Last time, we reviewed the many benefits of meal planning. Today, we’ll talk about the steps to consider when starting to plan your meals. It’s important to note that there are many ways to meal plan. You might need to try a few different approaches before you find what’s right for you and your family. While some people are able to plan and shop the day before, others will choose to plan for the whole month. The most common way is to plan one week ahead with grocery shopping once a week. Whatever method you choose, we hope this post will give you some tips to get started so that you can find the best way for you!
Set Aside Time
The first thing you’ll need to accept if hoping to meal plan successfully is that it takes time. Make it part of your weekly routine to sit down and plan your meals for the week. For most people, this is on the weekend before they go to the grocery store. If just starting out, plan to spend up to an hour making your meal plan. As you get more comfortable doing this week after week, it shouldn’t take you nearly as long.
Keep it Simple
Start simple! Otherwise, meal planning can get overwhelming pretty quickly. If you need to limit your plan to 1-2 meals a week to get your feet wet, then start there. You can always build up your meal planning skills and get more creative over time. It does get easier and does feel like less work the more you do it. Once you’ve mastered planning dinners for example, then start trying to plan lunches and breakfasts ahead as well.
Make a List of Meals
Next, you’ll need to make a list of meals you already like to make. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel! If you want to add new meal ideas, pull out your cookbooks, or go online to search for some new recipes that appeal to you. Just try not to add more than 1-2 new recipes a week since it can make things more stressful especially if you don’t end up liking them. When introducing new recipes, it also helps to keep any side dishes simple.
Check Your Recipes
If you have some new recipes you want to try, make sure to print or bookmark them clearly and read them well before including them in your plan. You don’t want to know how many times we have gone to try a new recipe and one of the following has happened:
You can’t find where you saved the recipe, or you forgot to bookmark it!
You forgot to buy one or more of the ingredients needed!
You didn’t realize you needed to marinade or prepare part of the recipe ahead of time!
You realized that the recipe actually took a lot more time to make than you thought!
Look at Your Calendar
You don’t want to plan to make an elaborate meal on a night you only have 30 minutes to cook! What commitments or activities does your household have planned for the week? Do your kids have swimming or hockey a couple nights a week? Do you have to work late one night? Plan quick meals on nights you are busy. Make breakfast for dinner or plan a meal that can be put in the slow cooker in the morning so it’s ready when you get home late. Save more complex meals for nights when you have a lot of time. You may also want to look at the weather forecast when planning, particularly if you only want to BBQ in nice weather! It’s also okay to plan for take-out or eating out. Just try to limit how often you are doing this to 1-2 times a week at the most.
Make Your Plan
Now that you’ve got a list of meals and have looked at your schedule, you are ready to create your plan! Here are some things you may consider when you are putting together your plan:
Time of year: Plan meals seasonally. For example, have more BBQ and cold meals in the warmer months and more soups, stews and casseroles in the cooler months.
Sales: Plan meals based on what’s on sale. Use flyers, or the Flipp app, to check out the weekly sales to give you inspiration.
Ingredients: Try planning meals so that you can use the same ingredients over several meals. For example, if you need fresh herbs for a meal then plan other meals that use the same herbs.
Variety: Think about how much variety you want to have week to week. Some people are happy with the same rotation of meals every week and this works well for them. Others like more variety and each week is a bit different. Do what works best for you!
What’s in the kitchen: See what foods you already have in your cupboards, fridge or freezer and plan meals based on what you already have available. This will save money and reduce waste.
Leftovers: Plan to make extra at some meals so you have leftovers and then plan to use the leftovers at another meal. Or freeze them for another week.
Getting Help: Involve others in the house when planning and maybe even assign tasks like prepping ahead or cooking to others as well.
Write it Down
You’re going to want to write down your plan, otherwise you might not remember what you planned. What you write them down on is up to you but we find a calendar works well. You can also find meal planning templates like this one, or just write them out on a blank piece of paper. Put it somewhere where you and everyone else can see it (the fridge is a good place). It also helps to write down anything you may need to prepare ahead on your meal plan. For example, if you need to thaw chicken for dinner on Wednesday night then you should write it down on your Tuesday list so you don’t forget.
Make a Grocery List
Once you have your meal plan outlined, you can make yourself a grocery list. Check your recipes to see what ingredients you will need. Check your fridge, freezer and cupboards to see what items you already have so you don’t end up with extra. Structure your list by grouping items based on where they are located in the grocery store to avoid running back and forth around the store. Stick with your list at the store to avoid any impulse purchases.
Have a Back-up Plan
Sometimes we can’t stick with our plan for one reason or another, and that’s okay. We have lost track of how many times we have forgotten to take the meat out of the freezer! You don’t always have to stick 100% to your plan, whether that’s by choice or circumstance. It’s a good idea to have a plan B though, particularly if you want to avoid take-out. When you make your list of meals, include some easy meals that can be made quickly as your back up plan. Keep some staple ingredients (eg. eggs, canned tuna/chicken, canned soup, bread, cheese, tomato sauce, rice, pasta, etc.) in the house at all times for these occasions. Some examples of meals might be: omelette and toast; grilled cheese and tomato soup; tuna melts and so on.
Hopefully these tips will get you started on your way to meal planning. Remember - meal planning can look different for everyone and the best thing is to figure out what works for you and your family. If it’s not working, then change the way you do it until you find out what works.
Happy Meal Planning!
Adam, Sarah and Stephanie