How To Start Meal Planning
Ready-made meal plans
As I was searching through Pinterest or googling new ways to cook for the family, I stumbled upon a few meal plan ideas. I was curious as to what a meal plan was like? What did it mean to meal plan? Did I have to do all the planning? How far in advance did I have to meal plan? How organized did I have to be? How much time would it require?
Remember, I didn’t have very much time, so that was my most significant factor. I didn’t want to be planning my meals. I was too tired to have to make more decisions. It’s incredible how being the one to decide what the family will eat every day can take a toll on a person when they do not enjoy cooking.
That is when I discovered that many sites offered meal plans already made for me. This was also tricky for me. How can I follow a meal plan if we won’t necessarily enjoy the recipes? Will it just be another way to waste money potentially? How would these plans work for us? How long did I have to commit to these plans?
I reviewed many different meal plans and looked over their trial recipes. It was a lot of work at the beginning, but I didn’t want to waste my time if I wasn’t going to commit 100%. I wanted a meal plan that would work for my family and that we would all enjoy.
Of course, no meal plan would be 100% perfect. However, as long as it provided most dinner ideas and reduced my decision making I needed to make, that was winning in my eyes. I figured, if the meal plan could make up most of my meals, I could always substitute some of the meals with my go to meals that we liked. I knew that replacing would work as these meals wouldn’t be rotated as often anymore.
I finally found a program that worked for us and let me tell you how amazing it is!!!! Why is it so amazing for us? Let me tell you.
#1 – The Meals
First of all, the meals work for us. I found a plan that accommodates a larger family, therefore, the recipes are made to serve six people. We enjoy eating the meals and they are very easy to make. All the meals provide prep time, cook time, and how many it will serve.
The plan even includes a couple of desserts for the week, as well as a couple of side dishes. I don’t always make these as we don’t need dessert every single day, but it’s fun to have the option to try something different. I look forward to meal time as the food ideas are great and the kids will eat it.
Yes, there are a few meals where the kids may not love it, but I made the decision that we are going to try different meals. We have to expand our palette and not be afraid to try new things.
Biggest impact about the meal plan? Decisions are made for me!!! Holy smokes does that make me happy! (Check Chapter 5 for Meal Plans and Chapter 6 for Meal Ideas)
#2 – The Frequency
The meal plan I chose is sent to me weekly. I do enjoy that it’s only weekly because I know what day my plan will be emailed. I can then check over the plan and review the ingredients to prepare for my grocery haul.
The fact that it’s a weekly meal plan is less overwhelming. I plan for the week, my grocery bill is less shocking, and I know exactly what we will be eating. I don’t have to worry about the following week or others after that.
My brain is always running at a 100 miles an hour, and sometimes, something will come up and I have to run off the plan. Having only planned for the week, switching a day or two won’t be so hard to adapt. Here is a quick example.
Last weekend, I had my meals already planned and purchased, but we had a ball tournament and we were trying to do landscaping for our yard. When it came time for supper, I was completely exhausted. The last thing I wanted to think about was the meal even though I knew what we would eat. We went ahead and ordered pizza. I didn’t have to heat up my house, didn’t have to pull anything from the freezer and could enjoy my evening to relax after a hectic day. However, now I had extra ingredients in the house that were not used. What would I do with them? I reviewed my recipe and realized the ingredients would be perfect to use for another meal in the future. I could save them in the freezer, fridge, and pantry and it would be okay for another time. They weren’t going to waste.
#3 – The Grocery List
I appreciate that the plans come with a grocery list. This reduces a lot of prep work for me. I can go through the meal plan and if there is a recipe I do not want to make, I go through the grocery list and remove the ingredients that are found in that recipe. The grocery list is straightforward to read and is broken down by categories such as pantry, freezer, fruits, and vegetables. I can then go through my items at home and review what ingredients I am missing. Very simple.
However, the only thing I have to remember to do is to add notes for a side dish I will serve with my meal. I want to make sure I have the ingredients for those dishes. It is an extra step but at least it’s quick and simple. Most of the time, I have the side dish ingredients already at home (potatoes, mixed veggies, rice, salad, etc.)
Don’t forget to add your grocery items for your lunches, any snacks you may want to give your kids, and household items such as toiletries. I also always add my regular weekly items of milk, bread, eggs & fruits/veggies. If I don’t end up using all my fresh produce, I will try and find a way to incorporate them into a meal, bake with them, or freeze them for future use.
When I go over my grocery list, I check my freezer stash. Do I have any extra meals in the freezer that we did not eat? Will there be any activities during the week where I need a speedy meal? Or do I prefer having a simple meal such as pizza, pasta, or maybe a taco night? If I feel we will want something different than what I may have purchased for a meal plan (or potentially already planned), I will alter my grocery list. I remove items that I won’t need or add extra things I may need.
