Let’s Talk Meal Planning

I recently taught a class on meal planning and it made me think that I should share my tips and tricks with you all! If you are new to meal planning or maybe a seasoned pro looking for some new advice, here is my guide to meal planning.

Let’s break it down into four phases:

  1. Organize
  2. Accomplish
  3. Execute
  4. Implement

Phase 1, Organize, is probably the most important of the four phases, it is laying the foundation for the success of the other steps. Without putting in the time in this phase, you may see that you aren’t as successful as you may have hoped. This phase is when you want to look at what you have, figure out what you want to make, and take inventory of what you already own. Here are some tips for success!

  • Utilize cookbooks to help you decide meals, it can be hard to think and find recipes every week. Find a cookbook with recipes you trust, and say “this week were eating 3 meals from this cookbook” my go to is America’s Test Kitchen. They have several series that focus on 1 hr recipes, and we have never made one we didn’t like.
  • Take inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry EVERY week. Things can so easily get lost in your freezer. You may notice the dead bag of spinach in your fridge pretty easily, but that chicken breast that’s been in your freezer for a year…. somehow keeps getting missed.
    • Another sub tip to this is to organize your fridge, freezer, and pantry. For my my pantry it has quite a few shelves so I organize it by: Grains top shelf, snack shelf next one down, then its dried fruit, nuts and soup stuff, then its all canned items, and then following two are baking items. For my freezer I just have one shelf in between so meat on the bottom, top shelf left is ready to eat frozen foods and right is frozen fruit and veg. I recommend for your fridge you consider having a shelf that has all your meal prepped food, this makes it easiest to grab and go
  • Clean out your fridge BEFORE you go shopping. This can be part of your inventory step, but having a clean fridge when you arrive back from grocery shopping will make a world of difference. This also helps you see what you still have verse what you need to get.
  • Another part of planning is looking at your week ahead, do you have after work activities? Are you going to be going away for the weekend? Are you in office? Answering these questions help you plan what meals make sense for you to eat. If you have a lot going on, maybe its better to have quick meals ready to go. But if you have 3 nights where you are getting dinner out with friends, save those groceries because they will go to waste
  • Make your grocery list. It sounds basic. But I often forget to write it down, and get to the grocery store and totally blank and end up buying things I don’t need, while forgetting the things I do. I like to organize my grocery list by section of the store. That way as I work my way down the list I am not popping all over the store, I just shop by section

Phase 2: Accomplish. Sometimes getting in and out of the grocery store at your budget feels like a massive accomplishment. And with rising food costs, IT IS! This phase is fairly simple, stick to your plan and accomplish it!

  • Consider checking out the stores weekly fliers for any sales or discount
  • Shopping services can be more expensive, but I find I only buy what I need and I save time not needing to go to the store myself, sometimes this balances out and it may be worth utilizing
  • Stick to your list. If you are going to go off list, set a limit for yourself. 1 interesting product a week, or 1 treat per person. Its okay to splurge a bit, but it can get out of hand quickly
  • Know your stores, in New England I do NOT want to be at a Market Basket between 10-1 on a Sunday, lines are crazy. So I know to go before then or a different day.
  • Eat before you go, you most likely will be hangry and cranky if you do otherwise

Phase 3: Execute. Awesome you have the plan, you have the groceries, now what? You actually have to make it now!

  • Buy good containers. We have various containers for different kind of meal preps. We bring soup at least once a week, so we need something that can microwave and wont spill in our lunch boxes. I like the glass containers, but they do add a lot of weight to your bag. So find containers that make the type of meal plan you make best!
  • I like to pick what takes the longest to cook, and start there. While that is cooking, I work on other recipes.
  • Look over your recipes and see what ingredients overlap, can you prep them all at the same time and split it out for the recipes you need. Why not chop a lot of onions at once than have to it over and over again.
  • Do all of your meals need to be PREPPED? For example I like cooking… I want to have at least one to two meals that I make fresh. For us, this means we cook dinners during the week. We make them so that we cook once eat at least twice. So we aren’t cooking every night. But I don’t want to only have reheated meals alllll week. Maybe this is your breakfast meal that you don’t prep, but you know what it is and make it fresh when you want it
  • It’s okay to use short cuts. Do you need to make the chicken stock yourself, no, its okay to buy it. Do you need to make your own dressings, nope. Can you use frozen veggies that you just dump in your soup and they’re pre chopped and ready to go? HECK YES. We don’t have to make this process hard on ourselves. Meal prepping is supposed to make our lives 10% easier by not having to think about meals/cooking every day of the week. We just spend a bit more time one day, and reap that time reward.

Phase 4: Implement. So you meal prepped one week… what about the week after. If you start your meal planning journey, and you find it really didn’t work for you, reflect why, and adjust. There is no one size fits all approach to this. We all have different commitments, eating styles, families, and more. So what works for me, wont necessarily work 1 for 1 for you. So review and find a way that does work for you so this is something you can implement weekly, and it doesn’t feel like a massive to do every week.

  • If at the end of the week, you still have a lot of meals left over, review which ones are leftover and why you think that is? Do you not like eating that kind of meals, did you have dinner out with friends, was there too much prepped?
  • Our go to meal plan looks like: 2 breakfast (1 prep prepped like eggs, and one we make fresh like yogurt and berries), 2 lunches (1 a big batch like soup, one that is some version of salad or bowl), 2 dinners (we may prep 1 if its cooks for a long time like stew but we cook these on the week nights), and 1 flex (usually saved for the weekend or if we host unexpectedly)
  • Deciding what meals to eat out, is part of meal planning. Meal planning isn’t just figuring out your groceries and only cooking at home. If you like to and can afford to eat out, go for it! Plan out which meals and when, and fill in the rest of your week accordingly
  • Just because people meal prep overnights oats, doesn’t mean you will like it. Find what kind of meals you like to eat, and make that! Don’t try to fit someone else’s plan into your life!
  • It should be fun. Have fun with meal planning! Explore new flavors and techniques, try new things, eat interesting stuff!

I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful where ever you may be on your meal planning journey! Remember, one size wont fit all and find what works for you!

If you like to see some of my meal plans check out my cycle syncing meal plan with grocery template or my monthly news letter has a new meal plan every month with grocery list included and organized!

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