Have you ever tried to meal plan but just got overwhelmed? Or maybe you thought you didn’t have time to sit down and plan out all your meals. Maybe your life is so crazy you really don’t know when you’ll be home to eat so what’s the point? Let me introduce myself, “I’m Brigett, Queen of the Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality.”
If you ask my husband, mom, or anyone who knows me very well, if I am good at planning they would probably say, “No, but she’s good at procrastinating.” I have, as far as I can remember, waited until pretty much the last minute to do things. I call it thriving under the pressure of a deadline. They call it procrastination. Truth is I enjoy the thought of planning and being on top of things, but my follow through, well, falls through.
Maybe that’s the rebel in me coming out because I’m pretty organized by nature. At least I was before kids came along. But let’s face it, even the most organized of us can struggle when it comes to meal planning. From not knowing how to meal plan to not having resources to just getting burned out because your free spirit likes to go with the flow. There are so many excuses not to meal plan.
Are you ready to get out of the dinner time rut? I’ve got what you need to start meal planning and get rid of meal prep stress. Despite my track record for procrastination, meal planning is one area I do well and have stuck to pretty consistently, no matter what, for over three years now. Let’s get you equipped to feed your family well and not stress in the process.
Why you should meal plan?
Besides the obvious that it saves time actually prepping and cooking a meal, there are many other reasons to meal plan like eating healthier. When you meal plan you are significantly more likely to eat healthier meals and stay on track with any diet you may be on.
See a snapshot of your diet.
If you have your meals planned you can look over each day or week and see your eating habits as well as if you’re eating a balanced diet. If you are on a certain meal plan, cutting back wheat or grains, or just eating less desserts, you can see at a glance how much of each of those you are consuming. Even if you’re like us and don’t count calories, you can still get a good snapshot of how healthy (or not) you’re eating.
See gaps in your diet.
Not only do you see what you’re eating, you can see what you’re not eating. You may realize that you are eating much less vegetables, healthy fats, fruits, etc. than you thought. And since you’ve planned out your meals you can easily add in more fruits, veggies, fats or whatever to meals as sides or with salads. Maybe you need to just make a colorful salad as your meal and do it more regularly.
Track your longterm diet habits.
One great benefit of having a meal plan is being able to see your long term eating habits and how your diet is improving. I’m not sure why, but after completing a month of meals I just held on to that old plan. And then continued that every month since. Now I have three years of meal plans. I can easily look back at how our eating habits have changed or improved. I can also pull out the current month from a year ago and help fill in this month, or just copy it exactly if needed.
Improve your diet by eating at home.
With meals planned ahead you will also be less likely to eat out. Just think how many times you’ve ran through a drive thru because you knew you had nothing prepped at home and didn’t even have an idea what to fix. If you’re like me, that number would be too high to count. But when I started meal planning every single meal, I was much more willing to eat at home since I knew I had a meal picked out and often already prepped (or ready to eat if it was a slow cooker or Instant Pot meal). Even if I still had to cook when I got home, I now had more incentive, besides saving money and eating healthier. I had my menu. I had all my ingredient. Now, I just had to cook the meal listed for that day.
Save money when you meal plan.
Before I began planning out all our meals, I would have produce go bad, buy multiple items that I already had, and end up needing that one item to complete dinner. It was so frustrating and wasteful! Not only was I wasting food, I was wasting money.
Meal planning can prevent you from buying excess because you only buy what you need, and what you don’t already have. You won’t buy cabbage if you don’t have meals planned that called for cabbage. Not only will you waste less, you’ll spend less too. You only buy what you know you need. This was huge for me. It allowed me to have a little extra to spend on healthier choices and brands or even purchase organic items. All while not going over our budget.
How you should meal plan?
Make a master menu list.
A master menu list is just a list of all the meals your family already loves. And I do mean all. From eggs and toast to that fancy new gluten free chocolate cake, you will want to list every meal you already cook. This is not the actual recipes, just the names of meals. I suggest listing them in some sort of organized manner-breakfast meals together, lunch together, etc. or maybe seasonal foods together-soups and chilis together, fresh summer salads together, etc. But the main point is to just list them. This list will become your best friend on meal plan days. You can keep adding new things as you find new meals you love and you just might be surprised at how many different meals you already enjoy.
