We’ve talked about what meal planning IS, now we need to talk about HOW to meal plan. The first thing is to figure out who you are meal planning for. Is it just you? You and a spouse? You and some kids? We need to know not only how many people you are planning for, but also some things about them. Do they have any food allergies? Food aversions? Preferences?
Great. Now that we have that out of the way, we need to figure out what a realistic planning timeline is for you. How often do you currently run to the grocery store? How often do you currently cook? How often do you find yourself grabbing takeout because there’s “nothing to eat” at home? How often do you want to cook? Once a week, twice a week? Once every 2 weeks? How ok are you and your family with leftovers?
The final thing is considering what is important to you. Why are you meal planning? Is it to save money? To lose weight? To save time? All of the above? Figure out your why so that you can return to it when you are feeling lost in the world of meal planning.
Now, some simple tips if cost is your motivator:
- Not everything can be cheap. Some things are worth spending the extra money on. Which things? That’s what we’re here for. Between our weekly ad summaries, taste tests, meal planning ideas, recipes, restaurant reviews, and more, we will guide you in what is ok to buy on the cheap and what really deserves the extra cost.
- Great tasting meals don’t have to cost a fortune. There are tons of cheap foods that taste better than any restaurant food you’ve ever gotten. It’s all in preparation. Cheap does not mean bland. And flavorful does not mean expensive. It’ll take a while to retrain your brain, but I promise you it is true.
Some tips if time savings is your motivator:
- Know that while you are saving time overall, your cooking day is going to be time consuming. Maybe hours. But ultimately, it will be less than if you cook every single meal when you need it. You will have times when you just don’t feel like cooking on your cooking day. But you gotta power through to set yourself up for success for the week. You just need to get though one day of cooking so that the other 6 days in the week, you can not want to cook and not have to cook – win win.
- Cooking your meals upfront does not have to be time consuming. Maybe you’ve only got a few hours on your designated cooking dat – great. Pick recipes that don’t take a lot of time. Pastas are great for this.
- You only have to do dishes once a week (or however often you cook). The rest of the week, you just put your Tupperware and dishes in the dishwasher. No scrubbing the same pots multiple times a week. It’s amazing.
If losing weight is your motivator:
- Meal planning and prepping will be your lifesaver. It is so hard to make an excuse to eat out when you’ve got perfectly good, healthy food all prepped and ready to go. No more stopping at a fast food place on the way home from work because you are so hungry you just can’t wait to cook dinner. Dinner’s already made, just need to zap it in the microwave for a few seconds – literally probably faster than waiting in that drive thru line.
- Meal planning and prepping can be done in an unhealthy way. If you choose to make unhealthy dishes for the week, that won’t do you any good. It will save you money, but not calories. Likewise, meal prepping TOO HEALTHY of food won’t do either. You and I both know you’ll very quickly let a bland salad go to waste to go out to eat instead. You’ve got to find healthy recipes that you enjoy as much as those fast food meals, or else it won’t matter that you’ve prepped it ahead of time – you won’t feel bad throwing it away.
Between all of this information, you can figure out just how many meals you need to be making at one time. For us, we are a family of 2 who prefers to grocery shop once and meal prep once a week, and also like to get food out at least once a week, so we aim to make 24 meals when we cook (2 people * 2 meals/day * 6 days/week = 24 meals/week). Plus, I will also sometimes prep a 5-6 serving breakfast for myself for the week. Because we are fine with eating leftovers more than once, we typically accomplish this with 2 main meals a week – one that we will eat for lunch and one for dinner. When we were working, we would plan a meal that could be packaged and taken to work for lunch (maybe a chicken pot pie), and a more elaborate, involved meal for dinner (maybe quesadillas). Now that we are both working from home, we don’t have to worry about that. Occasionally we will make some side dishes that can be interchangeable between the meals (for example, maybe one day is main meal A with side dish 1 and side dish 2 for lunch, main meal B with side dish 3 for dinner, the next day meal meal A with side dish 2 and side dish 3 for lunch, and main meal B with side dish 1 for dinner, etc.) or perhaps more than 2 main meals (this is rare).
Once you know how many meals you need and how many different recipes you need, you can determine which recipes you want to make. Typically, we start with what we’ve got. What do we have that needs to be used up? What meats do we have in the freezer? Then, we look at what is on sale at the grocery store. Look for patterns to form recipes. Maybe you’ve got chicken breast in the freezer, and celery and frozen peas are on sale. Maybe make a chicken pot pie. Or maybe you’ve got some cheese in the fridge that needs to get used up, and pasta and ground beef are on sale. Maybe make a goulash. Maybe you’ve got nothing that needs to get used up and the sales at the grocery store aren’t that great – well then you get to choose whatever you’re in the mood for! Once you’ve picked out your recipes, you can make a detailed grocery list with only the things you need. Don’t forget to plan for snacks if you’re a snacker!
At the grocery store, you should be able to get in and out quickly. Stick to the list knowing that you put the time and effort in ahead of time to deduce what you really needed. If it’s not on the list, it’s not going to get used this week because you already know what you’re eating for each meal. Don’t overbuy, unless it’s a really good sale and you’ve got room to store it in the freezer or pantry.
Once you’ve gathered all your ingredients, you’re good to start meal prepping. I know it sounds daunting. I promise it’s not. Take a deep breath – and keep reading here.