As far as healthy habits go, I have found that meal planning is the single most effective way for me to accomplish many goals all at once… a solid meal plan helps me feed my family healthy food, eliminates the stress of not knowing what to cook, and keeps me on budget, while virtually eliminating food waste.
It really is remarkable how much one little meal plan can do. And yet, many times I still struggle to get myself to actually sit down and do a meal plan. In the moment, the effort of actually deciding what to cook and planning what groceries I need to do that just doesn’t seem worth it. Come the end of the month, however, when I am significantly over our grocery budget, throwing out moldering items from the back of my fridge, and in despair because I’ve fed my kids nothing but grilled cheese for the third day in a row, doing up a meal plan doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.
So please know, if you are struggling to do meal-planning and find it a chore even though you know it can be really helpful, you are not alone! The following are a few of my top tips that I’ve found help me with meal planning, and I hope they’ll provide some encouragement and inspiration for you as well
Plan With Humility
I’ve realized that when it comes to my kitchen, I often suffer from delusions of grandeur. I confess I was guilty of filling my planner with delicious, gourmet meals that usually involved multiple shopping stops to acquire the necessary ingredients and would take a significant chunk of time to prepare.
I would dearly love to be a Gordon Ramsay and astonish my friends and family with culinary masterpieces night after night. However, with two toddlers and a baby underfoot, and their tastebuds to account for, I have learned to scale back on my grandiose aspirations. Perhaps that made-from-scratch 7-cheese ravioli can appear on my table when my kids are teenagers, or I can make those beef tourtieres for a special occasion when I have someone around to watch the kids and can focus all my attention on the kitchen.
For the regular weeknight, however, I have now finally acknowledged that things like one-pot meals, casseroles, and simple recipes are the way to go. I’ve also realized that even the best-laid plans can go completely sideways, so I keep some very fast emergency backup meals on hand to cook as a Plan B if necessary rather than resorting to ordering takeout after everything goes south.
Don’t Forget the Snacks
Another key component of my meal plans that I’ve learned to include is snacks. Everyone with little kids knows how important snacks are for helping to keep little ones cheerful and full of energy. I’ve also realized, however, after spending the better part of the last three years pregnant and/or breastfeeding, that I need my snacks too!
Planning a basic morning and afternoon snack along with my meals has really helped me to make the snacks in my home healthy as well as convenient. When I know I have veggies all ready and cut up in the fridge, and those yummy little single-serve containers of hummus, it’s much easier for me to say no to the cookies. When I have little packages of freeze-dried Snackies ready to grab out of my pantry, I know that at least one serving of fruits and veggies can be checked off the list with no effort whatsoever on my part.
Routine is your Friend
Embracing routine goes hand in hand with humility for me. When I realized that I didn’t have to cook something different or new recipes every single day, that I could serve my husband beef tacos every other week, and he would be beyond thrilled, it was a lightbulb moment for me. Rather than reinventing the wheel every single meal plan, I now have a rotation system where I cook our favourite meals 1-2 times each month, sub in a new recipe once or twice in a month, and stick with a system that works to use up leftovers effectively.
I literally never create another new meal plan (although if we ever get bored, I totally could spice up the rotation with minimal effort).
I find it so helpful to just know that when I roast those chickens on Sunday, I’m automatically going to make soup the next day, use sliced chicken breast to make sandwiches for my husband’s lunches, and use up the leftovers in chicken pot pie. I make a double-batch of pastry (while my husband plays with the kids)for that Sunday night apple pie, and then voila! When it comes to making the pot pies for dinner on Thursday, I’m already more than half-way there and can whip them up quickly without any hungry meltdowns!
Little habits like that have saved me the effort of even thinking about dinner anymore because I know exactly what I’m doing for the week. It also makes grocery shopping a breeze…I have pre-made lists that correspond with each two-week rotation, so all I need to do is scratch off whatever I might still have on hand, add in any little extras for any new recipes I’m subbing in, and I’m done. I keep an inventory of all my standard freeze-dried ingredients on hand as well, and then stock up on monthly sale items so that I’m almost never paying full price but I always have on hand what I need for effortless meal prep and snacks. Less shopping trips, less impulse buying, less money spent!
The Full Meal Deal…
I hope these tips have served as a helpful jumping-off point for you. Meal planning has been such a key to simplifying my kitchen, I really hope it will be for you too!
Want to go deeper? Check out my free Meal Planning Worksheet! [download_after_email id=”575″]
Do you have a love-hate relationship with meal planning? Never done a meal plan? A planning pro? Let me know, and share your tips and comments below!