Having a master list is vital to meal planning. One of the biggest reasons people don’t meal plan is they get overwhelmed trying to come up with meals for a week or month all at one time. But when you make a master menu, that excuse is no longer valid.
Meal plan for every meal.
When I first began meal planning, I would just plan our dinners and come up with breakfast and lunch on the fly. And even the dinner menu only consisted of just a list of five or six meals for the week. This resulted in many a day of staring into the fridge wondering what I felt like cooking that evening.
I later realized a better way is to meal plan every meal and actually write it down on specific days. This way takes all the thinking out of it. I just look at the menu and do what it says. And since I came up with it, I have the freedom to swap things around if I need to and still have every meal covered.
To make meals even more simple, we always eat leftovers for lunch. When I’m preparing supper, I just make enough to feed us for two meals. We often don’t eat as much for lunch as we would for supper, so this isn’t hard to do. And it usually doesn’t take any extra time to cook larger batches of the same food.
I’ll even separate my husband’s lunch and pack it when I’m cleaning up supper. That’s one less thing to do in the morning. The rest of the leftovers go into the fridge until the next day. Then they are popped into the oven to warm. This makes lunch super quick and easy most days and makes one less meal I have to prep or plan each day.
Meal plan for the same time you grocery shop.
This means that if you buy groceries for a month at a time, meal plan for that whole month. Don’t shop for a month if you only have a week planned out. No matter how many deals you can get. If you buy that twenty pound bag of apples because it’s a great deal, but you don’t plan on eating apples every day that month you just wasted your money and those apples. You will actually save money if you’re only buying what you know your family will eat.
The flip side of this is true as well. If you buy groceries weekly, don’t try to plan out your whole month of meals at once. You will only stress yourself out. Especially if your income isn’t regular from week to week. You may plan a feast for the end of the month, but realize that’s just not in the budget. No sense in having to meal plan twice. I buy groceries every two weeks and that is how I meal plan-for two weeks at a time.
One last thing to remember. On those last couple of days before you grocery shop, your pantry will probably be getting pretty bare. Most produce will be gone or not so fresh. Make sure you take this into account and don’t plan a huge feast of fresh greens and fruit the day before you shop. This is especially true if you don’t shop weekly. (Ask me how I know this. 😉 )
Meal plan for holidays and special occasions.
It’s inevitable that every month there will be a holiday, get together, or vacation that needs to be planned for. When I meal plan each two weeks, I always write in those days first so I don’t forget them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go back to the store for ingredients for a special dish I was expected to take somewhere. At least until I began meal planning. There are still those activities that come up unexpectedly. If I know about them ahead of time, I can plan for them and save a trip to the store. If I don’t know about them, I still have a list of meals I can choose from and possible still save a trip to the store.
Resources to help you meal plan.
When I began to fully meal plan, I tried a few different systems. While they all had their good points, I realized I needed a system that was tailored to fit my needs. That’s when I designed my meal planning system. It contains a printable master menu list, meal plan calendar, weekly menu, and shopping list. I’ve tweaked them little by little and the result is a plan that works.
This system is flexible enough to help the novice get started and the pro planner get more organized. It works if you meal plan for only a week or two at a time or the whole month. And it even has a weekly page. That way if do you plan several weeks to a month at once, you can quickly see the current week and list items to restock. And what system would be complete without a shopping list page? This even works if you have to make several stops to complete your grocery haul.
You can get my system free just for becoming part of my Herb It Up community.
Print it out and make copies for each week or month or laminate and reuse it. I love printing the monthly view each month so I can track our meals. But I’m not a fan of printing weekly things. I just laminate the weekly view and use a dry erase marker to fill in each week. When the next week starts, just erase and reuse.
However you decide to use it, I hope it takes all the stress and excuses out of meal planning. You’ve got the resources, now you are ready to monitor your diet, stay on track, and achieve better health. All while spending and wasting less.
Until next time,
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