We love meal planning!
I am one of those people who lives their whole lives looking forward to their next meal, so meal planning is a natural and highly enjoyable task to me.
Reasons we love meal planning.
After years of planning our meals out, we've found there are a whole lot of other reasons to love meal planning! Here are some big ones:
- It saves money. Meal planning makes it easy to shop your grocery store's sales and if you have your meals planned out, you hopefully won't have to make the intermittent grocery store trips to get ingredients you didn't know you needed. (We've found this to be a non budget-friendly habit. Can anyone go to the grocery store and only get the things on their list?) PLUS. If we have something planned for dinner, no way we're getting take out. Just another way meal planning saves us the monies.
- It saves the mental energy required to plan meals as they come up. Last minute dinner planning can be an anxiety-inducing scramble to the table. I think this is how the question what's for dinner became such a dreaded one. With meal planning, you'll always have an answer.
- It cuts down on grocery store trips. I love grocery shopping, but don't want to do it every day. Or even every couple of days. If you know everything you need for the week, you can ideally get it all in one shopping trip. (Although, as a disclaimer, even our most thoroughly planned weeks sometimes involve an unforeseen trip to the grocery store. I've mostly accepted this as a part of life.)
- It reduces food waste. You can plan meals to (hopefully) use all of what you buy!
- It keeps meals varied. Taking time to choose what you want to eat before you shop means you're eating things you're really in the mood for!
What is meal planning?
Planning your meals! That's it. It can be as structured or unstructured as you want.
For us, meal planning means planning all dinners (whether we're eating at home or out), having a general sense of lunches, and making sure we have some options for breakfast.
How do you meal plan?
Decide how often you want to grocery shop/meal plan. I typically do this weekly. If I'm feeling really ambitious, I'll plan for two weeks and maybe only need to do a produce refresh halfway through.
Start with your schedule. This helps to determine how many meals we need, and what type. Knowing what's going on in our week helps prevent over/under-planning. It's also good to know when we have a particularly busy night and need a quick/make-ahead meal.
Work with what you've got. If we have some leftovers that need to be used from the last week, we try to work them into our meals for that week. This saves money and cuts down on food waste.
Decide what you want to eat that week and make a list of what you need to buy. The list is essential! I recently learned there are people who don't make grocery lists. I both admire and fear them. If I were to go into the grocery store sans list, I would spend a billion dollars and leave with nothing I needed.
Grocery shop! A crucial step.
Remember the meals you planned. Only listing this because some weeks I've totally forgotten! Some people assign meals to certain days. We like to keep a running list on our fridge of meals we have planned and cross them off as we go. We've found this to be adequately organized while still allowing us to have flexibility with our dinner plans.
How do you pick meals?
This might be the most daunting part of meal planning, but there are a lot of fun ways to pick meals so you are getting a variety (and avoiding the dreaded food rut), but also not spending a lot of time researching recipes each week. Here are some methods that have worked for us:
Do theme nights. Taco Tuesday! Brinner! We usually make a big pot of soup on Sundays in the winter. This is nice because everyone knows what to expect for dinner, but there are so many different kinds of soups it's easy to vary them. We are also partial to ordering a pizza and watching a movie on Fridays, so that's usually part of our meal plan.
Shop sales. See what's a good deal at your grocery store that week and plan meals around that.
Crowd source. Taking requests keeps the people happy.
Keep a running list of favorites. This is my preferred method for when I don't know what to make for dinner. I keep seasonal lists of my favorite spring/summer/fall/winter meals and cycle through them. That way, we make sure to eat all of our favorite seasonal meals, but don't get stuck eating the same things over and over again.
Remember you can eat out. I think sometimes people get frustrated with meal planning because they think they have to make everything at home. Don't forget you can go out or get carryout! I like that meal planning eliminates needing to do this as a last-ditch option. Eating out is a fun shakeup for us!
How can you meal plan and also be flexible?
When I first started meal planning, I went way overboard. I planned out every meal. There was no wiggle room in our schedule. So help me, we were both going to eat three full meals a day from our very own kitchen. No impromptu meals out. No going to friends' for dinner. We had food to eat at home!
But meal planning really can be flexible. Here's what we do to make sure our meal planning doesn't get in the way of having a life:
Under-plan. I usually figure out how many dinners we need in a given week and plan for one less. If it's December, I may even do two or three less. This leaves room for dinner with friends, polishing off leftovers from the week, or a night out.
Have good backup meal options. Good for if you're short a meal or if you're putting off going to the grocery store. Pretty much anything from Trader Joe's frozen section is good for this. Or a recent favorite of ours has been Aldi's shells and cheese.
I love meal planning because it eliminates the stress of the constant task of figuring out what to eat and feed your people, while also ensuring you're eating things you love!
And it also doesn't hurt that it allows me to live my life in excited anticipation of my next meal.
Do you meal plan? Do you love it??