Meal Planning… it almost makes you break out in hives thinking about it, right? Where do you start and how can you make meal planning successful? Does meal planning even matter? Or maybe you meal plan but you have trouble sticking with the plan?
These may sound familiar to you or you may have other challenges with meal planning. I want to share with you that I believe you can meal plan. And it is going to actually simplify your life and make meals and snacks a whole lot easier. There is a little learning curve to the art of meal planning, but you will get it.
What are the benefits of meal planning?
- Stick to your food budget because you plan your meals out
- Have a plan for each meal of the week which ultimately saves you time
- Saves the headache of wondering what’s for dinner
- Can prep early in the week for the meals throughout the week which can save you time each day
- Saves money by not going out to eat
- Can eat healthier and more balanced meals by planning and following the plan
Did you know that meal planning is actually faster and cheaper than takeout or another type of fast food. A bonus is that it’s healthier too.
In fact, according to the new World News “Real Money” poll, two out of three people believe that they are spending too much on food. But is fast food really faster?
ABC News asked Bradley Herron, executive chef of The Genuine Hospitality Group and currently at the Miami hotspot Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, to cook up a little “Real Money” challenge.
Herron whipped up dinner with Evelyn Molina while ABC News hit the Molinas’ favorite drive-thru Pollo Tropical, three miles away with husband Nick Molina. The mission: Determine which is faster – home-cooked dinner or fast food.
Nick Molina clocked in at 31 minutes while Evelyn Molina clocked in at 22 minutes. And the cost: $22 for the drive-thru and $12 for the home-cooked meal.
“I underestimated the amount of time I actually spend to go pick something up. My mind said it was 15 minutes but really it was double that. And turns out I spent more money than they did,” Nick Molina said.
Going out to eat: You have no idea the ingredients, nutrient content and ingredient quality. You also can be less mindful of your meals and what you eat because you may not be paying attention or order more because the menu looks so good. Plus, you have to pay for a tip, which increases the cost of the meal.
Cooking at home: You know the ingredients, quality, quantity and can make more nutrient dense meals. You can increase the vegetables or fat. You can have healthy dessert (which is nearly impossible by going out to eat). It is definitely cheaper and faster as we saw in the ABC News experiment above. Plus, you can really be mindful of the preparation process and enjoying the meal made, which increases overall satiety.
What if I can’t cook?
I will quote my grandma Shogren on this. She always said “If you can read, you can cook”. And I stand behind her on that one. That doesn’t mean that there is no skill to cooking or you can’t learn new techniques. It means you are capable and with a heart ready to learn, you will be kitchen savvy in no time.
We live in a time where information is easily accessible. That is a benefit when you want to learn to cook. There are cooking shows on TV, programs on the internet, blogs (lots of amazing blogs) and don’t forget about your friends. If I have friends that want to learn how to cook healthy, I am happy to teach them. Just ask for help, don’t be afraid to experiment and sooner or later you will be able to get some amazing meals on the table. I didn’t say gourmet meals. I don’t cook gourmet and don’t plan to in the future. I get healthy, balanced, quick, easy and delicious meals on our table and they totally hit the spot.
How to Meal Plan
Choose a day to meal plan. The best time is end of one week (and plan for the next week) or the beginning of the current week. I personally plan on Sunday Mornings. They are a quiet morning around our house. We have church on Friday nights and small group on Sunday night, which makes our Sunday mornings the perfect time to get some things done around the house. Meal planning is something on my list
Find your favorite places to find recipes. I personally love Pinterest. It’s my #1 go-to for meal planning because I’m a visual person and want to see the recipes I will be making. I also love that I can search by ingredients or type of food. I am not a recipe follower so sometimes I just see a picture and already know how to put the meal together. That works for me. Another way would be to keep a list of links or Pinterest board of ideas throughout the week. You could also flip through your favorite cookbooks. There’s no rule of where to find the recipes, find what works for you. Follow Me on Pinterest for more ideas.
Stock up on the basics so you have them on hand. Jars of tomatoes, cans of beans, frozen berries, frozen vegetables, salsa, etc. Keep them on hand because this makes shopping and making the meals easier knowing what’s almost always in your home. It also makes your grocery list a little less daunting and you can also stock up when there is a sale.
