Meal planning is a key component of eating healthy, especially while on a budget. Normally I’m not the most organized of people but this, this is an area of priority in my life. More importantly, I have come to understand how much easier this actually makes my life. It’s true that a few extra minutes planning ends up saving hours of time. Do you want to take your real food eating up a notch, and save money by eating out less? Learning how to meal plan is a necessity. Especially if you want to stay sane and keep food affordable. Having a schedule of what you’re planning to eat, even if it is just for dinner, will help you save time while sticking to a clean eating diet. Here are my top planning tips, plus a special gift just for you.
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meal planning guide and template
1. Create a System
You may have to experiment with this, but try to determine the best day to plan and more specifically how many days you will plan for. Some people are really organized and could potentially plan meals for an entire month. Others may just stick to bi-monthly or even weekly. Personally, I’m on the weekly plan mostly because I am not that organized but also because I love to eat seasonally and try my best not to let food go to waste. My planning usually begins by what we have on hand and then I expand from there. Also, figure out a day that works best to plan. Maybe you do this over a lunch hour or on Saturday mornings. I try to plan on the weekends for the upcoming week and then buy the groceries. Lets be honest, it’s one thing to plan and its another thing to stick to the plan. The second step in making this work is having the food on hand. If it isn’t in the house your “plan” is likely to fail. Get the food there and your chances of success go up dramatically.
2. Plan Meals and Snacks
Determine what meals and snacks you need to plan for. Remember, this isn’t meant for you to obsess over but rather to help you be prepared with food on hand and take an extra burden off your weeknights. Some people need to plan breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I only plan for supper and assume that that I will make enough to use it as leftovers for lunch and then breakfast is a pretty standard and consistent meal in our house. However, if you are new to this real food plan you may need to plan all the way around just to make sure that the food is available when you are hungry and you are eating the right types of food at each meal. Again, this is not to obsess over or to create a diet-like mentality, it is only meant for the sake of time and to reduce stress.
3. Post It
Write down your meal plan and post it. Make sure you can see it and your family as well. This will help you stick with it and allow for structure in your life, and why not make it fun? Chalk boards are in, in fact, they are everywhere. And what a fun way to be creative and artsy. Plus its could be a good way to get your kids involved in this whole food planning thing. Let them each write down a dish that they would like to have that week, the safe foods and expand from there. Getting family involved in planning is one of the greatest ways to get them on board with healthy eating. Of course, keeping things in perspective, you may have to make a few compromises.
Here’s our little ditty that we meal plan on.
4. Keep it Spicy
I like it hot, I like spicy…okay not as in seasoning but seriously mixing things up will do a lot of great things for your taste buds, your health and your eating mentality. Eating the same foods over and over and over may sound appealing, kind of like you are in control, but let’s be honest, it is pretty darn boring to everyone involved. Usually it isn’t long before you drive something into the ground and dread eating it again. DON’T do this, please! Be creative. If you see something in a magazine or on Pinterest that looks appealing, write it down, find a recipe and experiment. One of my favorite ways to keep it spicy is to try and re-create foods I’ve eaten at nice restaurants. Plus, I may have a slight obsession with flipping through food magazines and scouring food blogs and Pinterest. It could be classified as a problem, but seriously I heart food and want to eat good food. Take one night a week to “experiment” with a new recipe. And don’t get down if it ends up as a fail. This happens to me all.the.time. Frustrating…but keep your head up. Excite those taste buds!
5. Cook Once, Eat Twice
Think leftovers, it will save you oodles of time. Plus, you know that one healthy meal makes two or if your lucky three healthy meals without extra cleaning time. All this involves is making extra and thinking a little outside the box on how you could create something else from it. For instance if you cook a roast one night, make this harvest salad or shredded beef burrito bowls. You will be amazed at how much easier this makes your life, you just have to get over the dreaded task of packing a lunch. Honestly, on nights when the meal is really delicious there may be some fights as to who actually gets the leftovers. My hubby usually wins as he is the first one up in the morning and thus the first to leave the house, leftovers in tote. –>REAL FOOD PROBLEMS<–
6. Create Themes
To make planning a little bit easier make week night themes based on the amount of time you have each night. Make Monday meatless and Tuesday a slow-cooker day. Just to give you an idea my themes are Monday slow-cooker, Tuesday and Wednesday experiment x 2 or 3 (I like to cook new foods, you may feel better if you stick to what you know for a while), Thursday grill, Mexican Fridays, Eat-out Saturdays and Breakfast Sundays. Make them what you want and get your kids involved. Maybe give each of them a night of the week to plan. Having themes takes some of the thinking out of what you are going to plan.
This is how I start my weekly plan. I scan the freezer, refrigerator and pantry for things we have on hand, especially produce. One of my biggest pet-peeves is throwing food away. Food is expensive and when you are working with a budget you make it a point to try and use everything you have on hand. This takes a little more creativity but it also helps narrow down ideas. If you have ground beef on hand, you find a ground beef recipes. If you have loads of cabbage, you find a recipe or recipes to utilize that. It’s a great way to be creative, experiment with new recipes and most importantly help you stick to a budget.
After you grocery shop, prepare for what you can. Cutting all of your veggies for a week and getting as many meals ready as you can saves time both in cooking and cleaning plus it takes the thinking out of it. When you get home from work, exhausted and your kids are running around like crazy, you can just take your prepped meal and put it in the oven without the work and without the cleaning. After you do this for a couple of days you will wonder why it took you so long to develop this system. It really is an amazing thing and this is coming from a free-spirit (a.k.a. a nice terminology for a very unorganized person).
In all of this, it isn’t necessarily about being rigid but more in knowing that you have the food on hand and you have an idea of what you can make with it. It doesn’t matter what night it happens to be on or if it was for lunch or dinner. Just make it.
As a gift to you, I have created a meal planning chart that I give to my clients to help them plan out their weeks and I am going to give it to your FREE. I typically will use this chart to write out my plan, cross things off and go through a couple times before I settle. Then I transfer our weekly plan to the chalkboard because it’s just so darn pretty. Get your free download by clicking the image below.
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meal planning guide and template
Tell me, do you meal plan? How do you do it? If you don’t, why not? There’s no judgement here, just a place for learning and improving. Fill me in on your tips and needs.