Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. It can be as easy as a quick 10 minute brainstorm, but can help you save time, help you save money on groceries, and help you eat more delicious food. Maybe it’s time to give meal planning it a try?
Did you make a meal plan this week? No?
Me neither, and I’ve been kicking myself since Monday.
Weeks that I make meal plans for are infinitely more relaxing, less frustrating, and often more delicious. So why is it that, as soon we hit a crazy week, meal planning goes out the window?
While I was pondering this yesterday, I realized that the craziest weeks are the ones we need meal planning the most.
Maybe that is total common sense, but it’s actually the first time I ever thought about it like that. I’ve been through two distinct meal planning phases in my life, and I have a feeling I’m about to embark on a third.
Please, humour me.
Me and Meal Planning – The Evolution
Phase 1: “Meal plan? What meal plan? Oh no, I don’t make meal plans! I couldn’t possibly! You see, I cook what the spirit in me wants to cook. I cook what I feel like eating, when I feel like eating it. How could I possibly plan that days ahead of time!?!?!”
And so on and so forth.
I was absolutely adamantly opposed to meal plans and blatantly and intentionally skipped over any mention of them anywhere.
No thank you, sir.
Then I had kids.
That was a bit of a game changer. Suddenly I didn’t have the luxury of spending two hours cooking up a gourmet supper we could eat by candlelight at 9pm. Hell, by 9pm I was lucky to be conscious and was probably debating whether it was okay to go collapse into my bed without flossing my teeth or washing my face, again (I always brush, people. Eww.).
So kids are great; I love my kids more than pretty much anything else on earth, but they do require a bit of a re-calibration of habits. After too many days that got away from me and ended with us feeding the baby scrambled eggs before destroying a pan of nachos on the couch, I realized that I had to start planning ahead. Bringing me to….
Phase 2: I’m pretty sure I was just at my wits’ end and decided to give meal planning a try. I didn’t read anything online, I just took an approach that made logical sense to me (I’ll explain in detail below) and gave it a whirl.
Mid way through week 1, I was a CONVERT. I was officially in love with meal planning and was gushing about it to anyone who would listen (thanks guys, for putting up with me).
Suddenly, I knew what we would be eating for supper ALL WEEK LONG. There was no hemming and hawing. No more renditions of the age old question, “What do you want for supper tonight?” which in our house, was almost always met with… “Hmmm…. I don’t know.” No more deciding at 3pm to make pork chops only to realize that they are frozen in a giant hunk in our freezer and there is no way we’re having pork chops before the following day for breakfast. Nope.
Suddenly, I could look ahead at the next day’s meal on the schedule and see if I needed to take something out of the freezer.
I could start some type of prep early in the day if I had 10 or 15 minutes. Totally enough time to peel some potatoes or carrots and cut them up for later.
If I was home for the day (or energetic the night before) I could make homemade hamburger buns or homemade bread (which meant that we ate a lot less store-bought buns and bread, which was awesome).
And if Laurier was home before me, he could look at the meal plan and see what we were supposed to be having for supper, and could start to do some of the prep.
It was life changing.
So, for the past two years or so, mostly on but sometimes off, I’ve been meal planning, and loving it.
But with yesterday’s revelation, I’m pretty sure I’m entering a new era.
Phase 3: The intentional phase. It has absolutely dawned on me that I need to be making a meal plan every week. Especially when we’re super busy. Maybe because our lives are just so hectic, but weeks without a meal plan end up being a mish mash of random eating and being too tired to plan anything at whatever late hour we try.
So, here’s a little look at how I meal plan. There are a million resources out there teaching you how to meal plan, but they’re all a little different. Here’s what I do, and who knows? Maybe it’ll work for you too!
How to Start Meal Planning
So many meal planning resources go something like this: check your local grocery store flyers and see what’s on sale for the week; plan the week’s meals based on what you can pick up on sale.
I agree to absolutely check for sales, but I hate wasting food (and money!) and hate having a fridge overflowing with half used ingredients that I eventually am forced to chuck in the compost.
