On the drive home from work, it suddenly occurs to me, I have nothing in the house to make for dinner. I’m tired and don’t really want to stop at the supermarket. the only thing on my mind is getting home, putting on my pink fuzzy pussycat jammie pants and binge watch season 4 of Dexter for the umpteenth time before my honey comes home.
While at a red light deliberating if I should make a left to go to the store or just proceed straight home, I realized we have a box of angel hair in the pantry. Yes! the angels sang their beautiful sone, and I wouldn’t have to stop anywhere before slipping into my comfy clothes.
As soon as I walked in the door, I sprinted to the pantry to pull out the box of pasta only to find 11 noodles in it. Okay, this is just as bad as putting back a jug of milk with 3 drops in it. Why the heck didn’t I toss the boss out? Why didn’t I cook the last few noodles?
I’m sure it was due to stress, overwhelm, not enough time in the day, or I just wasn’t thinking clearly.
I soon find myself starring into the refrigerator. The only things preventing it from being totally naked are 2 bottles of salad dressing, a half tub of mayo and a jar of pickles. The trio stands silently at attention pressed against the refrigerator door in their solitary compartments. I keep staring at the vast emptiness waiting for the food fairy (who will never appear) to magically fill the fridge with a bevy of wholesome food.
Since there was nothing in the house to eat, we would be forced to head out to our favorite Greek restaurant to grab some Gyros.
There was a time in my life when I used to have things in order. My refrigerator would always be packed with food for the hubby and kids. Now that the kids have lives and families of their own, I’ve grown lazy and less motivated. I now have Mr. Chen’s Happy Chinese Restaurant and Aglaia Greek Emporium on speed dial.
I came to the realization that something had to be done. I knew I was going to have to do the one thing I dreaded (next to emptying the dishwasher). This was the one thing so many other women have done and something I never wanted to do. It was the one thing in life I felt was truly overwhelming and something I had a bizarre fear of.
It was time to put on my big girl panties, suck it up and allow those two words to enter my brain. Those words I feared came rushing down the mountain like an avalanche ready to bury me alive.
What exactly is a meal plan?
In a nutshell, meal planning is the process of trying to figure out what you want to make for breakfasts, snacks, lunches or dinner. Meal planning allows you to scour recipes and get your shopping list in order, by planning out what meals you’ll want to cook for that week.
It’s sometimes confused with the term meal prep. Although both terms are closely related, they both have 2 separate meanings.
Where-as meal planning answers the question of “what’s for dinner”, meal prep is preparing and packaging the food to eat it at a later time. During the meal prep stage, you can cook several chickens at one time to either shred for BBQ chicken for one meal and use the other chicken for a pot pie and chicken ala king.
Planning meals may sound easy to some, but for others, this may be hard. After a few weeks, the process will become much easier and less time-consuming. It took me a very long time to get it down, so please don’t worry if you struggle with it as well.
There is a myriad of reasons why some people find meal planning difficult.
It could be due to an inconsistent work schedule. Sheer exhaustion after a stressful day at work. A busy social life. Stuck in a rut of going for take-out (which happens to be easier than cooking).
For me, it was hard because my honey didn’t have consistent hours at work and since the kids moved out on their own, I didn’t feel it was warranted. But do you want to know a secret?
It is warranted and much needed.
Why is making a meal plan important
Meal planning is important for a few reasons.
It’s a time saver
Let’s say you get a ½ hour for your lunch break, do you really want to spend 20 minutes of your precious lunch break waiting in line at Panara for your $10 sandwich to be done?
If you know the busiest time of your day is lunchtime, it’s best to plan your lunches ahead of time. Make them the night before, pack them in a plastic container and toss it in your lunch bag in the morning.
Now, you can spend your lunchtime eating a wholesome meal that didn’t cost you $10, while playing Word Calm on your phone.
It reduces your time
It reduces your time in the grocery store. Maybe you’re the type of woman who loves strolling up each and every aisle in the grocery store. If you’re not and you just want to grab and go, food planning is your trick to get in and get out.
All you have to do is follow your shopping list and that trip that may have taken you an hour has now been dramatically reduced to 15 minutes.
Keeps you on track with your diet
If you’re on a diet, it will help you stay on track. By planning you’ll always have the right foods on hand which will limit the chances of cheating.
Before we begin with tips to make meal planning successful, please note, you do not have to follow these tips to a tee. These are guidelines. If you want to start out taking baby steps, then only plan for 2 to 3 meals that week. It’s perfectly okay.
Remember, you’re unique and so is your meal planning.
Tips for successful meal planning:
- Write the meal names you’ve shopped for on post-it notes on a calendar. By doing it this way, you can rearrange each meal if it happens you’re in the mood for something else that day.
- Make a list of your favorite meals and write them down on a post-it note and place them on a calendar. This one goes along with the one above.
- If you’re the indecisive type, make a plan for 14 meals for 2 weeks. Buy all the ingredients you’ll need and freeze whatever you don’t have scheduled to cook for the current week. A few days before asking your hubby what he would like to eat from the list and start the defrosting process. To make sure you’re defrosting properly you want to read this article from my other blog Food Safety Superhero.
- Set up a weekly menu. Monday – soup, Tuesday – pasta, Wednesday – chicken, Thursday – ground beef, Friday – pork, Saturday – leftovers, Sunday – eat anything.
