Learn how to meal plan for kids and simplify your life as a busy parent. These handy meal planning tips are sure to please even your pickiest of eaters!

Family eating at the dinner table after a meal plan for kids, from Shelf Cooking

Anyone else ever spend precious time and energy on a home-cooked, delicious meal, only to have it snubbed by your kids' upturned noses? What the what!? Don't they know how hard we worked on that labor of love!!!?

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Well, no more wasting time or food on picky eaters! We'll show you how to meal plan like a boss and serve up meal after meal that your kids will not only actually eat, but even LOVE!! All of this while saving you time and money in the kitchen… uhh WIN-WIN!


The first thing you should do before making a meal plan is taking a full inventory of all the food in your kitchen. Go through your fridge, freezer, and pantry and make a physical list of everything and how much you have. Remember, you don't have to worry about taking inventory of your kitchen staples because those are things you know you always have on hand.

Start with your fridge because those items are perishable and will probably go bad the fastest. If you find anything close to it's expiration date, make sure you include that item in your meal plan. For example, if you have chicken that will expire on Tuesday, search for meals including chicken for your Monday meal plan. See, easy as pie!


Tween girl eating salad from a bowl, from Shelf Cooking

There is no better way to meal plan for kids than to get them involved in the process. No matter what age, from 2 to 18, sit down with your kids and allow them to help choose recipes for the week. We all know what it's like negotiating with kids… Here are a few quick guidelines to make this go as smooth as possible.

  • Let Them Collectively Choose One Meal – If you have multiple kids, they must come to an agreement! Find that to be an impossible task? Have them rotate days or weeks they get to choose.
  • Allow One Veto – As you begin your meal planning journey, give your family many options to choose from and give each child one veto as you pick.
  • Agree to Try New Things – If your kids are super picky, make a special family pact that you will all try one brand new meal every week. It doesn't have to be crazy—maybe it's green beans done a whole new way! Once everyone tries it, go ahead and celebrate that win with a special treat!

Not only will you end up with a week's worth of meals your family will actually eat, you are empowering your kids to help with these important daily decisions AND teaching them the importance of meal planning to stay on budget!


Weekly meal planner and pen on a table, from Shelf Cooking

We believe simple is better, especially when it come to meal planning! Take that plan-a-month-ahead-and-save junk and throw it out the window!! Meal planning is meant to make your life easier, not more complicated!

Working in smaller manageable chunks (like we do in our ah-ma-zing meal planning section of our Productivity Planner!) is a great way to keep yourself motivated and on a budget! If your meal planning gets off track this week or if you forget to buy a crucial ingredient… that's okay! Resist going back to the store and just improvise by shelf cooking! Good news—you only have to make it to the end of the week and then everything starts all over! Wahoo!


There is nothing more rewarding than putting in a little extra work and getting double the reward!! Many things—like meats, casseroles, pastas and so much more—are perfect for doubling up and sticking in the freezer for another meal. In fact, we have a deliciously cheesy lasagna roll ups recipe that is just BEGGING to be doubled and frozen. Talk about an effortless weeknight meal that your kids will scarf down! Mmmmhmm.

Check out this list of things you can freeze here and know for sure which recipes you can and cannot freeze for later! AND just make sure to stock up on disposable foil pans and foil if you don't have enough freezer-safe dishes.


Finding it hard to come up with fresh, new meal ideas for the week? Set a theme for each day to narrow down your search! Not only does it make the recipe search easier, it makes the meals more fun and helps get the kids excited! Can you say Mexican fiesta!?!


Woman cutting vegetables on a cutting board, from Shelf Cooking

Have you ever looked up at the clock to realize it's 5 o'clock and you still haven't started cooking dinner!? It's okay… even the best of meal planners have been there. Avoid the drama and the inevitable expensive pizza delivery by prepping ahead of time!

  • Wash and Chop Early – Get into the habit of washing and chopping all of your veggies and fruit for the week the day you get groceries. Putting in the extra work ahead of time will save SO MUCH time and stress later in the week when things get crazy… because things always get crazy! To speed up the process of washing your produce grab a salad spinner.
  • Cook the Meats – If your meal plan involves casseroles or soups that call for pre-cooked meat, cook it all on your designated “prep” day and then simply toss in when the day comes! Bonus points if you use the instant pot to cut your prep time in half!
  • Make Breakfast and Lunch Ahead – Meal planning doesn't just stop with family dinners—it includes EVERYTHING you and your family will eat during the week! Make the week's breakfasts and prepare lunches for each child so they are ready to just grab and throw in a lunch box. No more rushing to throw together a sandwich as you hurry out the door!

Don't be afraid to get your kids involved in the actual prepping portion of the meal prep, too! You can even get some really awesome kid-friendly plastic knives for the young ones to safely help with chopping!


One of the easiest ways to stay on budget while shopping for groceries is to shop online! Many stores offer online ordering with easy pick up making it super easy to avoid those oh-so irresistible impulse buys. (Yeah, those get us, too!!) Online shopping also comes with the added benefit of easy coupon clipping. Some stores will automatically show you all coupons available for an item when you add it to your cart. You'll get all the benefits of coupon clipping with none of the work!!

Online shopping isn't your jam? No worries! Just shop sales and check circulars for the best deals around before setting your meal plan in stone. If you were planning for pork but the beef is on massive sale—go for the beef! If it fits in your budget, buy one for now and two for later. This is a great way to take full advantage of a killer deal and stock up your freezer for later! You'll be glad you did when Shelftember rolls around. 😉

So, there you have it! Use these helpful tips to learn how to meal plan with kids and you'll be a meal prep pro in no time! Stay on track with your budget, stop wasting food and time and serve up meals that will make your whole family jump for joy and ask for seconds!!

What is your favorite meal planning tip for busy parents with kiddos? Tell us in the comments below!

Girl eating salad from a bowl, from Shelf Cooking

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Now go feed those hungry kids! 😉