Secrets to Family Meal Planning

September 14, 2020
| Created by Hannah Langley, MS, RDN, CD

September is Family Meals Month. At Harmons, we value the benefits of eating with others and appreciate the power of a good meal enjoyed with loved ones. We know … that all sounds wonderful, but the following fact is no secret: coming up with a plan for a meal takes work. Scouring your brain for yummy and easy ideas can be a tall order, especially when you juggle the preferences of picky eaters. Not to mention the small, tiny, detail that you’ve been cooking at home for months now, and “cooking-at-home fatigue” has set in.

There are a few strategies that help break down the process from daunting to doable. The first thing to know is that there is no one right way to meal plan. The right way is a method that works for you; your lifestyle, preferences, time constraints, cooking ability, cooking desire, and so much more.

Before beginning the meal planning process, start by thinking through three key aspects:

  1. Consider your unique situation: budget, time, cooking skills/desire

Love to cook? Great! Not really into cooking? No problem! Your meal plan needs to be relevant to your life. Maybe you cook once per week, do take-out once per week, and mix up the remaining days with easy meals and frozen foods. Maybe you cook five nights per week and eat leftovers the other days. The point is: There is no right or wrong way to meal plan. Be realistic and prioritize your unique needs. Meal planning often fails because we get too ambitious and need to take a real look at our goals.

  1. Recognize weekends and weekdays are different and be flexible.

School, work, and everything in between. Create your meal plan for the ideal situation …. and be ready for life to happen! During the week include foods to reheat, fast recipes ready in 20-30 minutes, and family favorites likes pasta or taco night. Things inevitably come up so it’s important to have a plan b. Keep your pantry stocked and you will always be able to throw something together when your plan gets derailed.

During the weekend or days when you have more time, focus on more elaborate dishes or spend it batch cooking like making a big pot of brown rice or large pot of soup to eat over the course of several meals.

  1. Consider nutrition and preferences.

Food is one of the great pleasures of life. Your meal plan should include favorite foods and recipes while balancing the food groups for good nutrition: lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy or high-calcium alternatives. If you are dealing with finicky eaters it’s particularly important to keep offering a variety of foods. This will encourage good nutrition and help broaden picky palates.

Now that you’ve considered what type of meal planning will work best for your family, it’s time to plan! Follow these three simple steps:

  1. Choose your meal ideas and select recipes.
  2. Make a shopping list (always remember to “shop” your pantry and freezer first!)
  3. Shop and prep any items that you would like to have ready to go.

I generally go through meals in order and make my list that way. I usually don’t “cook” for breakfast or lunch, but instead just throw some things together. My recipes come in at dinner, more on that later. I’ll share an example list of mine to give you an idea but know that it changes and it’s just one example! Yours may looks different and that’s okay.


I usually do one of three meals: fruit + yogurt / egg + avocado toast / cereal + milk for busy mornings. Sometimes the fruit and yogurt will be blended into a smoothie, in which case I always like to have banana and frozen berries for that. These are fast meals that I love. During the fall/winter I might swap the cold yogurt for warm oats.

  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Shredded wheat cereal
  • Seasonal fruit, bananas, frozen berries
  • Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Bread

For the weekend we get a little more elaborate, so I might include the following items. Pancakes or bagels with lox + side of fruit is just the best.

  • Pancake mix
  • Peanut butter
  • Lox
  • Bagels
  • Cream cheese
  • Tomato

Lunch and Snacks 

For lunches, we almost always do leftovers. Once or twice a week I get the salad bar at Harmons or make my own salads. I also like to have a few frozen meals on hand just in case. For snacks, I love dipping veggies into hummus or fueling up with granola bars.

  • Salad greens
  • Cucumber, carrots, radishes
  • Olives
  • Canned tuna
  • Feta
  • Frozen Indian meals
  • Frozen burritos
  • Hummus
  • Granola bars


Typically, I cook more elaborate meals for dinner and always cook extra for lunches. We’ve been cooking for years so have many meals that we know how to do without recipes, but I usually like to try 2-3 new recipes per month. Choosing recipes is an important step. Whether it’s family tradition, cookbook recipe, or online we encourage you to be selective. A high-quality recipe goes a long way. Find tried and true Harmons recipes here.

We cook dinner 5x per week and again, always make extra. If we’re doing rice bowls, I’ll make triple the rice I need for that meal. Chili? A huge pot. I’m already making things messy and taking the time, so with just a few extra minutes, I’ll have leftovers for lunches, dinners, or snacks later in the week. The other days we get take out or pick up something that is ready to eat. Harmons weeknight dinner deals change regularly and are super convenient and delicious.

Harmons dinner deal

Take out

Thai Coconut Lentil Stew

Korean Rice Bowls

Seared Salmon with Pesto

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

If you need recipe inspiration or are looking for a fun way to celebrate Family Meals Month, consider joining one of our online cooking classes! Each seat purchased in a class includes a chef-prepared kit with all the ingredients you will need to create your recipes. Just bring home your kit and log on for a live, chef-led cooking class that finishes with your family sitting down to eat.

Last but not least, a friendly reminder that this is just one example of what meal planning can look like. Once you account for your needs, yours may look different. If you ever need help or would like additional inspiration, please contact