Meal planning can be intimidating. Whether your goal is weight loss or to better organize your day, I’ve come up with a few tips to help you figure out what works best for your lifestyle.
I struggled most with the commitment aspect of it in the beginning. How on Earth could I know what I wanted to eat for dinner next week? The secret here is that the simplicity of already knowing what is on the menu narrows down your options. You have a choice of what you planned, what’s in your pantry, and you don’t have the entire internet worth of recipes to choose from anymore.
They’ve studied this phenomenon, it’s called decision fatigue -when you have a million things to choose from, it’s harder to make that choice. When you have one week of meals planned, that’s seven meals you can choose. If you don’t feel like making what you planned, it’s okay to swap days around! You’ll find you do it less the more you meal plan, though.
It’s soo much less stressful for me to know what’s for dinner, make the dinner and be done with it. My grocery shopping is done, no running to the store for last minute items, and ultimately more time spent with my family. Or bubble baths…
First thing’s first, you must assess your abilities. When I first started meal planning, I literally thought meat sauce with spaghetti was an accomplishment (sometimes it still is) and if I’m being real here, my first meal plans consisted of sauce with different types of pasta at least three times a week.
If this is you, that’s perfectly okay! If you’ve been cooking for longer or are naturally a gifted chef, you can get a little bit more complicated. Whatever your speed, choose recipes that are attainable and fit your lifestyle and schedule.
Making a master list of your favs is also a good idea.
The way I usually plan, I pick recipes for two weeks. Payday to payday, mostly so I have fewer trips to the grocery store. I write a list of days of the week- FSSMTWTFSSMTWTF
I break those days down into the “type” of day they are:
O– days hubby is off work, we cook together and don’t need leftovers for his lunch
W– days he works and needs lunches and I’m mainly on my own as far as cooking
V– days I volunteer and he cooks, and I usually need leftovers for my lunch
This way I know what days I’ll need to cook meals with enough leftovers, and which I don’t.. basically.
Figure out your “type” of days (you can have more than three!) and what types of meals fit in best. Maybe you have a recurring activity each week where you don’t have time to cook and those can be your crock pot “set it and forget it” meals. Or you can even plan to eat out. It’s your life, you know it best. Observing dinner trends in a journal may seem obsessive but it really helped me recognize my patterns in the beginning.
When I write out my meal plan, I include the day of the week, the type of day, the meal itself, the protein, and the carb/starch (it’s not dinner if it doesn’t have both, according to my husband)
I do this for a couple reasons, one being that it makes writing out my grocery list easier if I know that six meals include chicken breast, three are ground turkey, five are beans, etc… but also because I make my own tortillas, buns, bread, dinner rolls, and need to know what needs to be made ahead of time. You may not need to be that specific, but it really does make the grocery list a little easier to plan out if you know what you are going to be using.
I have a lot to say about grocery lists and grocery shopping, but I’m going to make a separate post about that!
The reason I’m mainly focusing on dinner is because that’s the meal most people actually cook for, and is the best way to ease yourself into a schedule. Starting out planning breakfast lunch and dinner can be a bit overwhelming or hard to stick to, and that’s where I made my first few mistakes.
I keep toddler-friendly breakfast and lunches on hand, like quick grab and go kind of things because that’s easiest for me, and I end up just eating her scraps anyways (like the apples left to wilt with literally half a bite taken out)
So you’ve found your recipes, figured out what day you’re most likely to cook and eat those recipes, wrote them on your calendar, got your groceries and are moving and grooving through life. Dinner time comes around and you realize that agreeing to make lasagna noodles by hand for tonight’s lasagna isn’t going to be in the cards today.. What do you do?
You’ve got a few options. You can swap meals with another day you’ve planned for. This always drives me crazy, I don’t know why I just don’t like to swap days. My favorite solution for this is to find another way to use the ingredients in the meal you planned for. You can turn that lasagna into some other kind of pasta dish. Get creative, maybe throw some balsamic vinegar into the sauce, slap some ricotta on top and you’ve got yourself a really tasty experiment that no one knows wasn’t planned!
Once, I planned for a chicken and squash casserole only to find out that my squash went bad. I live a ways from the grocery store, so I had to get creative. I threw some rice in the rice cooker with a little broth and soy sauce, and there you go, chicken and rice! Getting creative with food is half the fun of cooking. Something I never understood until I (reluctantly) started cooking full meals every day!
This is the video that popped up on my subscription feed that really inspired me to get more serious about my meal plan and she has a lot of great tips as well! She’s great, I watch every video she puts out no matter what it’s about.
There is no one solution to the perfect meal plan, no micromanaged checklist that I could ever come up with will ever be perfect for you. You’ve got to just do it! Trial and error, and learning from mistakes (we call mistakes ‘experiments’ in our house) is how you learn!
As long as you learn something every time you burn dinner or try to thaw chicken in the microwave and end up cooking it (and then crying and having to throw it all away) then all hope is not lost!
I just know that there is an organized brilliant genius chef inside everyone and I want to help find them! I believe in you!
I would really love to read about all your meal planning or prep fails or triumphs in the comments, I’m really interested in learning where everyone is coming from on the subject and keep the learning going!
Hope to hear from you guys! Thanks!