Keepin’ it Simple Meal Planning
With spring around the corner (hopefully), the nicer weather is drawing us outside and adding more evening activities to our schedules. While being outside is lovely, it usually means that we have less time to prepare dinner. This leaves the nagging question popping in your head at 5 o’clock – “What are we having for dinner?”
Meal planning and prepping has been all the rage on Pinterest for years now, so this concept is no surprise to many people. Despite the amount of attention it has received, it can still be a difficult concept to master and regularly integrate into your life. I believe this is mostly because we assume there is a one-size-fits-all approach and get intimidated by people’s pictures of ridiculously clean, organized fridges with color-coded tupperware containers. While it looks lovely, it isn’t realistic for people that don’t want to spend a bazillion hours in the kitchen. Instead, I urge you to keep it simple and find what works best for you. I’m going to offer multiple strategies below, but that doesn’t mean you have to try everything. If something catches your eye, try it. If not, don’t. You do you.
When I first began meal planning, I only planned my dinners. I was in grad school, so I had a more flexible schedule when it came to breakfast and lunch. Eventually, I realized that life would be a lot easier if I also had a plan for breakfast and lunch. Since I already had the hang of planning dinner, adding two more meals wasn’t that overwhelming. It would have been too much to start planning all 3 meals in the beginning though.
Find a method that works for you.
I go back and forth between writing everything down and using Google Drive to record our meal plans. I created a template that I insert the meals, sale items and grocery list into weekly. I like the Google Drive method, because I can access it from my phone for grocery shopping. I’ve also had way fewer “Crap I forgot the list moments!” since I started using this method. It can also be fun to involve friends and family by creating a shared meal plan folder. Life is much easier when we create community!
Look at your schedule.
The first thing I do is check our schedule for the following week and plan our meals around our lives. It seems intuitive, but I didn’t do this when I first started and there were multiple times I would have a lengthy recipe planned for a night when I didn’t get home until 8pm. It was not ideal.
Shop your kitchen first.
I despise throwing food away and buying food that I already have, so I always scan our pantry, fridge and freezer before writing down the items I need to buy from the store. I try to plan my meals around these ingredients, rather than picking a meal that requires that I buy tons of new ingredients. This helps save money and reduces food waste.
Set a budget.
I love grocery shopping and could easily do some serious damage and spend countless hours perusing the aisles. However, I also enjoy saving money, so I go into the store knowing how much I want to spend.
Choose your meals.
This is likely the most difficult and time consuming part of meal planning. You could easily spend hours looking up recipes, but I urge you to not go down that rabbit hole. Instead, try some of these tips:
Make a bigger, versatile meal on Sunday and/or Monday. My cooking motivation is at its peak during the beginning of the week, so I try to make bigger meals that give us lots of leftovers I can use for lunches or in other meals throughout the week. It usually involves some sort of meat, a plethora of roasted or grilled veggies, potatoes or a grain.
Theme a night. Let’s be real, sometimes you just get tired of meal planning. We’ve found that having a themed night makes the process more exciting. We go through different phases and are currently on “Restaurant Meals” (Kevin’s idea). Once a week we are trying to recreate our favorite restaurant meals at home. This is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and learn new cooking techniques! I included an example of a themed menu template below.
Sunday = Roast chicken night
Monday = Salad night
Tuesday = Taco night
Wednesday = Breakfast for dinner night
Thursday = Soup night
Friday = Pizza night
Saturday = Leftovers/Get rid of food that’s going to go bad night
Know your tendencies.
By the time Thursday night rolls around, I could really care less about making some fabulous meal. I want to be in and out of the kitchen in 20-30 minutes. I’ve learned to only plan very simple meals like salads, omelettes, sandwiches, etc. on Thursday nights. If I had something extravagant planned, we would likely end up getting takeout.
Choose 1-2 flexible meals. Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes whatever you planned just doesn’t sound good or something comes up last minute that doesn’t allow you to prepare dinner. I like having 1-2 flexible meals that I can push to the next week without worrying about the ingredients going bad.
For me, this is the most enjoyable part of the whole process. The important part here is to stick to your list. It is so easy to throw that random item in the cart that you don’t really need. Doing this multiple times will lead to me blowing the grocery budget. My strategy to combat this is to do one lap around the store only getting the items on my list, then I allow myself to go back and get those spontaneous items. Usually, my basket is so full at this point and my arm feels like it is going to fall off, so I just decide to go checkout. (Side note- Use a basket if you are only shopping for 1 or 2 people. You will buy less and get an arm workout). Another option is getting your groceries delivered! By getting your groceries delivered, you reduce the likelihood of having impulse purchases and you save time for other activities that you might actually enjoy doing. Some of my favorite grocery delivery services are Imperfect Produce and Butcher Box.
Give Yourself Some Grace.
I don’t think there has ever been a week when our meals went 100% according to the plan. Sometimes I forget to buy something at the store and we have to improvise, or something comes up last minute and we have to make something else. It’s life! So, I urge you to give yourself some grace and know that it’s ok if your meal plan doesn’t work out perfectly. Use each week as a learning experience to identify what you can change in the future and try to accept that we can’t control everything. Life happens.
Do you have a meal planning strategy that works well for you and your family? Share below!