I used to be so consistent with meal planning for a long time...a couple of years ago at least! It was part of my Sunday morning routine and I stuck to it for years. So what happened? I can't really pin point the time and reason that I stopped. I was working 5 days a week as a teacher, so life was really busy. Perhaps I just wanted more of my own time back at home to do other things, like self-care; perhaps I just lost motivation; perhaps it just became too much of a chore. All potential contributing factors! But, it's time to reinstate it.
This is a simple guide to beginning meal planning. By the end of this post you will have 5 steps to planning your way to simpler meal times.
Before we go any further, let's dispel some myths around meal planning:
X It does not mean having home cooked meals every single night
X It is not a big binder full of recipes for a month
X It is not a massive time commitment
X It is not inflexible
Why am I starting again?
It's been a couple of years of that dreaded "what are we going to have for dinner?" When you've had a big day and feeling tired, the last thing my brain can do is come up with a healthy and delicious meal. I also really don't like cooking, mostly because I dislike having to the dishes afterwards. When I was meal planning, I never had to think about it when I got home for work. I already knew what I was going to make and knew that I had all the ingredients. Sometimes I didn't feel like what I had planned, so I would just switch it with a meal I had planned for later in the week.
It saves so much money! If you follow me on social media you may have seen that I no longer work full-time as a teacher. I kicked off my business selling natural skincare products at the end of 2022 and have also been doing some casual work at my local university. So, I have been trying to cut back on unnecessary expenses this year. Let's be honest, we all spend a significant amount of money on food each week. Whether that be groceries, eating out, or both. Meal planning saves so much money because you only buy what you know you will need. There is far less food being wasted, far less spur of the moment purchases of things you "might" need or "might" use that week.
We need to be more intentional about what we eat. When we don't plan our meals, they generally don't tend to be as healthy or varied in their nutritional value. When I was meal planning before, I would generally ensure we were meeting all the food groups. Now, we just do dinner based on what's in the fridge and pantry. Whilst, that isn't necessarily bad thing, through studying Lifestyle Medicine over the past years, I have realised that I don't eat as much as I should from all the food groups.
How am I going to make it sustainable? This is key!
Plan fortnightly instead of weekly. Whilst it doesn't take long to plan meals, the thought of then having to go the supermarket every week doesn't exactly excite me (I usually send my husband if I can). Also, we all get busy and the less often a task needs to be done the better. However, weekly might work better for you.
Get my husband more involved. If you have kids, get them involved too! Get family members to each pick a meal they would like during the week/fortnight/month and then they get the privilege of cooking it :)
Plan for leftover night/s, and take out.
Make double the amount wherever possible so there are leftovers for lunch the next day, or the freezer, or for leftover night.
Double up on ingredients. If I'm cooking rice, make more to store in the fridge and use for something the next night like patties.
LET'S MEAL PLAN
STEP ONE - prep
Use a whiteboard, chalkboard, piece of paper or app on your phone to take note of the meal plan and what nights you might be out, or want leftovers because you need a quick meal that night, or have a planned date night. I use the meal planner section in my productivity planner I use on a daily basis by Jordan Page (not sponsored, just a product I've found super helpful to stay organised and productive).
STEP TWO - what do you have already
Take a quick inventory of your fridge and pantry. No, you don't need to write a list of every ingredient and how much you have of it. Just have a quick scan to check what fresh vegetables you have, what needs to be used, and what bulky dried ingredients such as rice, beans, pasta and canned foods are on hand.
STEP THREE - recipe time
Look for recipes in your favourite cook books or online that will include the fresh vegetables you have on hand. For example, if you have lots of sweet potato, search for sweet potato recipes and make that your first dish to try. Perhaps a sweet potato curry? Bookmark (digitally or physically) or print the recipe.
Remember, look for ways to cook something substantial once and use it throughout the week for meals to save time. For example, legumes, rice and meat. Double up!
If your family has a favourite cuisine, search for some new recipes to try based on that. Or just flick through a cook book and take note of any recipes you like the sound of. Focus on mostly recipes you know, and then add in one or two new ones to try.
If you are able some great whole food, healthy and delicious meals, revive.co.nz is one of my favourite places for inspiration.
STEP FOUR - shopping list
Make a shopping list of any ingredients you don't have and go shopping. Note: you may also want to plan for some snacks and lunches too, especially if you have kids.
A helpful hint is to write out your shopping list in rough order of where things are in your supermarket e.g. fresh produce, canned products, baking products etc. This helps you to not miss anything!
STEP FIVE - enjoy
Enjoy a week/fortnight/month free of "what's for dinner?"
Yes, it will take you some time, especially the first time round until you find what works for you. Ultimately, it saves you a bunch of time during the week and the stress!