Some element of meal planning is critical for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Admittedly, it is a challenge to come up with meal ideas that are both nutritious and appealing to everyone in the family. However, with a little bit of planning and organization, successful meal planning will become an enjoyable and stress-free process.
Why Is Meal Planning Important?
Meal planning is essential for several reasons.
First, it saves time and money. Planning meals ahead affords you the opportunity to make a grocery list. When shopping from a list you will buy what you really need, rather than what you “think” you need, or what you want in the moment. This eliminates the need to make frequent trips to the grocery store with the inevitable impulse buys.
Secondly, meal planning helps you eat more nutritious, thoughtful meals. A meal plan will give you control over what you eat, it allows you to balance your meals, and prevents ordering food from outside the home.
Thirdly, meal planning helps reduce stress. When you plan your meals ahead of time, you don’t have to worry about what to cook every day. This eliminates the stress of making last-minute decisions and ensures that you have all the necessary ingredients on hand.
Tips for Successful Meal Planning
Take inventory of your kitchen
Before you start planning your meals for the week, take inventory of what you already have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Think about how you can incorporate these foods into your meals for the week.
Plan your meals for the week
Once you have an idea of what’s in your pantry and fridge it’s time to start planning your meals for the week. For most people, some meals (such as breakfast and snacks) are standard and routine, without much fluctuation. Thus meal planning is usually more challenging for the biggest meal of the day.
Some things to consider are everyone’s schedule and including leftovers into your plan. Leftovers from an evening meal make great lunches for the next day. Also, for days when you know that you’ll be getting home late, plan for leftovers or a meal that can be quickly thrown together.
The Meal Planning Binder System
Creating a meal planning binder has been a useful tool for our family and for many others. Here’s the low down on how to create the system:
- The binder is a typical binder with recipes shielded by page protectors. The tried-and-true keeper recipes get placed into a page protector. New recipes that you want to try get put into the front pocket.
- If you are looking for something new for the family try a new recipe. Remember that only trialing one or two new recipes per week is deal. Otherwise, it is easy to get overwhelmed.
- As you try a new recipe, you and the family will decide if it’s worth keeping and trying again. If it is a keeper, write any adjustments on the recipe (temperature changes, additions or subtractions of ingredients). If it’s not worth trying again, throw the recipe in the trash.
- Only tried-and-true recipes get the privilege of getting into a page protector.
This takes time to set up, but over time you will end up with your own family favorite binder of recipes that work for you. Keep the binder in the kitchen and you always have it when you need to start your meal planning process.
Make a grocery list
Grocery lists should be ongoing. I strongly recommend creating a system so everyone has access to the grocery list and can add to, and delete from it whenever necessary.
Most commonly, a centralized place in the kitchen with the grocery list available for everyone’s access is what has traditionally worked for many families. However, our family has created a spreadsheet that is accessible on our phones. It allows everyone to add ingredients in, and delete them when they are purchased.
After you’ve planned your meals for the week, include everything you’ll need for each meal and any staples. Having a list allows you to ensure that you have what you need when you are ready to start a meal.
In your grocery shopping, feel free to purchase anything that will help to make a meal easier to pull together. Get your veggies chopped, grains parboiled, and even grabbing a prepared rotisserie chicken can be helpful.
When you get home from the grocery store, spend a minute prepping what is needed. Wash fruits and veggies, marinate meats, and get your easier items ready to go.
Despite your best efforts, life can be unpredictable, and sometimes your meal plan may not work out as expected. Maybe you had to work late or the kids had an unexpected event. It’s important to be flexible and adjust your meal plan accordingly. If you have to skip a meal or change the plan, don’t stress about it. You can always make up for it later in the week. And remember, meal planning is meant to make your life easier, not more stressful.
In conclusion, meal planning can be a game-changer for families looking to save time, money, and ensure that everyone is eating healthy, nutritious meals. With a little preparation and organization, meal planning can be easy and even enjoyable.
Meal planning not only helps you to manage your time and finances, but it also allows you to control the nutritional content of your meals. This give you have the power to choose ingredients that provide the necessary nutrients for your family’s health. Additionally, planning ahead gives you the opportunity to introduce new foods and flavors, helping to expand your family’s palate and encourage a more varied and balanced diet.