ourselves, we like to get to the park or go on a hike.
While I want my girls to appreciate all kinds of food and have varied pallets, I also want them to be able to appreciate simple things. Breakfast is a great time in our day to have some simple predictability.
I prefer to do more complicated and unique dinners when Ross is home to enjoy them as well.
When I was first trying to get my meal planning groove on, I found that my grocery budget skyrocketed! When I started cooking simple breakfasts, my grocery cost went back to normal.
Do I Need a Meal Plan for Breakfast?
Now that I knew how I wanted my morning to look, I could create my plan for breakfast.
It can be tempting to think that you don’t need to worry about planning out your breakfasts beforehand. But even if you want your breakfasts to be easy, quick, simple, and inexpensive like I did, don’t just wing it! Here are a few reasons that you should plan out your meals even if they are going to be simple:
1) Breakfast Will Be Healthier
It can be easy to overlook making breakfast healthy as we are trying to grab something quick before rushing out the door in the morning. But a little planning will make us much more inclined to eat a healthy breakfast instead of grabbing something processed.
2) Planning Will Save You Money
If you go to the store with a plan and a list, you will be less likely to buy a lot of food that sounds good “just in case” you decide to make it that week.
It is easy to waste money on food that sounds good at the store, but we will never actually make. A plan will keep you on track for only buying what you need and will use.
3) Preparation Will Be Quicker
Doing a little planning ahead of time will keep you from staring into your fridge wondering what you should make everyone for breakfast. If you are a little slow in the morning like I am, having one less decision to make is always a good thing!
4) Cooking Will Be More Enjoyable
For me, cooking is less stressful and more fun when I have a plan heading into the kitchen instead of making it up as I go along.
Alright, let’s get to work planning your breakfasts!
6 Tricks for Meal Planning Breakfast
1) Be Predictable
Nine out of ten weekdays, the girls and I eat oatmeal in the morning. Eating the same thing almost every day makes the morning flow naturally and keeps me from having to do too much thinking early in the morning. Plus it’s great for teaching kids how to cook.
Since we make oatmeal every day, my oldest daughter (she’s four years old as I am writing this post) can make it all by herself. This is very helpful when we need to get to an appointment and I need to get myself and my younger daughter ready to go.
2) Think Simple
If your breakfast is simple to put together, you are much more likely to stick to making a healthy breakfast. Hot cereal is an obvious choice, but if you think outside the box, there are dozens of simple healthy options! (Be sure to check out the 20 Easy, Healthy Breakfast Ideas below!)
3) Make it Delicious
Just because you’re going for easy, doesn’t mean you should skimp on flavor! Kids and adults alike are more likely to eat a big, healthy breakfast if it tastes really good. Add a pop of flavor to almost any breakfast by adding fresh or frozen fruit, nuts and seeds, and coconut or almond milk.
4) Have Fun
Although we eat oatmeal for our breakfast almost every morning, we make it interesting by adding seasonal fruit, seeds, nut butter, almond milk, and sometimes honey to the bowl.
Depending on the season we might add fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, apples and cinnamon, bananas, cherries, peaches, plums, or any other fruit that we picked up at a local farm to make things interesting.
5) Prep Ahead
If you want to make something that takes a little longer, do some prep work on Sunday for the week ahead.
For example: potatoes take longer to cook, but you can peel and chop your potatoes ahead of time and put them in a sealed container with water covering them. Then in the morning, just rinse and fry them up!
6) Mix It Up
We like to make a more elaborate brunch together on Sunday mornings. This is where we do all those breakfast favorites that everyone loves, but take too long to make during the week.
Our Sunday breakfast is rarely the same from week to week, which gives variety to what could otherwise be a mundane breakfast lineup.
If you are choosing to stick with simple foods during the week, pick a day on the weekend when you can have fun making other recipes together.
You may already have an idea of what your weekday breakfast will be, but if not, here are 20 Simple, Healthy Breakfast Ideas to get you started.
20 Easy, Healthy Breakfasts
Oatmeal with Fruit and Nut Butter. This is the staple in our home. The girls and I eat it five days a week for most weeks! Sometimes we add eggs or toast, but the oatmeal (or other hot cereal) is a constant.
Eggs and Toast. This is a great choice if you like a little variety in your life, while still being predictable and easy. Try making the eggs a different way each day of the week!
Scrambled Eggs and Hot Cereal. Add some extra protein to your oatmeal breakfast. (Did you know that oatmeal naturally has protein in it?!)
