It's no secret that meal planning has a multitude of benefits. It's great in helping you stay on track, saves you time during the week, relieves the "what's for dinner" stress every night and saves you money just to name a few. But it can be a lot of work and if you're not planner (I am a big planner), it can be a bit of a challenge to think about what you want to for dinner tonight, let alone everyday for the next week. Ask my husband. He never knows.
As hard as it can be though, it's a pretty important step when it comes eating and living a healthier life. So today, I want share a few tips, I find helpful when I sit down to meal plan for the week.
Look at the next week's schedule
Before you sit down and try to plan your meals for next week, take a few minutes to look at your calendar and jot down any events you have that may limit your time to cook a meal in the kitchen. Any days you have something going on, make sure plan easy, quick meals that either be prepped ahead of time or be thrown together in a few minutes. Crockpot meals are great for busy days. Just taking an extra few minutes before sitting down to plan can save you time in the planning stage, o on the day of an event when you realize you accidentally planned a time-consuming meal. Better yet, bring that calendar to the table, couch, desk, or wherever you're sitting down to meal plan. You'll be able to keep a constant eye on your plans for the week.
Take inventory of your cabinets and fridge
After you grab your calendar (or before if it's easier for you) take a peek at what you have left in your cabinets, refrigerator and freezer. See what you have and what needs to be used up. If you can't remember and don't want to keep getting up to check, jot the items down on a sheet of paper so you know to look for recipes containing those ingredients. Not only will eliminate some unnecessary food waste, but you will also save even more money buy not accidentally buying something you already have.
Plan dinner first
Dinner is often the hardest meal to plan. Dinner is more often than not the only meal where everyone sits down together at one time for a meal, so you have to plan around everyone's tastes and schedules, so start here. Breakfast and lunch isn't usually like that. These meals can be vary in what's eaten by each person in the house. Starting with dinner though, not only allows you to get the hardest meal out of the way first, it can also pave the way for lunches. If your house is like ours, there's almost always leftovers from dinner. If you plan a meal that you know is going to have leftovers, you automatically have lunch for the next day, making planning for lunch that much easier.
If you're worried about what everyone else will eat for lunch, plan out something for them. In our house, I don't intentionally plan out breakfasts or lunches for the kids or my husband. I always make sure there are healthy options for each of those meals to choose from and allow them to pick. For example, I have cereal, eggs, homemade instant oatmeal packs and fruit on hand, so the choice is up to them what they have. I also make muffins, baked oatmeal or pancakes (healthier versions) on Sundays as well that they can choose from. These items will freeze well and I can just pop them in the toaster oven for a quick weekday breakfast. But allowing my kids to choose brings me to my next point.
Ask your husband and kids what they want
I know it sounds obvious, but trust me when I say it's not always thought about. When I first started meal planning, I never really asked my family what they thought they might like for dinner the next week. It wasn't intentional but I didn't really think they cared to have an input or about what we were having. It wasn't until one particular week that I was having a hard time with coming up with some meals. I wanted something different, but didn't know if anyone else would eat it. I went to TJ asking if he would be willing to try a particular meal and it wasn't appealing to him at all, but he did suggest another meal I hadn't made in a long time and just kind of forgot about. Then Dylan asked if we could have some black bean and corn quesadillas, a dinner he loves. And just like that I had 2 of our dinners planned and 2 lunches, since both meals were ones I knew would have leftovers. Since then I've made it a point to ask what they would like for dinner the next week. Admittedly, I don't always ask, but it's great knowing when you're stuck for an idea, your family can probably think of something you haven't thought about in a while.
Seriously, it's fine if you come home after a hard day at work and you don't want cook that lasagna you had planned . It's also ok if you planned chicken on Tuesday and pumpkin pasta (a favorite in our house) on Friday, doesn't mean you can't switch the days since you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer last night. It happens. It's happened to me on many occasions. A meal plan doesn't mean you can't be flexible with it.
With healthy staples hand, you can always make some nutritious and healthy. If you have fresh veggies in the house, a simple salad is always an easy and quick option for nights you don't feel like cooking.
Schedule in a leftover or "Fend for yourself" day
These are great to have at the end of the week when a week of work has worn you out and cooking is the last thing you want to do. They are also great for busy nights where it seems like everyone has something going on. This became huge for us. Not only did it immediately take my dinner planning down to 6 dinners, it also gave us the chance to use up any leftovers we have in the fridge before the grocery shopping trip. Since my kids aren't old enough to make their own dinners yet (that will be changing in the fall with Dylan. He will be learning to cook more), I can heat them up any leftovers from the week, make them a sandwich or anything else they find interesting. This is also when they can choose, with a little but of guidance of course.
Meal planning doesn't have to be hard or too terribly time-consuming (unless of course you're new recipe hunting on Pinterest), but it does take a little bit of patience and a little work. Give it some time and I bet after you consistently meal plan for a month, you'll have it down, and may even know what it's in your cabinets and fridge without having to check.
Do you meal plan each week? What's your favorite meal planning tip? Share it with me below and maybe I'll share your tip on a future meal planning post, or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.