Let’s talk about meal planning! It’s all the rage with organized people, especially busy moms, because let’s face it, food doesn’t buy, grow or cook itself, (most of the time anyway 😉 ) and if you are running a busy household and want your family to eat REAL home cooked (mostly from scratch) food, meal planning is one of the best things you can implement to make your simple healthy lifestyle easier.
HERE IS WHY MEAL PLANNING IS SO AWESOME…
- SAVES TIME –
Because seriously, who doesn’t want more time? A few extra minutes on Sunday could save you hours over the course of the week. How? Because all your ducks are in a row. You’ll know what you are making and will already have the ingredients. No time wasted staring into the fridge wondering what to cook or frantic unplanned trips to the store for a missing ingredient.
- SAVES MONEY –
Cooking from scratch is a classic, no brainer, way to save money. The more you cook from scratch at home, the more money you save. Meal planning helps eliminate the need for expensive convenience foods, especially those impulsive nights when it’s just easier to eat out or pick up something from a drive-thru. If you plan your meals around what is on sale at the store it’s a double win because you are saving money on your groceries too.
- CREATES LESS WASTE –
Less waste also ties in with saving money, because obviously, if you buy something and then throw it away because it spoiled before you got around to using it, you might as well have thrown the money you spent on it in the trash, right? Wasted food IS wasted money, but it is also an environmental hazard. Food waste is a really big problem, especially in the USA. People are starving and literally TONS of food are thrown into landfills daily.(If you like documentaries there is an incredibly eye-opening one called “Just Eat It” that is all about food waste. I was mesmerized by this! Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story It’s available to stream free with Amazon Prime. Don’t have Prime? Here’s a free trial 🙂 Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial)
- EAT HEALTHIER –
Just like cooking from scratch saves money, it also is much much MUCH healthier! Meal planning will allow you to use all the amazing bounties from your garden, CSA or farmer’s market ( or grocery store if it’s winter) for the freshest healthiest meals. Convenience foods are full of chemical and artificial preservatives, colors, sweeteners, unhealthy fats, GMO’s and sodium. That is NOT real food and it is NOT healthy. Cooking from scratch takes practice and planning. Start with planning your meals and soon cooking and healthy eating will be easy peasy.
- LESS STRESS –
So, if a few extra minutes of planning will save you time, money, create less waste and allow you to eat healthier, naturally your week will be more peaceful and automatically less stressful. We have enough stress in our daily lives and for that reason, I can’t recommend meal planning more.
THE BASIC MEAL PLAN STRATEGY
- Pick a day –
This day will be your meal planning day for the week (or two weeks or month) and make sure it coordinates with the day you do your grocery shopping. Plan your meals before you shop.
- Inventory –
Check your refrigerator, pantry, and freezer and see what you already have that you can use in your meals.
- Check for sales –
If you have a favorite grocery store, check what they have on sale for that week and incorporate it into your meal plan. Most stores have sales flyers in the Sunday paper or mobile apps with their sales listed.
- Use cookbooks –
Grab your favorite cookbooks (Here’s my favorite!) or print recipes from your favorite blog (hint hint 😉 ) Look for recipes that use the items you already have and that also use the on sale items, then select your meals.
- Post your meal plan –
List your meals by day and post them somewhere in your kitchen (Fridge is the easiest). You can reference your list easily so if any prep needs to be done (like taking something out of the freezer to thaw) you won’t forget to do it.
- Shopping list –
Based on your meal plan, list all the additional things you will need to buy in order to make your meals.
MY TOP MEAL PLANNING TIPS…
- Use a printable form-
The best thing I ever did to be more consistent with meal planning was to use a printable form. Here is a pic of the one that I developed and use.
I have this printable available for you too! It’s included in “Your Complete Guide to Quick and Simple Clean Eating” This is a free download which includes an 11-page clean eating guide, printable recipes, and the printable meal planner. Check out more info and get access to your copy HERE!
