Meal Planning for a Family Raising a Child with Special Needs (+ Free Printables)

Meal Planning for a Family Raising a Child with Special Needs (+ Free Printables)I enjoy preparing healthy meals at home.

It wasn’t always this way. I was less than thrilled with becoming the primary meal-maker when we first got married. It was never a passion. I cooked because we had to eat.

It wasn’t until my son, who has feeding difficulties (and doctors charting his growth with a watchful eye), started eating solids, that I began to take interest in healthy eating.

Eventually, I knew what to prepare, but I had no way of managing the meals.

Then, I heard about meal planning. To this perfectionist, it was heaven-sent. I rummaged online and found meal plans and meal planners.

It took me long enough to figure out that I should probably prepare meals based on what I have on hand. I had been rushing out to buy ingredients based on the recipes I found, instead. I learned that it’s not very practical, nor efficient. When I need to prepare 3 meals a day every day (while caring for a child, the home, and homeschooling), I need to make sure I can meal prep effortlessly.

But, I found myself frustrated with the task of actually planning the weekly meal (something that was supposed to help me get organized, not create more work!)

The problem?

I didn’t find a meal planner that worked for us.


The solution?

I created one.

I love it so much that I thought I’d share it with you.

meal planner22

This free Meal Planner is linked in the resources below.

Meal planning for a family raising a child with special needs

How it works:

  1. Enter the date at the top (“Week of”).
  2. On the left-hand side there’s a column for “To Do” and “To Buy”. While I do have a regular grocery list, it’s really handy to have that little space while I’m meal planning. I then transfer those notes onto the official grocery list.
  3. The main focus of the planner is the weekly calendar. You’ll notice that it’s divided into 3 main sections:

  • The top section is where meals are listed.
  • The middle section is what I usually fill out first — before the actual meal plan. This is because, sometimes, the events of the day will affect the meal. For instance, if we have an appointment in the morning, I will need to have a meal on-the-go for my son for lunch (leftovers from the night before could be planned). This is the step that is most important for me because of my son’s feeding issues, and was missing from meal planners I found.
  • The bottom section is reserved for meal prep notes. Jot down when you need to thaw meat, or if you need to prepare your slow cooker that morning, or if you need to pre-cut veggies. Write the task underneath the day you will be doing it – not the day of (it’s too late then!)

Here is my planner filled out. Notice that on Wednesday morning, I am going to thaw the minced meat in the refrigerator so that I will have it ready for the Shepherd's pie I'm preparing for Thursday's dinner. Something so simple (and often overlooked) really helps me enjoy my day while having a homemade meal ready for dinner.

Here is my planner filled out. Notice that on Wednesday morning, I am going to thaw the minced meat in the refrigerator so that I will have it ready for the Shepherd’s pie I’m preparing for Thursday’s dinner. Something so simple (and often overlooked) really helps me enjoy my day while having a homemade meal ready for dinner.


When and how to meal plan 

I usually plan on Sunday. It doesn’t take very long at all.

  1. Take a quick survey of the foods you have in stock.
  2. Get your favorite cookbooks (or your favorite food sites), a pen, and the planner.
  3. Look up the main ingredients (the foods you have in stock) in the index of your cookbooks/website, and find a meal that includes them.
  4. Always make sure that the meals are balanced. Think of the food groups and spread them out throughout the day and week.
  5. When selecting a recipe, list the page number and title of cookbook directly on the planner. If you’re referring to a website, print or copy the recipe right away. When you’re ready to prepare, you don’t have to flip through books to find it. Goodness knows you don’t have a minute to waste when your child is in the midst of “Happy Hour” (that’s what I refer to the little craziness that happens here between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. with a hungry and fussy child!)

All of this is over and done with in about 20 minutes. It’s so worth that one session for a stress-free week. No more asking, “What am I going to prepare tonight?” (Your mind is occupied enough in raising your child.)

Hang the meal planner in a central area.

This is my home headquarters. A regular calendar to the left (with details for the month), my fancy meal planner on the right (with details for the week), and an official grocery list above it all. (Gosh, this looks so teacher-y.)

This is my home headquarters. A regular calendar to the left (with details for the month), my fancy meal planner on the right (with details for the week), and an official grocery list above it all. (Gosh, this looks so teacher-y.)

For the record, I would still much prefer someone else do the cooking around here. But, I have to admit, these snazzy planner templates make it a lot more fun!

Are you a meal planner? What are some necessary sections on your planner? I invite you to share on Facebook or Twitter.

Resources for you:

Please note: You may download and print the meal planners below for free (as many copies as you’d like!) They are for personal use only. Do not sell or replicate without my permission. If you want to share with others, please use the link to this post, not the link to the PDF. Thank you for your courtesy.

My Free Meal Planners 

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