Some people love meal planning, some people hate it. Whether you like it or not, it can be really helpful for your budget, your time management and your sanity as a parent, spouse, friend, coworker, EVERY HAT YOU WEAR all week long.
The one program that has by far helped me with MEAL PLANNING and started me on this amazing habit, is the 21 DAY FIX.
Everyone goes about meal planning a little differently, but this is how I set myself up for success before the actual “meal-planning” time begins.
1. Know your budget. You can’t know what ingredients you can afford to buy unless you know what you have to spend. I use my debit card, try to coupon when I can and shop at ALDI for mostly EVERYTHING.
2. Know your schedule. You can plan a menu for a full month, two weeks, a week, or even a few days. Do what seems most convenient for you and your family. (I usually plan for about just a week.) I look at the week ahead to see what’s on our schedule and plan our meals around those after school activities. If we have a busy night, I usually plan a crockpot meal or something very easy to throw together or I even prep the meal during the day and utilize my “delay start” feature on my over. If we plan to be home all day, I might make more ambitious meals.
3. Know what’s in your fridge. Most of us are lucky enough to keep a well-stocked fridge, freezer and pantry. I have a 2nd fridge in my garage that I LOVE!!! I’m not sure I could live without it at this point. Take stock of what you already have and build your first few meals around items that need to be used up. This is a great way to save money and use up food you already have. And, don’t forget what you have in that FREEZER. Hopefully nothing too scarey.
4. Know your culinary limits. Not everyone enjoys cooking, and that’s okay. Meal planning doesn’t have to mean elaborate, gourmet meals every night. But you can prepare a meal if you have things prepared and a plan in place. For those nights that there isn’t time to do this, have something simple to zap in the microwave. The important part is that you’ve planned ahead and you’re prepared to feed your family without scrambling around at the last minute.
5. Know where you can shop. There are tons of choices for grocery shopping- traditional and specialty grocery stores, farmers’ markets, co-ops, online retailers and bulk food stores. Don’t let them overwhelm you- use them to your advantage. Find out where you can get the best deals on your staple foods and plan accordingly. For example, I buy some bulk item at BJ’s, so I build that into our budget every few months. But I get mostly everything else at ALDI!
6. Keep a recipe stash. This makes the actual planning portion go a lot faster. Whether you keep a physical stash of magazine clippings, a Pinterest board or a simple written list, it’s a good idea to have your favorite recipes on standby. Make a little binder of all your faves! That way you don’t have to find all new recipes every time you sit down to plan.
7. Don’t forget breakfast, lunch and snacks. If you spend all your time focusing on dinner plans, you might forget that you have to feed your family a few other times a day as well! If you don’t plan for these meals, you can end up spending extra money eating out or buying expensive convenience foods. You can plan each individual meal and snack or just buy basics that you know will work (ie eggs for breakfast, bread for sandwiches at lunch, fruit for snacks, etc).
8. Set aside specific time for planning and shopping. Make a checklist of the usual things you prepare that helps you get through the week. Use this when you plan and go shopping……ALONE if you can. Maybe your children are all angels when you sit down to make plans, but mine surely are not! I like to set aside special, quiet, kid-less time to plan our meals. It makes the task much more enjoyable and helps me to think clearly. If you like to get your shopping done alone, set aside that time, too. I take advantage of my husband being home on Sunday, and sneak to the store alone! Love this time by myself!
9. Plan it out. Find a plan that you like and fill it out! There are tons of free printables online. Just search “meal plan printable” on Google or Pinterest and you’ll get tons of results. Try this weekly one that I created for my 21 day fix challengers.
10. Give yourself a break when it doesn’t work out. Relax! It takes a little while to get in the swing of meal planning. It is easier in some seasons of life than in others, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t find the time to plan or if you hit some bumps along the way. Just try again whenever you’re ready. I find that sometimes I have to do more meal prep in the middle of the week, if we run out of main items like chicken, ground turkey or my fave breakfast item, EGG MINIS! And if you have a day where you have nothing in the house, run to the grocery and make smart choices. It’s amazing what you can throw together with a rotisserie chicken, a bag of salad and a bag of instant Brown rice! YUM!!!
Good luck and happy MEAL PLANNING!