- Spend a few hours on Sunday and cook several double-batch meals and freeze them so on days when you don’t have time or mental energy to cook, you can just pull something out of the freezer and microwave it since it’s already cooked.
- Take an inventory of food in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Try to plan your meals using what’s already in the house.
- Make a game of it. Write down meals you and your hubby enjoy or ones you found in a recipe book on an index card. Put them in a bag, pull out 5 or 6 and those are the meals you’ll make for the week.
Download a copy of these tips plus 2 menu planners to get you started.
3 steps on how to make a meal plan:
- Find your recipe
- Shop for ingredients
- Preparing your meal (meal prep)
Making a meal plan doesn’t have to be complicated
Meal planning can be as simple or as difficult as you wish. Once you get past the point of there being no rules, you’ll be able to run away from that avalanche before it covers you in a sheet of white fluff.
Before trying to figure out what meals you’ll want to cook for that week you’re planning, you’re going to need to see what your schedule is for the week. Will anyone be working late? Will you be going to a friend’s home for dinner? Do you have tickets for a show that week?
Once you know what your schedule is, you’ll be able to plan your meals for that week.
Let’s get this meal planning show on the road
Step One – Find your recipes
Select one day a week to gather your recipes. Put that day of the week in your planner, journal or calendar. I wish I could say this is the easiest part of meal planning, but for some, this is the most challenging part. Between the numerous food blogs, recipe sites and Pinterest, looking for the perfect recipe can put you on overwhelmed overdrive.
The thing about this. You decide you want to take a stab at making Salsbury steak and after searching all over the internet, you come up with 16 different recipes on how to make the best darn Salisbury steak.
What’s a girl to do?
Close your eyes and just pick one. 9 out of 10 times they’re all the same exact recipe with the ingredients altered slightly.
While searching for recipes, keep yourself focused on one area. If your first search took you to a food blog, then look through their website until you find a few recipes you find interesting. If you landed on a big corporate recipe website, peruse that site and find as many recipes as you can, and the same goes for Pinterest.
The thing is; don’t be everywhere. Focus your energy on one site at a time.
When you find recipes you think you may like, either take a screenshot, print it, or even save the page to your favorite Pinterest board pocket or any other note-taking app you use.
If you’re a bargain shopper, you can always finagle your meals for the week based on what’s on sale at the supermarket. If you’re going to do this, then you’ll want to know what day your favorite grocery store’s sale ad comes out, then make your meal plan a day or two after.
By waiting a day or two, you’ll be able to find some great recipes before it’s actually shopping day.
Step 2 – Shop for ingredients
This is the easy part of the meal planning ritual. Once you have your recipes, jot down every ingredient that’s needed. Once you have a running list, go to your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and mark off what you already have in stock.
If you don’t have it, add it to your shopping list.
Go to the supermarket either early in the day, or in the evening around 7 pm. The store is less crowded and you’ll be in and out.
Vegetables you should always have on hand for your meal plan
These are perfect to chop up, freeze and have on hand at all times. Just don’t freeze the lettuce or tomatoes, unless you want some mush.
Step 3 – Preparing your meal
You’ll want to set one day a week aside for cooking and preparing your meals. Most people will do this on a Sunday, but remember, you’re unique and just because a lot of people do it on Sunday, it doesn’t mean you have to.
Whatever day you designate for meal prep, then stick with that same day for consistency.
It’s okay to move things around. If you planned to cook that Salsbury steak on Wednesday and on Monday, you’re craving it, then eat it on Monday. Remember, there are no rules when it comes to meal planning or meal prepping. You’re your own boss, you make the rules and you can break them.
There is no right or wrong container to put the food you’ve prepared. You don’t have to buy any fancy glass dishes from Amazon, and you don’t have to buy a brand new set of plastic containers from Walmart. If you keep the plastic tubs lunch meats come in, use those. If you love zipper storage bags, use those. Use anything you want to use, but please make sure they’re food safe.
Here’s where the fun comes in. Before you begin to cook, find the recipes that have the common denominator. For instance, if you selected 4 recipes and 3 of those had chicken in them and one had ground beef, start on the chicken dishes first since you’ll be able to knock out those three much quicker since you’re using the same key ingredient.
Meal prep does take a good amount of time, between cooking, chopping, and dicing, but if you’re focused enough you can prepare your entire weeks’ worth of meals in under 2 hours – and that includes cooking time.
Meal prep tip
During the week pre-cut some celery, onions, garlic, and herbs that you know you may need for your weekly meal prep. By doing this ahead of time, you’re actually saving some valuable time when it comes to your cooking day.
Yay, you did it.
After a few successful attempts and even a failure or two of meal planning, the process will become much easier. You’ll learn a few new shortcuts, and find you have a few tricks up your sleeve to make the next week even more of a success.
Now, grab yourself a pen and paper, and find some amazing recipes to make for next week’s dinner.
You can do it. I have so much faith in you.
If you’ve been hesitant about how to meal plan, what’s the one thing holding you back? Share in the comments below.
Until we meet again,
P.S. Before you head off scouring all of those amazing recipes you’ve been saving for years, don’t forget to grab your meal planners and tip sheet. They’re amazing and you’ll wonder how you survived without them.