Remember, part of meal planning is also realizing you may not always follow through with your plan. Sometimes, an unexpected event will come up. You suddenly have to go to a school event you didn’t know about ahead of time. Just make sure you have ingredients ready for those on-the-go meals. This will help avoid having to spend extra and grab food on the go from a restaurant/fast food location. Taking the time to plan can be time-consuming, but it will be stress-free, and you will be thankful.
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#4 – Prepping and Shopping
If you did plan on having meals that will be quick and easy for on the go, make sure they aren’t sitting in your freezer. If you planned to eat something that was already premade, make sure to pull it out of your freezer to let it thaw in your fridge for 24 hours. It won’t be a quick meal if you pull it out of the freezer at the last minute.
When you have your grocery list all prepared, plan how you will be picking up your food. Do you plan on going to the store to do your shopping? Will you be ordering your groceries online and picking them up? Will you be getting them delivered? Today, grocery shopping can be done in different ways, which can make a significant impact on the efficiency and accessibility for you and your family.
I do prefer going to the store and selecting my product, but being a mother of four, my time is precious. However, being able to order all of my groceries from an app on phone has been a huge game changer! I plan my meals on Friday and will go through my pantry, fridge, and freezer and decide what ingredients and items I will need. I select the day I want my groceries to be ready and with a simple click, it is all done.
If you are in Canada, check Real Canadian Superstore Click and Collect program. Love it so much! They offer loyalty points and the more you shop with them, the more they customize the points to your shopping. For example, I buy bananas and apples weekly and I can gain 200 points per $1 I spend on this produce. I love the customization. What do the points do? They equal money. This week, I just claimed $40 on my grocery bill. Free money!!
#5 – Less food waste and less spending
How many times would I go shopping and see fruits and veggies and think, oh this would be great for the kids to eat! Then I would find the uneaten produce in the back of the fridge a couple of weeks later in bad shape. I had good intentions with my purchase, but sometimes would either forget or not follow through with preparing the food.
With meal planning, you won’t waste your food. You will buy what you need, which also means, you won’t overspend. You go to the store with a list and a plan. You will know exactly what you will be making for your family for the week and not waste your purchased foods.
However, if you have bought extra produce and will not be using it, don’t waste it. Try to be creative and reuse it in a different format or freeze it. For example, I had good intentions to use zucchini for a meal and on the day I was going to use it, I changed my mind. Now, I had this zucchini sitting in my fridge and I didn’t want it to go to waste. I had two options. One, I could cut it up and freeze it (reuse it in the future in a stir-fry) or I could use it now and make the Award Winning Zucchini Bread by Sally’s Baking Addiction, which would be a great snack for school.
#6 – The Ability to Freeze
If I know we will have a busy week with the kids, I try to prep my meals for the week (or a few days) ahead of time. Some meals require to be cooked entirely beforehand and then can be frozen, while others need to be prepped (cut up, a sauce made and mix). The benefit of prepping ahead of time is that the days you pull out your meal, you don’t require any prep time (except the time to thaw the meal). You take out the thawed out meal, if cooking is required, follow the directions and voila.
I love prepping my meals ahead of time because this gives me much more time with the kids after school. I am much more present for the very few hours I have with them before bed. This also reduces the multitasking of life. How many times are you juggling supper, homework, or getting ready for an after-school activity? The prepped meal is already taken care of and you can now be more focused and provide better attention to the family. Bonus for all!!
Yes, prepping ahead of time can be slightly time-consuming, but if you have all the tools you need it can work.
I don’t always cook or prep my meals ahead of time, but if I do, I check which meals require more time for prepping and cooking. Doing those ones first will help for the week as your quick ones will be the only ones you will be required to cook on the spot.
How To Meal Plan
Alright, I just provided 6 detailed reasons as to WHY I meal plan, but what about the HOW??? How did I start, how do I do it? Is there a specific method to the madness? To be honest, a lot of the why I do it, is also the how I do it. Let me explain.
#1 – Decide how you will find your meals.
What the heck do I mean find your meals? I mean, are you going to follow a meal plan that is already designed for you or do you want to go ahead and decide the meals? Either way, you have to decide how you are sourcing your meals. If you follow a meal plan, a huge portion of the work is already done for you, but if you are going to find your own meals, how are you doing it?
- If you want to go down the meal plan route, check Chapter 5 for great websites.
- If you are going to choose your own meals, check Chapter 6 for great recipes and resources.
