If you want to make one change in your life that will dramatically improve your ability to make homemade food for your family, start planning your meals ahead of time.
“Learning how to put your favorite meals together into a schedule is a vital kitchen skill that every adult should master.” – Conquering Your Kitchen, page 49
Why Bother Meal Planning?
When I began to move away from processed food in favor of a homemade lifestyle a few years ago, the logistics were overwhelming. Day after day, I labored over decisions about what to eat for the next meal. I found myself heading to the grocery store four or five times a week picking up food for the next couple days. It was a stressful transition.
But then I discovered meal planning, and life became so much easier.
Meal planning saves time and money, and it minimizes stress. By sitting down once a week for 15 minutes and mapping out a schedule of meals, I develop an efficient plan of attack. I can make one grocery list and go to the store once to pick up everything I need for the week. Limiting trips to the store saves money because fewer trips to the store mean fewer impulse purchases. And the peace of mind that comes during that moment when the final touches are put on the meal plan for the week is priceless.
Five Tips for Meal Planning with Success
1. Decide to do it.
This is by far the most difficult part of meal planning. Most of us don’t actually enjoy meal planning, and it’s easy to put it off and let it slip through the cracks. Make a commitment to yourself and your family that you’ll plan your meals. Try it for a month and see what a difference it can make.
2. Come up with a system.
I like to plan my meals one week at a time, but some people plan two weeks, or even a month, at a time. Develop a system that works for you.
Many people like to have daily themes to shape their meal plans. For example, they’ll have Meatless Mondays, Mexican Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, Chicken Thursdays, and Pizza Fridays. I don’t follow the days of the week this specifically, but most weeks I do include a Mexican meal and a pasta meal.
You can record your meals on a piece of paper or chalkboard, a spreadsheet, or a calendar like Google Calendar. I recommend posting your weekly meal plan so your family can see it. One of my favorite things about meal planning is that my children no longer ask me what’s for dinner. That question used to stress me out, but now they can look at the sheet inside the pantry door and prepare themselves for the week ahead.
3. Try a new recipe every week.
When you plan your meals, try a new recipe every week. This will keep you from getting in a rut, and it will expand the number of go-to recipes you can rely on when putting your meal plans together.
Eating a varied diet is so important for good health, and trying one new recipe each week will help mix up the types of food your family is eating. Look in cookbooks and magazines, and peruse food blogs and Pinterest for new ideas. I have a Pinterest board called “Recipes to Try” that I fill with new recipe ideas whenever I find them online.
4. Have your kids participate in meal planning.
The best way to get kids to move out of the chicken-nugget-mac-n-cheese rut is to get them involved in meal planning and food preparation. Let each of your children pick out a breakfast, lunch, or dinner each week for the meal plan, and include them in the cooking process. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a little chef on your hands who can take some of the dinner prep off your to do list.
5. Be flexible.
A meal plan needs to be a fluid document. I make a plan every week, but I don’t think I’ve ever followed it precisely. Schedule changes get in the way, and unexpected leftovers allow me to skip cooking one night. Shift your menu around as you need to during the week, and keep a few back-up meals in the freezer in case you don’t have time to cook what you had planned.
By planning your meals for the week, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and you’ll have extra time for the things that are important. Play with the process until you find a system that works well for your family.
Do you meal plan? If you have other tips, please share them with us in the comments.
Guest post by Annemarie Rossi. Annemarie Rossi is the author of Conquering Your Kitchen and the creator of Real Food Real Deals. Her website provides recipes and tips to help families eat real food on a budget. Annemarie’s work has been featured in many places, including the Non-GMO Cookbook, Edible Boston magazine, Fox News Online, Babble, and Spry Living. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two children.