Meal planning can help a family with many things, such as a busy schedule, a small budget, and even dietary concerns. Plus, having regular family meals together, at the table, is an important aspect of bonding. Studies show that teenagers, especially, who eat at the table as often as possible with their parents get better grades and are less affected by peer pressure. Knowing all this, it’s obvious that meal planning is helpful on many fronts. Planning meals doesn’t have to be hard. Today, there are a variety of online tools to help you. Of course, you can still do it the old fashioned way, with paper, a calendar and your favorite cookbook. However, if you want to use one of the fabulous online tools to help with menu planning it will cut your planning time, and probably increase the range of foods your family eats from week to week. A really useful tool is found at allrecipes.com. You can search for recipes for free, or you can pay a low membership fee to use all the meal planning features, including phone apps and more. If you prefer a more hands off approach, letting someone else pick the recipes for you, try savingdinner.com for done for you menus. The creator of this site has many tried and tested cookbooks of her own. When you plan your menus do so with full knowledge of your schedule for the week. Get out the calendar and check to see where you will be, where the kids will be, and where your spouse will be. If it’s an especially busy week, you’ll want to plan to cook ahead (freezer cooking), or find 30 minute one pan meals that are nutritious and tasty so that you don’t fall off the menu wagon. If you make it too difficult for yourself it’ll be hard to stick to, and you’ll find that you waste food, upping your over all food bill instead of lowering it. The thing about preparing home cooked meals, whether one pan meals, freezer meals or even ethnic dishes, you control the ingredients. You can adjust any recipe to fit your family’s nutritional needs and dietary requirements. Plus, as long as you steer clear of processed “fake” foods, you’ll ingest less saturated fats, less processed sugars, less chemicals, less hormones, less additives, and you will experience a much healthier lifestyle than if you keep eating out just because you’re busy or unprepared. For anything you do in life, having a plan helps, and that includes planning menus for your family. You don’t go on a trip without mapping out how to get there, or at least enter the information into your Garmin, why would you trust something as important as your family’s nutrition and health to last minute fast food runs? The great thing is, if you make this a regular part of your life, getting other members of the family to help out, all of you will soon look forward to stress free family meals at the dinner table more than the drive through.