#2 – Plan one week at a time
Don’t plan for more than a week at a time. You have more control over the unexpected events and again, it is easier for grocery shopping, food waste and sanity. I like to take a blank page and plan it out. For me, using a journal, or a planner does not work for me, but it does not mean it wouldn’t work for you. To start, just use a simple Meal Plan Schedule Template and as you get used to this process, get fancy, and purchase a journal or planner to make it pretty.
I follow Debtkickinmom and love the simple plan/template she uses.
For example, when we headed out to our cabin for a long weekend, I had my meals already planned for the week, but I wanted to have a specific meal plan for when we would be away from the house.
Here is the picture I shared on my Instagram. Sorry, about the double Sunday, I had a mommy brain moment and meant to write Monday. I am using this image to be 100% real, I don’t want to create a new look, just for this eBook. This is how it looked when I planned for 3 days.
Now, what do you see in this picture? 2 main sections. The meals (Breakfast, Lunch, Supper, and snacks) and groceries are the two main sections that I use.
For the first section, I like to break down my meals by breakfast, lunch and supper. I will have a variety of snacks available, and the children can choose.
Secondly, I will check my fridge, freezer and pantry to assess my ingredients and will fill out my grocery list as I go. Super simple but easy to use.
# 3 – Set a schedule
Set a schedule for when you are going to meal plan and go grocery shopping. What day will you sit down and create your meal plan and grocery list? What day will you go grocery shopping?
For example, I do my meal planning over the weekend. I don’t do it all at once. As I plan, I am adding my ingredient requirements into my app. I then either pick up or grocery shop on Monday. I am then set for the week.
#4 – Remember side dishes, lunches and snacks
Meal planning is more than planning for one meal of the day. You have to think of the whole day. What will you have for breakfast, lunches, snacks, side dishes and supper? Will you have enough food from supper to use as leftovers? Or, do you need to make lunches for school, for work or for a camp? There are many factors to remember which is why planning can be overwhelming if you do too many days at once.
Side dishes are another important factor to remember. Will you be making potatoes, rice, salad, or veggies? It’s important to consider the side dishes as you will need to make sure to have enough on hand or add them to your grocery list.
How about the snacks? Do you need fruits, granola bars, muffins or veggies? All items you need to make sure to have on hand or added to your grocery list.
If you plan on baking, don’t forget to check your pantry and make sure you have all your baking needs. One last thing to think about is, do you need storage bags or containers? How will you put your food away to freeze if you don’t plan on eating it right away?
#5 – Be prepared to fail over and over
It doesn’t matter how many times I plan my meals, I somehow always manage to forget something or not think of an item. It’s ok to forget or not be 100% planned. The point of meal planning is to reduce the time you need to plan and prep for your family. You may have forgotten a side dish or a snack but at least you are most likely 90% ready for all the other meals, side dishes, and snacks for the rest of the week.
For example, with the meal plan image I shared for our cabin outing, I had already done my grocery haul that week and knew about our weekend getaway. However, I was not properly prepared, so I rewrote it for our weekend and made sure to have everything we needed. Guess what, I still failed. I forgot side dishes for our suppers. It still worked out fine, we made it work. If I had not meal planned, it’s guaranteed that I would have brought way more food with us to the cabin and I would have wasted a lot of produce or food. This method meant I was more prepared, saved money, and wasted less food. Win/win even within all my fails.
I realize that this section may seem a bit too easy to be true, but try it out. I quickly created a simple Meal Plan Schedule Template to add your daily food choices. When you have all your decisions made, it’s on to the next step.
#6 – Grocery List
This step may be easy, but this is the step where you are most likely going to forget an ingredient/item. For me, I don’t use a grocery list, I add my groceries directly into my Real Canadian Superstore App. The items are saved until I am ready to check out, that way, I can add as I go during the week and will less likely forget to order something.
When you have all your meals, side dishes, snacks and whatever other food items you may need planned out, it’s time to do your grocery list. Start with one meal at a time and go through the recipe and look at all the ingredients. Add your meats, veggies, and carbs and don’t forget to add any spices you may not have on hand. As you go on to your next meal, make sure you keep adding on the items you may need. For example, if you have two meals that require chicken breast, make sure you have enough chicken breast on hand or on your grocery list. Add them all together.
When you have gone through your weekly schedule, make sure you add any other household item you may need. Do you need dish detergent, toilet paper, milk, coffee, creamer, and toilet bowl cleaner? Another way to make sure you haven’t forgotten any items is to check your store’s flyer. If you don’t have their flyer, check the app Flipp, you will find all store flyers within the app.
If you are looking for a good grocery list template, try the following:
Pantry Inventory Spreadsheet (Pulling Curls)