Meal planning can be such a doozy, can’t it? If a meal suddenly catches you off guard, it’s turned into a frenzy in your mind. GAH what should I make, what should I make, what should I make? So, what usually happens? Takeout. Never mind the fact that you have to come up with dinner again TOMORROW. (and the next day) Get out of that vicious cycle of last minute dinner prep and avoid the apathetic responses to: “What would you like for dinner?” Instead, choose to plan ahead. The benefits of staying on top of meal planning are endless: less stress, better nutrition, and happier tummies! In my life, it’s been worth putting a little forethought into each week.
Here are some tips for getting that knack for meal-planning.
- Figure out what works for you!
I used to do a fancy meal planner (here) and liked it at first. I could see all my recipes at once and easily choose a variety of meals. But, I found that as I tried new recipes, it was too limiting – not a lot of space for growth.
I ended up craving something simpler. Now, I have a recipe book that I’ve typed out and I meal plan right in my planner (yes, it’s still paper…). I love that it’s incorporated with my thoughts on regular life and scheduling in general.
The time and effort it takes to figure out what works for you is well worth it. The recipe binder works for me. My mother prefers an old-fashioned recipe card box. My mother-in-law has dozens of food magazines and post-it tabs them as she goes. What will work for you may end up being something entirely different.
- Make the planning process as easy as possible.
You’re a mom; things need to be easy! For me, that means my planner, recipe book, and grocery list are all right there in my kitchen. I can start thinking through meals, planning, and compiling a grocery list while I wait for water to boil. I can check on ingredients in the fridge and pantry so I don’t buy too much. I can also see what we have a lot of and base meals on what needs to go! The easier meal planning is, the better the turnout.
This also makes it easy to include the rest of your household, since your grocery list is accessible to everyone. Encourage them to add to it when something runs out.
- Build it into your routine.
If you have a regular time for meal planning, you’ll start to get triggered as that time approaches. For me, having a regular grocery day (Monday) helps. As the weekend winds down, I realize that I have to meal plan and compile that grocery list for Monday morning.
- Don’t do gourmet.
There is no need to break your back over every meal. Simple is good. Nutrition can be easy. One way to make cooking easier is to bulk cook one meal and freeze some for later, like our Double & Freeze idea. And there’s no shame in doing leftovers one (or more) night a week. We do!
- Build on what you have.
Keep recipes that you like and find a system to organize them. I built up so many recipes that I typed them up in Word documents according to category:
- Dressings & Sauces
- Main Dishes
- Breads & Rolls
- Baby Food
Oh my! I have this document printed, laminated (to withstand kitchen messes), and placed in a 2” binder. My Main Dishes category gets some special love and is broken down into:
- Fish & Protein
- Rice, Grains & Beans
- Pasta & Pizza
I bounce around between these four categories and it helps me maintain variety in our meals.
The bottom line is: when it comes to meal planning, you just have to do it. Like any habit, meal planning takes time to get used to. The more you practice it, the more it will work itself easily into your routine and your mindset.
But, give yourself grace! I’ve been learning to meal plan for years and I still end up with nights that include: Well, I guess it’s frozen pizza tonight! and You guys don’t mind leftovers two nights in a row, right? As long as your kids don’t starve, you’re doing a pretty good job.