Granola parfaits. We love using Homemade Granola, some Vegan Cream and fresh or frozen berries. Layer the granola, the cream, and the berries in a clear glass for fun presentation or easy eating on the go!
Breakfast Sandwiches. This is another great idea if you like some variation in your mornings. There are countless ways you can make a breakfast sandwich. Here is one great idea for building a Classic Sandwich.
Whole Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter and Applesauce. My girls love this any morning that we have homemade bread in the house.
Rice Cereal with Milk, Cinnamon, and Honey. This is a great breakfast when you have leftover rice from the night before. My oldest daughter asks for this for dessert whenever we have rice in the house. Just warm the precooked rice with some milk in the microwave or on the stove. Add honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon!
Granola and Toast. Make some Granola and homemade bread on the weekend and you have yourself an easy, healthy breakfast every day that week.
Eggs and Potatoes. Peel and cut those potatoes on the weekend and stick them in an airtight container with water covering them. Making potatoes during the week just got a whole lot simpler!
Savory Hot Cereal. Add salsa and an egg to any hot cereal for a savory spin.
Eggs and Muffins. My girls get giddy any time I tell them we are making muffins. Try making different kinds of muffins each Sunday for a month. Then add some eggs to your breakfast for some protein. Make the eggs a different way every day of the week your family will be delighted with this delicious breakfast.
Warm and Nutty Cinnamon Quinoa. Try this recipe from Bob’s Red Mill this autumn if you want to mix up your hot cereal routine.
Avocado Toast.Cookie and Kate has great several variations on this hipster classic.
Breakfast Tostadas. Like Breakfast for Dinner? Try Dinner for breakfast with Breakfast Tostadas!
Whole Wheat Pancakes. If you are short on time, but love pancakes for breakfast, mix up the dry ingredients and place them in baggies or containers. One for each day of the week. Also, portion out your wet ingredients for the week. Then in the morning, just grab one of the dry ingredient containers and one of the wet. Add any wet ingredients that you need to add the morning of (like bananas in This Recipe), then mix a cook!
(If you don’t like to wait, the big secret is in #8!)
If you prefer to watch instead of read, here is the video that goes with this post!)
How to Begin Meal Planning
1) Have a Realistic Goal
It can be tempting to decide to try a new diet and only eat non-processed, organically- grown, sugar-free food as you are scrolling through Pinterest for recipe ideas. But I would recommend starting with how you currently eat.
If you want to start eating healthier, that’s awesome! But maybe just choose just one area to improve on to start with. Your goal for your first menu plan could just be to eat less processed food.
Once you get comfortable with meal planning, you can add more dietary enhancements if you would like. But go slowly. Your family will thank you for not trying too many things at once… and you’ll be less likely to stick with the plan!
If you are new to meal planning and you have a hard time coming up with ideas for your meals, theme nights, or rotations (that will make more sense as you continue through this post :), check out Meal Planning Magic where you get
EVERYTHING from the Set It and Forget It Spreadsheet PLUS…
1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Breakfast Rotations
1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Lunch Rotations
1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Snack Rotations
40+ Dinner Theme Night Ideas
40+ Plug and Play Dinner Rotations
700+ Links to Amazing Recipes
Or if you just need a little help getting started, this free meal planning checklist will do just that!
3) Choose the Duration of Your Plan
If this is your first time meal planning, I recommend trying a two-week plan.
It is fairly easy to come up with meals for two weeks, and it is a short enough time that it is easy to stick with!
Plus, if you don’t have time to meal plan at the end of your two weeks, just start over at the beginning, and no one will know the difference. Your secret is safe with me!
You can choose any time frame you like, from one week to one year!
4) Choose One Breakfast
Pick your favorite easy breakfast and eat it every day.
In our house we eat oatmeal every day of the week, except for Sunday.
We mix it up with different fruits, seeds, and nuts mixed in; and sometimes we have a piece of toast or an egg with it, but the main component of our breakfast is reliable.
Why keep it simple in the mornings?
Mornings are usually when people have the least amount of time to cook, the least energy to make decisions, and kids are the most anxious to eat.
Plus it’s one less decision I am required to make for my menu plan.
If you feel like mixing it up on the weekends with something more fancy or fun, go for it! But if not, there is no shame in doing the same breakfast every day of the week.
Sunday morning is our special brunch day where we make something a little more elaborate. The best part is that Ross makes it with the girls!