So for us, meal planning looks like this:
Clean – Look in the fridge and do a quick clean out of anything too old or yucky to use. Usually this is pretty minimal because I try to keep on top of it, but sometimes I find dishes of unrecognizable stuff shoved behind all the condiments. The bonus here is that it keeps our fridge fairly clean!
Ingredient List – Get a pen and paper and see what’s in the fridge that has to be used up. Anything from half a head of lettuce, to some leftover feta, to an already cooked chicken breast, to half a red onion or part package of bacon. Write it all down in a list. I also include perishables that are in the pantry, like potatoes or sweet potatoes.
Extras – See what we have in the freezer and pantry and if there’s anything I’m wanting to use up soon. Write these down too. Also, for us during gardening season, what’s coming up fresh outside. Sometimes I’m super organized and actually have lists of what we have stocked in our freezer and pantry. Sometimes I just give it a quick eyeball and see what’s around.
Scheduling – Look at our schedule for the week. I check to see if we have meetings, sports or other commitments in the evenings that would force us to have earlier or faster suppers and note which nights those are on.
Weather – I am a weirdo (and hey, maybe you are too!) so if I’m not in a rush I like to check the weather for the week. That way I don’t plan a hearty stew or soup for a hot day or a cool dinner salad for when it’s rainy and damp. When I’m in a rush this step gets nixed.
Meal Plan – I look at my list of ingredients and try to brainstorm meals we can make that will use up, ideally, all the items that would otherwise go bad. Sometimes I will have to pick something up at the grocery store to complete a recipe for the week, but if possible I try to be creative and substitute with something we have already, either in the fridge, freezer or pantry (maybe it’s a staple that we always have on hand). Sometimes if there are a bunch of random ingredients left at the end of the week’s plan, I’ll make a soup, pizza, paninis, pasta, stir-fry, salad or a curry and use them all up at once. These are all great ideas for using up loose ends.
See what we keep stocked in our fridge.
See what we keep stocked in our freezer.
See what we keep stocked in our pantry.
I also keep a little list (either on paper or in my head) of any recipes I’m currently inspired by or want to try and try to work them into the plan where they make sense.
What this all means is that most of our grocery shopping is about stocking up on what’s on sale for our fridge, freezer and pantry, and buying fresh fruit and vegetables based on sales for the week. We try to eat a good variety, and sales often shift with the seasons. So the end result is that if I buy broccoli because it’s on sale and I want us to eat it, when I go check the fridge it’s there and ends up on my list of ingredients to be used that week.
I also try to have foods do double duty. If I cook a chicken on Sunday I might plan to make enchiladas on Tuesday, for example. If I make a shepherd’s pie on Monday I’ll cook extra potatoes to have with fish on Wednesday, that sort of thing. Planning ahead makes life so much easier, especially when you’re busy.
Write it down – Even if your meal plan is as informal as a bullet list, you should write it down. That way anyone else who wants to (or is volun-told to) start meal prep can check it to see what’s planned for supper. Plus, you’ll never get mixed up or have to remember what to thaw when, or what needs to be picked up for which meal.
As an added bonus, I find it is so helpful to help us remember how long leftovers have been in the fridge for. Laurier and I used to have to try to work backwards through the week. (“Let’s see… we had chili on Friday and paninis on Thursday, remember, because you had badminton, and what the heck did we have Wednesday?”) Now we can just check the list and know exactly how long something has been in the fridge (and if it’s been too long to eat it as leftovers).
That’s it! I honestly have to say, aside from the fact that we are more organized and prepared for meal times, I love meal planning because we waste SO much less food. Like a fraction of what we used to waste. And I think that’s great for my conscience, the environment and our budget!
Yay for meal planning! If you managed to read this far, maybe you’ll be a convert too! Meal planners of the world, unite! 🙂
There is really so much that can be said about meal planning. I’ve only scratched the surface. Here are a few great resources if you want to read more:
- The Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning – The Kitchn
- 5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Meal Planning – The Kitchn
- Simple Meal Planning for Beginners – The Busy Budgeter
- Meal Planning Basics: How to Meal Plan – Wellness Mama