I started meal planning some years ago as a way to save money, initially. But I soon started loving the fact that I didn’t have spend every day thinking about what to cook for dinner anymore. As an added bonus, meal planning allowed me to make healthier choices which made me feel really good. Click here for my weekly meal 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. I believe the simplest way to approach meal planning is with three steps:
- Select your dinners and their recipes, if needed.
- Shop for ingredients.
- Prepare those ingredients.
Start on a Friday
I do my meal planning for the following week, on a Friday evening armed with a couple of recipe books, a couple of online food blogs that I love and, of course, a glass of wine! I shop on Saturday morning, and then meal prep on Sundays.
What it isn’t
The holy grail! There’s so much fanfare about how meal planning can change your life that it’s easy to blow its effects out of proportion. And while it does solve so many problems, you’ve got to tailor it to fit your needs (which means you’ve got to be clear on what those are) and give yourself lots of leeway to experiment and find a system that works for you. You’ve also got to make room for pizza night — I feel very strongly about pizza night (and wing night!).
Other Things Meal Planning Is Not
- A big tabbed binder with a full month of meals (unless that’s what you want to do): Write it in your planner, on a paper you stick to the front of the fridge, in a Google doc, or on a whiteboard you hang in the kitchen. Just put it somewhere you’re going to see it.
- Entirely home cooked: I’m a big, big fans of planning for takeout, date night, and leftovers.
- Just for families of four: Meal planning is for everyone. But there are different strategies to employ depending on the number of people you’re planning for.
- A lot of work: Not true. You do a bit of concentrated work up front, but it’s smooth sailing once you begin to work your plan. Most of the time, I don’t meal prep on a Sunday.
- Inflexible: There’s so much room for experimentation, quick revisions, and customization in meal planning. It’s not set in stone.
Choose Your Recipes Very Carefully
Choosing your recipes puts the philosophy of meal planning and the reasons why you’re doing it into action. In fact, I think it’s the most critical step since it sets this whole process in motion. 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 give it ago 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 denominator, but for some people three nights is the sweet spot. Then you’ve got to hone in even further. On the nights that you’re cooking, what do those meals need to do? For example, on the nights that your kid has swim class, an 8-hour slow cooker recipe is a good idea. If it’s just you and your partner and they’re working late, you might need something that you can also bring as tomorrow’s lunch.
Where to Get Those Recipes
On this blog! Pinterest, a Google search, other cooking sites, and of course are there to inspire. My favourite cooking sites are The Mediterranean Dish, because we eat a more Mediterranean-based diet, and Skinny Taste – her meals are nutritious and easy to make and she has a 7-day meal plan you can follow if you prefer. I also have a number of cookbooks I get inspiration from.
4 More Rules for Picking the Right Recipe
- Choose meals that bless you with leftovers: They’re the gift that keeps on giving.
- Cook recipes you know + one new recipe: This is a pro move! Assemble that master list of recipes you know by heart — the ones you make week after week and know your family loves. Then add one or two new recipes each week, but only if you want.
- Pick recipes based on common ingredients: This is another pro move and it 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.
- Cook things you really want to eat: You might have to spend some extra time uncovering recipes that are right for you, but it’s worth it if you still can’t wait to eat them. So, we’re saying the obvious on this one: Only cook things you want to eat!
Make the grocery list:
Now, of course you could take your 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. I group mine into these categories – meat, dairy, fruit & vegetables, Other.
A word to the wise: Leave the frozen section for the end and don’t forget those reusable bags before you head to the store!
Spend an Hour on Sunday Prepping
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 — and this one will help you beat cooking fatigue during the week. You’ve got to do some prep! We recommend you set aside an hour on Sunday for batch cooking and chopping.
What you should do depends on the recipes for the week, but dicing up garlic, chopping veggies, washing lettuce and herbs, and even cooking up some chicken thighs ahead of time is always a massive help.
You Did It! Now Do it Again!
Meal planning is not difficult, but it’s not a walk in the park either — especially when you’re new to it. So if you showed up here 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, the places where to improve on next week, what you can skip, and how to customize the entire practice to fit your needs. Continuing to do it only makes you better.