Meal Plan 101 What to Know, How to Succeed, and What to Skip
Meal planning can feel like an overwhelming task or something to be avoided at all costs.
I tend to think about meal planning when everything is already done.
I tried to put a plan together when all the recipes have been selected, when all the groceries have been shopped for, and a week of dinners were successfully made. But this backwards!
Let’s put the process down into three key steps:
Selecting recipes we want to make
Shopping for those particular ingredients
And preparing your meals.
These steps might seem pretty obvious. But there is a strategy within each of them.
It’s the strategy that makes meal planning saving you both time and money when dinner time rolls around.
No looking at the clock half an hour before the meal should be serve. No panicking what to make and wondering if you have all the ingredients.
This article will show how to craft your own meal plan so the question of “what’s for dinner” can be asked and answered calmly.
What Is Meal Planning?
You need to decide what meal planning is and what it isn’t. This is key to make a successful plan.
What it is
Meal planning is asking the what’s for dinner question once for the whole week, instead of every night. And then shopping for and prepping the ingredients before cooking. As I mentioned above those are:
Select your dinners and their recipes, if needed.
Shop for ingredients.
Prepare those ingredients.
Let’s break up the process in baby steps so it is less overwhelming. There is a better chance you won’t put it off until later.
Start on a Friday. Weekends are the hardest with all of your planned activities already on the calendar.
Shop Saturday morning or night.
Use Sunday for meal prep.
What it isn’t
There is so much excitement about how meal planning can change your life that it’s easy to feel it is a major part of what is expected to being the perfect homemaker.
And while it does solve so many problems, you’ve got to understand your needs.
You need to allow yourself to find a system that works for you. You’ve also got to make room for treating yourself to a night off for going to a restaurant or getting carry out.
Avoid trying to over plan. Don’t make a month of menus. You won’t keep to it since your tastes and cravings constantly change.
Don’t use a planner. I love to buy office supplies. They are cute and I can use colored markers and stickers. But it is easy to toss aside and forget about. The same thing goes for post-it-notes. Don’t save it on a whiteboard you hang in the kitchen. Use that for putting together your shopping list. Just put it somewhere you’re going to see it.
Meal planning can fit the needs of everyone. But consider there are different strategies depending on the number of people you’re planning for.
These tips for meal planning for one are helpful too!
Are these your excuses NOT to Meal Plan?
It is Too Expensive: When done well, this practice will save you money.
It is a lot of work: Not true. Planning takes a bit of learning to schedule. But it becomes second nature once you begin to work your plan.
A Meal Plan Is Not Flexible: There’s so much room to adjust the plan. Quick changes and customization in meal planning is to be expected. Life frequently throws a curve in your plan. Just roll with it.
So What Do You Need To Get Started?
Do a bit self assessment. In fact, the easiest way to answer this question is to consider why you think meal planning is something you need to do at all. Ask yourself
Are you looking for variety?
To save money?
Prevent food waste?
Preserve you sanity?
Or to have a ready answer to the perpetual question “what’s for dinner?”
If you are like me, to be successful I need to start new habits slowly.
Excuses are easy. So pick just two or three of the things that matter most. Use them when you move on to the next step of picking the recipes. Feel free to designate a day of the week to a specific dish.
Choose Your Recipes Very Carefully
Choosing your recipes puts the purpose of meal planning and the reasons why you’re doing it into action. But you shouldn’t really just choose a bunch of recipes and hope for the best. Start thinking about your meal plan at least three days before you want to create it so you have a few days to go through the full process of making a shopping list, shopping, and then prepping.
Here’s how I recommend you pick your recipes
Decide how many meals to plan for and what they need to do. Have a look at your calendar for the coming week and decide the number of nights you want to make dinner at home. Five nights is the most common but for some people three nights is more in tune with their lifestyle.
On the nights that you’re cooking, what do those meals need to do? Do they need to be made fast after getting home late? Do you need something that you can also bring as tomorrow’s lunch?
Choose meals that bless you with leftovers. They’re the gift that keeps on giving.
Cook recipes you know and maybe one new recipe. Assemble that list of recipes you know by heart. You know, the ones you make week after week and know your family loves. Then add one or two new recipes each week if you like.
Pick recipes based on common ingredients. This starts with looking at what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Shopping your home kitchen can help you decide on recipes and avoid wasted food. This is the money saving aspect of meal planning in full effect.
You might have to spend some extra time looking recipes that are right for you this week. Only cook things you want to eat!
Make an ingredient list and then a grocery list. Don’t get overwhelmed! If you make your final grocery list this way, you won’t ever buy another bag of shredded cheese when you already have some in the fridge! (Or two or three.)
Make a master ingredient list. This is not your grocery list, but it’s what leads to a really good one while also helping you take inventory of what’s in your kitchen. Start by going through each recipe’s ingredient list to make up the master list of things you’ll need for the week. Then, with keen eyes, go through your kitchen and cross off anything you already have. Now you’ve got a very accurate list you can turn into a grocery list.
If you picked recipes based on things already in your pantry and freezer, you should be crossing a fair amount off the list. But, not too fast! Consider keeping the pantry items on the list so you can restock your pantry. You never know when that can of black beans or that bag of frozen broccoli will come in handy.
Now, of course you could take your pared down ingredient list to the grocery store and pick up everything you need without much hassle, but there’s still a better way! For one, writing over the recipe is a nice double check on ingredients, but, beyond that, rewriting it lets you organize it for easier shopping.
Begin by grouping ingredients together by departments in the grocery store. Take it a step further and put those sections in order of how you like to hit the store.
Leave the frozen section for the end. Shop the meat department first if you want them to dice up meat for you or separate a package of chicken breast. Your meal depends on the availability and quality of the main ingredients.
Don’t forget those reusable bags before you head to the store! They can keep juices and blood from contaminating your other groceries. If I forget, I grab a bag or two form the produce section.
You picked your recipe, you made a grocery list, you shopped for the meals, and now you’ve come to the point where the plan truly becomes dinner. But there’s one more step. You’ve got to do some prep! It is easier if you set aside an hour on Sunday for batch cooking and chopping.
What you should do depends on the recipes for the week. Separating cloves of garlic, chopping veggies, washing lettuce and herbs, and even cooking up some meats for the crock pot ahead of time is always a massive help.
Meal planning is not difficult especially if you like to be spontaneous.
If you clicked on this article seeking to make your life in the kitchen a bit calmer because of it, you’re already well on your way. Every time you go through the process of meal planning you learn what not to do. What might work better for you next week. You may identify steps you can skip. How to customize meal planning to fit your needs. Every week you figure out what you need makes the process easier and faster. That will give you a sense of accomplishment also!
Check out some of my Meal Plans!