How to Make Meal Planning Work for a Blended Family

While I’m away this week on a home exchange to Victoria, British Columbia, you’ll find guest posts from friends. This is a guest post from Rita, who writes the blog, This Sorta Old House, with her living/blogging partner, Cane. They believe that how we do home is how we do life. 

meal planning lists

For the first year of our life as a blended family, meals were a challenge.

OK, that’s the nice way to put it.

With three picky-eater kids, one gluten-free eater (me), and the schedule challenges that come with busy teens juggling three different households, figuring out food was a hair-pulling frustration that did a serious number on our health (financial and physical) and happiness.

After reading Sara’s posts about the benefits of weekly meal planning, I decided to give it a try. (After all, we had little to lose and lots of hair that I want to keep!)

How to Make Meal Planning Work for a Blended Family

Three months later, I’m here to tell you:  It works!

It hasn’t been a silver bullet to cure all of our food challenges–and we’re certainly still experimenting–but making an intentional plan for eating has greatly improved our dinners, our budget, and our daily routines. And all of that has improved our happiness as a family.

If you’re ready to give it a try, we’ve got a few tips based on what we’ve learned so far.

Tip #1: Create a master list of meals

This is an idea I picked up from Robin and Ed at Frugal Family Times. They have one master list for their whole family, but we decided to break it down further for our crew of particular eaters. We asked all three kids to create a list of dinner foods they will eat without complaint. From that we created a document that now lives on our fridge.

Food list

Because we have different kids with us on different nights, the list broken down by child makes planning easier. I also keep a Pinterest board for Family Friendly recipes. It’s a great resource when we sit down to plan the coming week’s meals.

Tip #2: Keep a running grocery list

I love Sara’s list and will soon be creating our own (once I have a better idea of what needs to be on it). In the meantime, we keep a running grocery list on our refrigerator. After we make our meal plan for the week, we just add any other ingredients we need to the running list, and we’re off to the grocery store.

Sara’s Costco shopping list in a PDF format:  Costco Shopping List

Tip #3: Plan for leftovers

We only meal-plan for dinners–but part of our plan is to have left-overs that we use for lunch. On Sundays we try to cook something that we can make a double portion of to use in lunches throughout the week. (Soups, pasta sauces, and meats for tacos/quesedillas/etc. are our usual choices.)

Tip #4: Make everything visible and accessible

At first, we simply wrote our plans and grocery lists on paper and tacked them to the refrigerator. This helped me know each night what to cook, and it also helped me plan ahead:

Oh yeah, I need to get the chicken out of the freezer to thaw for tomorrow night’s dinner.

Now that I know we’re committed to meal planning, I recently invested in a small chalkboard that I hang from magnetic clips on the side of our refrigerator. (At $3, it was a low-risk investment.)

Meal planning board

Not only is the chalkboard nicer-looking, but it also eliminates the need to use paper each week. Fancy, frugal, and environmentally friendly–it doesn’t get much better than that. (You can read more about our little kitchen command center here.)

Tip #5: Be realistic about yourself and your life

I’d love it if we had a nutritious, tasty, home-cooked meal every night. That’s not gonna happen (yet). Now, we look at our calendar and plan for those times we’re going to eat out. (You can see in the photo above that we planned to eat out on two nights in one recent week.) Reduces guilt, waste, and impulse eating-out. Win-win-win.

Tip #6: Plan and shop together

I’ve saved the best and most important tip for last. Feeding our families is a big deal. It impacts our health, our finances, and the rhythm of our days. For us, it’s been important to make the commitment to meal planning together. When we’ve both put time into planning and shopping, we’re both more committed to sticking with our plan.

As I said, we’ve only been at this for a short time and are still learning. But we think we’ve made a great start.

This is a guest post from Rita, who writes the blog, This (Sorta) Old Life, with her living/blogging partner, Cane. They are UnDesigners and DIYers who like to repurpose, renew, revise and re-do all kinds of things. While they write a lot of posts about fixing up their house, the real thing they’re making together is a life, the biggest DIY project there is.

Do you have any tips for making meal planning work better? What works for you?

Go Gingham related links:

Pantry basics for the home cook – what’s in my pantry
Refrigerator basics for the home cook – what’s in my refrigerator
New to cooking at home? Fear not!
How we keep food waste to a minimum
Take the night off and let your kids cook dinner every week
How our freezer gets used – ways to organize and optimize

4 thoughts on “How to Make Meal Planning Work for a Blended Family

  1. So happy to have helped you make meal planning easier, Rita! What we’ve found, and I hope you do too, is that having planned meals that are repeated often, can gradually convert the pickiest of eaters. As an RD I’ve seen the research, many kids need 10+ exposures to a food before they will willingly eat it. Keep exposing your choosy eaters and you’ll see your Master List grow. Most parents give up way before 10!

    We’ve been committed meal planners for about 3 years and have seen our “accepted” meals triple! The best part: we all enjoy our family dinner, when at one time, it was the most frustrating part of our day. 🙂


    1. Robin,
      I’m with you that kids need to see food several times before they will try new food items. It also helps when kids get older – they hungrier and eat more! Ours do!
      It’s also nice when we travel because our kids, who are now teenagers, are willing to try just about any food that’s in front of them. I’m quite sure I wasn’t that adventurous!
      Thanks, Robin. So nice to “meet” you!


  2. Good post and comments. I don’t just stick with the meals my kids *love* or we would be severely limited on what everyone agrees upon. What I WILL do is make sure that everyone has something to eat at a meal that appeals to them, i.e. if it’s my daughter’s favorite dinner but my son dislikes it, I will make his favorite vegetable. I only have 2 kids so I will “tweak” a meal–my son hates any kind of sauce so I will serve the meat without the sauce to him but the rest of us will eat the sauce-laden meal. I can see where this would be difficult for a large family but for us it means that I don’t cook a separate meal (which I refuse to do) and it’s still palatable for him. Or I will require my kids to eat a “polite bite” and that’s all. Mealtimes are tricky because you are trying to encourage conversational skills as well as healthy eating. Rita, keep up your good work! It will ultimately pay off (at least, that’s what I keep telling myself!).


  3. Dinner time is a perfect opportunity to spend quality time with your family. Unfortunately, many of today’s on-the-go families let this traditional practice go by the wayside.FAMILY MEAL has become verry common now-a-days


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