It’s the single most important thing you can do to save time, money, and stress when it comes to healthy eating…meal planning!
Why is meal planning important?
Getting organized and having a plan for meals makes reaching your nutrition goals so much easier. I know from experience that on the weeks I don’t plan we’re eating pasta four times (with jarred sauce), or picking up a grocery store pizza. My vegetable intake suffers too when I don’t plan, because I might not have a quick veggie dish on hand if I didn’t buy the right ingredients at the store. Thinking ahead about what you’re going to cook helps you eat better because you’re not throwing something together on the fly when you and your family are staaaarving at the end of the day (because who really wants broccoli when they’re at a 1 on the hunger scale?) But a lot of people don’t know where to start when it comes to actually putting a plan together.
So here’s my step-by-step guide for getting organized and creating a meal plan for your family. We grocery shop on the weekends, so over brunch on Sunday (or even in the 15 minutes before we head to the store) I’ll sit down and make my plan. It really doesn’t take long, and is great for getting the whole family involved in the meal planning process.
Step 1: Scheduling
Take a look at the calendar for the week. Who’s working late, who has activities in the evening? How much time can you spend making a meal on any given night? If one parent is shuttling kids around, maybe the other one can have dinner ready when everyone gets home. Do you need to make enough so there’s leftovers for lunches? If there is ZERO TIME to cook one evening, then planned leftovers or a slow cooker meal will save the day. Knowing what the week looks like ahead of time is key for keeping the plan realistic. Don’t plan to make an intricate from-scratch meal if you have only 30 minutes to get dinner together. Save those meals for a less busy evening or the weekends.
Step 2: Look in the fridge! (And freezer, and pantry!)
What do you have on hand that should probably be used up?
Got some peppers going soft in the fridge? Maybe some fajitas or stuffed peppers would be a tasty choice👌🌶 Make a list of what you already have- you can save a lot of money and waste just by getting creative with what you’ve already bought!
Step 3: Make your meal plan
This can be the hard part- what do I want for dinner? We all have our favorites in the recipe rotation, but things can get a bit blah after awhile of the same old. If we want to get out of a rut of eating the same old things week after week, I just pull out my Pinterest app (or cookbooks if you’re old school!) and take a look at all the recipes I’ve saved. I’ll always find something worth getting excited about. Pay special attention to new vegetable dishes- making veggies in delicious creative ways ensures you and your kids will actually eat them!
You can check out my Pinterest Boards for some new meal inspiration (www.pinterest.ca/stephhnatiuk)!
After you’ve made the meal plan itself, create your grocery list. Make sure you get everything you need to make all your awesome meals!
*Pro Tip* Pick meal ideas that will get you EXCITED about cooking and eating dinner at home. If you plan ideas that are ‘meh’, that’s probably going to be your attitude toward cooking, which means you’ll be more likely to say “screw it”, and pick up takeout.
Step 4: Write it all down!
Now that you have your plan made, make sure you have a place to communicate the plan to the family. We keep a white board in the kitchen for this purpose. You can also write down WHO’S cooking each evening so they know it’s their job (teenage kids can definitely take on some of this role too!)
Step 5: Cook!
Commit to actually following the plan you spent time creating. At the end of the week before starting next week’s plan, think about what worked and what didn’t the week before. Did you underestimate the time it would take to make certain things? Was there a particular dish that was a big hit with the kids? Keep track of some of your Dinner Winners for the next time you’re stuck for ideas. This is where apps like Pinterest can come in super handy- just create a board of things you’ve actually made that you want to remember. There are so many recipes out there you can’t count on finding the right one again!
*Bonus tip* I like to multi-task whenever I can in the kitchen. So for example if on Tuesday I’m cooking dinner and have something in the oven for 30 minutes, I’ll spend that 30 minutes getting the next night’s slow cooker meal ready if that’s what we’re planning. I throw all the ingredients in the slow cooker pot, and stick that in the fridge overnight. All I have to do in the morning is take it out of the fridge and turn the slow cooker on. Finding small efficiencies wherever possible adds up to being able to pull off a tasty, nutritious meal with almost no extra effort.
Meal planning is a skill, and it can take time to learn. I’ve developed my abilities over years of working crazy hours and getting home well into the evening. If you’re new to meal planning, or trying to nail down a whole week in advance is overwhelming for you, start small! Plan 2 or 3 nights, and don’t worry about the rest for now. As you get better at it you’ll be able to whip up an amazing plan in no time.
Need more help with your weekly meal plans? Contact me!