Meal Planning - Tips and Tricks to Get You Started
When life is crazy and throwing you all around, I look to routine and order to maintain my sanity. One of the biggest saviors to the craziness is to already know what you are having for dinner (or to at least be able to have the ingredients needed to make a dinner). That is where meal planning comes in!
The idea of meal planning can seem daunting and time consuming when you are not accustomed to it but it does become easier and faster the more you do it. Setting aside the time to map out a week, two weeks, or (some crazy people can manage) a month’s worth of meals saves you the daily headache of having to come up with something to feed your family each night. Not to mention, you end up saving money as well since it can help you to not eat out as much or promotes you to buy in bulk so you can make sure you have enough ingredients for a time frame.
I used to grocery shop blindly. I would go in without knowing exactly what I would make but just grab a few staples and hope they would come together for a meal. I realized quickly that this would not work. I would get home from shopping and find a recipe I wanted to make but surprisingly (not really) not have all the ingredients or I would purchase items to make a meal that required more time than I actually had.
In order to stop myself from wasting money and time, I knew I had to start coming into the grocery store with a plan. My plan quickly evolved from just a couple meals I knew I wanted to make to a full-on meal plan. Since then I am now a habitual meal planner with no intentions to turn back. I learned a few tips and tricks through trial and error along the way that I would LOVE to share with you to help you become the expert meal planner!
My meal planning process is as follows:
- Figure out how many meals you have to plan for a certain paycheck (I grocery shop every two weeks)
Tip: factor in life events that may cause you to eat leftovers or eat out!
- Once you decide on a number of meals you have to plan, start thinking of types of food you would like to cook.
- Crockpot Meal
- Start writing down meal ideas that will be possible to make from your schedule. Make sure to include meals that are quick and easy on top of the normal “45 minutes to an hour” cooking time meals.
- When I write down meals, I only assign a meal to a day if we have something planned. Other than that, you really do not know what you are going to wake up and feel like eating. Do not pigeonhole your taste buds!
Tip: I think this is where some people decide to stop meal planning because they do not necessarily want to eat what they plan – the key is to be FLEXIBLE
- Every meal plan I try to include a mix of cuisines and meats. If my meal plan is for eleven days then I think of what is going on in those two weeks to pair a meal with a day. Examples:
- Monday I work late so I know that I will have to have an easy meal that evening. Maybe it would be a perfect “crock pot” day.
- Saturday we are having friends over so I need to make sure that we plan enough food to feed them. Possibly planning “cook out” food would be a good idea.
Tip: I try to also make sure that all my meals are not solely just the same protein repeated. Add variety to your meals by making sure you switch it up!
- Now that you have your meals written down, research the ingredients that go into making those meals and jot them down on a grocery list. You can also clip the appropriate coupons for items you need if you find them or even center the meals you want to make around coupons that are available!
- I write my grocery lists down in order of where whatever I am buying is located in the store (i.e. fruits and veggies, canned food, cold stuff, etc). I recommend this so you do not forget anything on your list or constantly have to walk around the store like a crazy person!
Tip: Be sure to keep the list of meals you have planned out handy so you can reference it during the upcoming weeks!
A lot of people struggle with IDEAS for meal planning. We all get in a rut and you feel like you make the same 5 meals every week. I find it best to utilize Pinterest to follow food “gurus”. A food “guru” tends to post a lot of recipes of either their own or someone who is similar to them. That means, if you find someone you like – look at who they follow because chances are you will like them too.
There are also AMAZING people that actually do weekly meal plans and post about them. One of my favorites is Life in the Lofthouse (here is a link to her website). She has a TON of meal plans to help get you started with meal planning!
Maybe it is just me but the satisfaction that comes from meal planning is quite rewarding. Knowing that you are able to cook X amount of things because you have all the ingredients saves you time and energy! When you build in flexibility to your meal plan, it seems more achievable than a rigid guide. I hope that these tips and tricks give you the confidence you need to start your meal plan!
If you have not meal planned before, use my guide to give it a shot and let me know how it goes!
Always Chase Your Tales,