Have food and ingredients stocked for an on-the-go, off-plan, lack-of-plan quick meal. There will be times where life gets a little crazy and one week the meals don’t get planned. Or you are busier and tonights meal takes too much time. I’ve been there. Have about 2-3 different recipes where you always have the ingredients on hand. This will prevent a fast food, take out or expensive restaurant trip when you weren’t planning for it.
Our go to meals are:
- Burgers (cheese, mustard and sauerkraut)e with steamed frozen green beans (with butter and salt & pepper) and baked sweet potatoes or sweet potato fries
- Grass-fed beef hot dogs with the same fixings as the burgers
- Skillet Meal: Ground beef or chicken based with tons of vegetables sautéed together. Topped with sour cream or cheese or hot sauce and a dollop of coconut oil for some good fat
- Beef Broth Soup: We always have these ingredients on hand and also get a healing soup too
- The ultimate quick meal: Smoothie
Freeze Meals to always have a quick meal ready. Are you making soup? Make double and freeze half of it. Making a crockpot dish? Make more and freeze half. That way you can take it out and you have an instant meal. It doesn’t get any faster than this. TIP: Also use the freezing method with desserts. This way if you are feeling a sugar craving coming on, you need a quick dessert or are having friends over you can have a quick dessert as easily as you can have a quick meal. We always have something sweet (and healthy) frozen in our fridge
It takes time. I’m not going to sugar cote the fact that time is involved in meal planning. You have to find the meals, think through the meals, and make a grocery list. It’s hard to find the time and often times the unstructured “plan” of being a free spirit and ad-libbing meals throughout the week sounds easier. It’s actually not easier and is more stressful, costs more and ultimately is more complicated. Take the time at the beginning of the week to meal plan because the time you put in will be multiplied in time saved throughout the rest of the week.
How do I stick to my Meal Plan?
You’ve just spend this time on a meal plan and you are wondering how you will follow it throughout your week? Maybe you’ve tried meal planning and you’ve felt like you’ve crashed and burned before. It does take a little hit and miss at first. For me, I tried to plan the whole month of meals. It worked great in theory and may actually work for your family. For us, it was a recipe for ditching the plan about 3 days into it. I couldn’t plan for when my Phil traveled and was out of town, I couldn’t prepare for having people over, I couldn’t prepare for any late nights I may have. I ultimately put a more complex meal on a day we needed a quick one and everything fell apart. Now I meal plan after Phil and I have discussed our upcoming week and what it looks like with our schedules. This way I can accurately plan the meals we need and how quick or complex they can be.
Find out what works for your family. Do you like to cook complex meals? Do you want quick and easy? Easier clean up?
Plan the week. Each week looks different for your family. Here are some questions to consider. What does this week look like? Do you have a night that you need to pre-make the meal? Use the slow cooker? A night where you need easier clean up? Or a night where you want to sit down for a longer family style dinner? What nights do you want to plan to go out to eat (if any). What night is date night? Are you hosting dinner for friends?
Put your Meal Plan in a place you will see it (ex Fridge). This sounds so simple but I can’t tell you the amount of times I haven’t followed through with a plan because I forgot to take it out of my purse. Put it on the fridge or a write it on a white board or somewhere in your kitchen you have easy access to. The key is to see it, don’t think you will remember it, because you won’t. I can share from my mistakes is that you will quickly forget the meals and the ingredients.
Plan a grocery list with your meal plan. At the same time you meal plan, put together a list of grocery items that you need to purchase this week to make the meal plan happen. This will help your budget and also simplify the meal planning process because you have all of the ingredients you need for the entire week.
How long does a Meal Plan take to put together?
I believe it can take as long as you want it to take. I’ve spent hours on one before because I thought I had to find the perfect meals for the week. No need to. Figure out what fuel (food) you need to nourish your body and some of your favorite go-to meals. IF it’s easier find 20 main dishes you love and rotate them throughout the week. It’s even simpler that way. To meal plan and make a grocery list takes me about 30-60 minutes. Start by planning about 60 minutes and the time doesn’t have to be un-interrupted time either. I love looking at recipes, finding different flavors and putting meals together so I can get caught up in meal planning easily. You don’t have to take as much time as I do.
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Do you Meal Plan?
What works for you? What are some meal planning challenges?