Pro Tip: If your spouse likes to cook (or even if they don’t :), see if they would be willing to get involved with the cooking at least one meal on the weekends.
Each night when I’m saving the leftovers, I put them into two containers: one for my husband to take to work, and one for the kids and me to eat the next day for lunch.
It doesn’t get much simpler than that! To ensure that I have leftovers, I usually double or one-and-a-half each recipe to be sure that I have enough for two full meals.
While I love the ease of leftovers, there are also many great salad and sandwich options that are easy to make and take wherever you are heading.
Just make it easy on yourself!
This video has easy Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner ideas that you can prep the night before!
6) Plan for Afternoon Snacks
If you have kids in your house, you may want to plan out what the afternoon snack will be.
This could easily be the same thing every day just like we talked about with Breakfast and Lunch, just be sure it isn’t too filling or too late in the day or you will struggle getting them to eat supper.
We do our afternoon snack around 3:30 pm.
I don’t plan exactly what they will eat each day. Instead I have an array of fruits, vegetables, and nuts on hand and let the kids choose what they are in the mood for. I just have to pick up the options for them when I am grocery shopping.
They enjoy making this decision since I choose what we have for dinner each evening.
7) Start With Your Favorites
You are more likely to stick with your menu plan if you (and your family) enjoy the meals you are going to create. Choose a “Family Favorites” day each week.
You can always do Family Favorites on Friday evenings as a fun way to start of the weekend.
Now take your family’s favorite meals and plug it into the calendar (it’s ok to use the same one every week, kids love family traditions!)
8) Pick Your Weeknight Meals
Think of meals that are quick, tasty, and are easy to clean up. Grab your go-to cookbook (I like The Revive Cafe cookbooks) and start plugging in recipes.
I recommend choosing dishes that you already know for most weeknight meals. (I don’t know about you, but it always takes me a little longer to make a new dish when I need to keep checking a recipe.)
I find it helpful to have a theme assigned to each night of the week. Then I know what I am looking for as I go through my cookbooks and Pinterest Board.
I love having at least one night every week dedicated to leftovers. It’s Thursday night in our house because I like to have room in my fridge before I start the weekend (we make a lot of fun food on the weekends!).
Since my oldest has swimming lessons every Tuesday and Thursday, I put my easiest meals on those days because I don’t have much time to cook.
Pro Tip: Keep your weekly schedule in mind when you are picking your Theme Nights and/or Meals.
9) Decide if You Want to Try New Recipes
If you don’t enjoy trying new meals, you can skip to #10. But my favorite part of meal planning is deciding what new meals I want to try.
If you enjoy trying new meals too, I recommend choosing one day each week to be your “Try a New Recipe Day.”
In my house this is Wednesday evening because it tends to be the day that I have the most time to prepare dinner during the week. You may want to do this on Saturday or Sunday if your weekdays are too busy.
Now grab your cookbooks or look on Pinterest and find a new recipe to try. If you have too many recipes that you want try… close your eyes, open the book, and point! What’s the worst thing that could happen?
I usually just go to the beginning of my cookbook and choose the first recipe that I haven’t tried yet if I’m stuck.
10) Choose Your Weekend Meals
Next look at your typical weekend. What’s it like? Do you typically relax at home with plenty of time to do a special meal? Or do you run from one activity to another?
If you have lazy weekends, plan some fun family favorites for your meals that may take a little bit more time to make. We love making pasta from scratch on lazy Sundays.
If you have busy weekends, choose a few fun sack lunches that you can easily prepare on Friday evenings.
Do some looking on Pinterest, or ask a friend; try to think outside the sandwich!
Last year we had a picnic at a park for my my oldest daughter’s birthday. One of our friends brought homemade burritos. I had never thought of burritos as a sack lunch before, but it was a great mess-free idea.
11) Write Your List and Go Shopping
Before you leave for the grocery store excited to get ingredients for your new meal plan, take inventory and make a list. Go through each recipe and check your pantry and fridge for the ingredients first.
While it will take a little longer to get out the door, it will be worth the time you spent when you aren’t playing a guessing game at the store or spending money you don’t have on ingredients you don’t need.
Now that you have your list, don’t forget to take it out of your purse at the store and use it. I always take a pen with me to cross things off and stay organized.
If you organize your list by sections, you will save even more time when you are shopping!
12) Have Fun!
Don’t stress out if things don’t go perfectly the first couple of weeks. It takes time to find your groove. Learning is half the fun!