- Plan meals based on your activities schedule –
The form includes a spot to record activities that will be happening on certain days. This way you can make sure you are planning your meals according to how much time you will have to dedicate towards your meals. Busy nights might benefit from a crockpot meal, where a lazy Sunday might be a good day for roasted chicken with mashed potatoes.
- Keep your grocery list posted –
The form also dedicates a large area for your grocery list. When I’m making a meal plan, any items that I know I need to buy will go right onto this list. I keep this list posted so if we are running low on something like toilet paper or peanut butter, I (or other family members) can easily add it to the list as needed. This way my shopping list is all in one place.
- Try new recipes –
When I know I’ll be having a not so busy week, I try to plan new recipes into my meal schedule. This way you won’t feel like you are eating the same seven meals every week. TIP: Write which cookbook and the page number for the recipe right onto your menu.
WHAT TYPE OF MEAL PLANNER ARE YOU…
Now you know the basic meal plan strategy. So, how do you utilize this the best way for YOU? Let’s take a quick one question quiz.
Which answer best describes you….
A. You are a true planner and are always organized. All your t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. Nothing goes unplanned.
B. You like to plan ahead and be organized, and most of the time you are, but sometimes life happens and it’s easy to lose motivation and take short cuts.
C. You are a free spirit and you fly by the seat of your pants. You get things done, most of the time, and you want all the benefits of planning ahead, but it seems like a skill that is far from achievable.
THE BEST WAY TO MEAL PLAN FOR YOU…
- TYPE A –
You are a natural planner and you thrive on keeping a schedule. If you don’t already meal plan, now is the time to start. Select the day of the week you want to do your meal planning and grocery shopping and schedule it into your calendar with a reminder.
Start with one week at a time and work your way up to two weeks or a month at a time. Once you have the hang of it, you might consider adding in a breakfast and/or a lunch meal plan as well.
If you get to the ultimate GOLD medal level of meal planning where you are planning all three meals for a month at a time I swear you must be a saint. 🙂
TIP: Try keeping a master inventory list of your freezer and pantry. This makes it easier to use things up from oldest to newest and make sure nothing is wasted.
- TYPE B –
(I am definitely in this category) Follow the meal planning strategy for only one week at a time. The goal is to not get overwhelmed and to not lose your motivation. Pick a day that will work for you to plan your meals. Try not to grocery shop the same day. This gives you time to make adjustments to your plan if necessary.
Have a couple easy backup meals (For us it’s tacos) that don’t involve much prep or planning and are meals you always have the ingredients for on hand. This way when Life happens you have a backup plan.
TIP: Make double batches of meals and freeze for quick backup meals or lunches. Soups and Chili work great for this.
- TYPE C –
You might be on the fence about meal planning. Since you are reading this you must be considering it so here are some methods that will work best for the non-planners.
Use the same meal plan strategy but start out only planning for a portion of the week. Whatever way works best for you. Maybe start out only planning meals for weeknights, or only weekends, or only on days you know you will have time. Aim for 3-4 days.
TIP: Designate a night for “Left-Overs”. (Many of the tips from Type B planners will also apply to you.)
Only plan the protein portion of your meal. If the main focus of your meal is the protein and you at least have that planned you are more than half way there. If the meat is purchased and/or thawed out on a planned day it can be quickly sauteed or grilled and paired with whole wheat pasta and a vegetable from your freezer. Half way planned is a giant step up from zero plan.
Still struggling to stick to it? Then try to recruit help. Older kids and husbands can definitely take on some cooking and planning responsibilities, especially if you are a working mama. If you are not a planner, maybe someone in your house is and is willing to take on the challenge, or at least help you to follow through.
That was A LOT of information!! That being said, now you should have all the motivation, tools, and tips to meal plan the absolute best way for you! I love helping people achieve a healthy lifestyle so if you have any questions or have more helpful tips to add please comment below!
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