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Meal planning is a great way to take the guesswork out of figuring out what’s for dinner every single night. You just rip off the Band-Aid and do it once a week. Meal planning can get complicated quick which will make a lot of people fall off the wagon before they really start. Meal planning doesn’t have to be complex or take up a lot of your time. You can learn to do it quickly and effortlessly over time.
Some benefits to meal planning are save time, save money, save your sanity, add variety to your family’s diet, and avoiding last minute runs to McDonald’s.
Did you know? Most Americans eat out at least four times a week. If you take that down to two times a week and meal plan and eat at home the rest of the time, you can save around $1,000 a year!
Here are some tips to help you win with meal planning:
1. Drop perfectionism
Your meal plan doesn’t have to be the most elaborate or the healthiest dinner your family has ever seen. Perfectionism will make you lose the game before you even start. No one is expecting you to be perfect. You don’t have to have the perfect table, table setting, all organic food, and fresh produce every single day.
2. No elaborate meals
Your family just wants to eat. They aren’t looking for Bobby Flay or Wolfgang Puck. Elaborate meals take time. When you are exhausted from going to work and running your children around to all of their meetings and appointments, you will not want to come home to cook a 4-course meal. That’s failing ahead of time.
Note: If you do actually love cooking, you can still cook elaborate meals. Just save them for days when you have more time like on the weekend.
3. Check your calendar
Check your calendar to see what’s going on with your family this week. Are ya’ll heavy on appointments? Do you have late nights at the ball field? Are you volunteering to help at the church yard sale on Saturday? You need to know what you’re doing so you can set up yourself for success. If you are super busy you don’t need to cook homemade lasagna. If you are super busy, maybe you need to cook frozen pizza or reheat some frozen vegetable soup.
If you don’t match up your calendar to what you’re cooking, you might forget you have to volunteer at church and end up running through the drive thru on your way home.
4. Use frozen fruit and veggies
Use frozen fruit and veggies when you can. In some instances, it can be okay to swap fresh produce for frozen. Frozen doesn’t always taste better if you are eating it raw, but if you cook or mix in a smoothie, you can hardly tell the difference. Frozen fruits are great in a smoothie or dessert.
Frozen veggies are okay if you are cooking them with something like spaghetti, pizza, etc. Buying frozen can also help you save money when you are buying produce out of season. Not to mention, frozen is the next healthiest thing to eating fresh produce.
5. Stop putting a burden on yourself to cook all healthy items
Instead of going from eating junk to going to 100% healthy, start making healthier choices. Use an air fryer. Use Panko breadcrumbs. Eat one green veggie a day. Eat fruit for snacks. Use whole wheat bread instead of white. You can’t go from all unhealthy to super healthy in one day.
6. Don’t cook too many new meals at one time
Cooking a new meal takes a little longer because you have to keep referencing the recipe. Do one new meal a week maximum. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to cook all new recipes every single night.
7. Don’t assign the meal to a certain day
When I first started meal planning, it was easier for me to not assign the meal to a day. I just assigned each meal a number. When I woke up in the morning (or night beforehand), I would pick a meal and start thawing the meat.
8. Eat leftovers
Cook double batches of everything so you can eat leftovers the next night. This cuts the days you are cooking in half. You don’t have to do much extra work either. It is an easy win.
Cook double and freeze part of the meal if it can be frozen. Make sure you freeze the food properly and it will taste good after being frozen. Just search on Google to see if your food can be frozen.
Some things that are great to freeze are:
- Pasta dishes
- Seasoned meat (like tacos)
10. Use Instant Pot and Crockpot
Put your Instant Pot & Crockpot to good use. If you forget to thaw your meat, throw it into your Instant Pot. Use your crockpot to cook when you can like while you are at church.
11. Keep a recipe binder
Keep a recipe binder with all of your family’s favorite meals so you will always have the recipe. When you have a mental block, look at your binder for ideas to help get you unstuck.
12. Make a list of quick dinners
Make a list of quick dinners you know your family will love. These don’t have to be the most nutritional or your family’s favorite meals, but they will keep you out of the fast food lane. Use this list to cook when you don’t really have time or energy to cook. Keep the ingredients for a couple of these dinners on hand. When you forget to thaw something for dinner or don’t feel like cooking the meal you had planned, cook one of these dinners. A great quick dinner is frozen pizza. You don’t have to babysit it and it cooks fast.
13. Theme nights
Use theme nights to help you break out of the rut of eating the same thing over and over.
Examples of them nights:
- Taco Tuesday
- Pasta Wednesday
- Chicken Friday
- Pizza Saturday
- Crockpot Sunday
This will help you fill out your meal plan list and add variety to your meals. If you know that you use the crockpot on Sunday, it cuts down on the decisions to figure out what’s for dinner.
14. Plan when you’re going to go out to eat
Plan your restaurants and that will be one less night you have to figure out a meal plan for. We automatically get takeout every Friday. I know I only have to cook/reheat 6 nights a week. This takes off some of the burden of figuring out what to eat for dinner.
15. Start small
Don’t go crazy and meal plan for a month when you’re brand new to meal planning. Start small. Try a week or two first before getting into longer periods of time. You can work out the kinks and figure out how to make it work best for you better with a smaller block of time.
16. Be realistic
The best thing to be is realistic. Don’t cook too many new meals. Don’t cook too many new meals with 10 ingredients. Don’t try to go from unhealthy food to super healthy right away. Give yourself time and be realistic. Changes take time.
17. Use semi-homemade items when you can
Don’t try to make everything from scratch. It will take a lot of energy and time. Use premade stuff when you want to or can.
- Rotel- shortcut for homemade salsa base
- Rotisserie chicken- shortcut for cooked chicken
- Bagged salads- better than chopping and buying all 18 of the ingredients yourself to throw together
- Premade hummus
- Premade guacamole
- Premade prepared salads
- Ragu pasta sauce
- Frozen diced onions for cooked meals
- Diced fruit/veggies in produce and frozen sections of the store
You can use these and still add on top of them. You can take the Ragu sauce and add seasonings to make it your own. You can add sunflower seeds or tomatoes to your bagged salads. These will help you skip a few steps.
18. Write out your meal plan and post on fridge
Post your meal plan on the fridge for everyone to see. Your family can then look at the meal plan themselves to see what’s for dinner instead of asking you.
19. Take a picture of your menu plan
Take a picture of your menu plan and save it to your phone and send to your family members. This alleviates the lunchtime texts of what’s for dinner.
20. Print out the recipe
If you are cooking a new recipe, print it out. Put it behind your meal plan on your fridge. No more searching high and low and trying to find the recipe again on Pinterest. If you like it, remember to add it to your recipe binder.
21. Make notes on the recipes
If you used double the amount of cheese or hated the onions, make a note of it on the recipe. That way when you want to cook it again and pull the recipe out of your binder, you won’t have to remember what you did to change the recipe.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult. You can start meal planning right away and become a pro in no time. You can save a ton of time and money with meal planning. You can choose to eat healthier, stay out of the drive thru lane, or whatever other goals you have. You can succeed at meal planning.
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