I love sharing my 7 day healthy meal plans with you, and many people have reached out to ask me how I meal plan so I thought it was about time that I wrote a post explaining how to meal plan!
There really is more than one “right” way to meal plan, and it all starts on what your goals are with meal planning.
Are you meal planning…
… to eliminate or reduce take-out, delivery, or restaurant meals?
… to increase balance, or healthy options?
… to help your budget?
… to make less decisions throughout the day and be more organized?
Whatever your reason(s) for meal planning, they are going to effect what strategies you employ to create a meal plan that works for you and your family.
For example, if your goal is to cut down on food waste, you’re going to prioritize what you already have on hand and try to be creative with those items.
If you are trying to budget, you’re going to potentially shop the sales and look for creative meals using frugal ingredients.
Know What You Need
- Look at Your Schedule
- Check the weather
- Outline your needs
Take a look at your schedule and assess how many meals you need, and what kind of meals are practical for you. Are there some nights that will work better if you have a crockpot meal planned? Do you have time for that elaborate two-hour recipe that you have pinned?
Look for nights that have other obligations, or are typically hairy nights for your family’s routine. For us, Monday nights are rough so I always plan to use left-overs from Sunday’s supper.
Even on nights that you won’t be able to stop off at home to pick up a prepared meal, you can still avoid take-out by investing in a cooler or a portable crockpot. I personally don’t have a problem with planning to use take-out meals occassionally, but it is different when you plan on it versus having to resort to take-out from sheer desperation, and if you’re thinking about take-out in advance you’re more likely to plan for balanced choices. I personally love hitting up the deli counter at a grocery store, and often you can pay at the counter rather than get into a cashier line.
Also, if you’re meal planning for health or dietary reasons, write those out and keep them in mind while meal planning. Schedule in the difficult items first to ensure that they are covered.
Consider a System
Do you want to have a new plan every week?
Do you like having “themes” for each day to have structured variety? (I.e., Soup Saturdays? Fish Fridays?)
Would you prefer to have a set menu that cycles throughout the month?
Would you prefer to have a list of meals that your groceries can make and pick what appeals to you on any given day?
Also, where do you want your meal inspiration to come from? Do you have several stand-bys that you like to use? Are you a Pinterest fanatic like me? Do you like to go with what’s seasonal (and possibly on sale)? Or, are you a cookbook lover?
(Meal) Plan It Out!
Based on what was discussed above, follow these basic steps to get started:
- Write down what types of meals you need (i.e., “one soup, one fish dish, etc” OR “one quick meal before hockey, one large family meal with leftovers on the weekend”)
- Go through your cupboards and fridge and figure out what that can be used for, or if one or two extra ingredients can form what you already have into a meal
- Grab your recipe box, your computer, your flyers — whatever it is that you are using for inspiration — and start slotting meals in. Keep in mind the preparation needed, how big the servings will be (will you have planned leftovers? will you need side dishes?), and what you’ll do if a new recipe fails.
- Keep an ongoing list of needed grocery items as you go through recipes and add them to that week (or month’s) meal plan. Double check it.
- After grocery shopping, reevaluate and make any necessary changes before posting your meal plan. You can set phone alerts, post it to the fridge, or hide it in a cupboard. Just make sure it’s written down and accessible.
Stick With It
As you go through your first few weeks of meal planning, be aware of what you are struggling with, and re-evaluate what works for you.
Trouble-shoot your problem areas, for example, maybe you can prepare several ingredients or snacks right after grocery shopping to save on prep time throughout the week. Maybe you overestimate how much food your family consumes in a week and have been overbuying, leading to food waste.
At first, meal planning can seem time consuming, and the initial time investment of figuring out your system and making weekly plans can seem that way, but I guarantee you that in the long term you will save time and be happier with the food that you are preparing and eating.
Rather than think about what we’re going to eat at every meal time, I plan things out once per week and look forward to the upcoming meals knowing that all of my ingredients are assembled and waiting. I don’t worry during the week about a lack of balance as I’ve already thought that through. I get to have fun making food for my family, rather than stress if I’ll have it done in time.
And most of all, I’m proud of the food that I set in front of my daughter every mealtime, knowing that I have developed a nourishing diet and lifestyle for our family through sustainable meal planning.
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