How Meal Planning Can Change Your Life
Do you have trouble deciding what to make for dinner? Have you ever thought of the perfect meal, only to realize you are missing the most important ingredients? Do you find yourself making the same few dinners over and over again? If so, read on…
Before my husband and I were married, meals were easy. We would either go out to dinner with friends, cook simple dinners at home, or attempt new, gourmet recipes together for fun. Enter 2 children, a house to maintain, and a husband who worked an hour away from home, and dinners became difficult, to put it mildly. We were always eating late, so I needed simple recipes that I could throw together, while being at the peak of exhaustion. Most days, it wouldn’t be until late afternoon before I even began to think of what to make that night. Once I made a decision, if I didn’t have the needed ingredients, I probably couldn’t make it to the grocery store to pick them up. I couldn’t imagine doing this every single day for the rest of my life (or at least until the kids were grown). Something had to give! It was at that point that I turned to meal planning. And it changed my life - and my outlook on cooking family dinners - forever.
Now I would like to share my method with you, to help ease the burden of figuring out what to make for dinner every night of the week. My style of meal planning is simple, though it might sound daunting at first. I plan all of our meals out for a month. Yes, that’s right…the whole month!
There are several benefits to monthly meal planning as opposed to weekly (although any planning is helpful!). First, you do it once a month and it’s DONE. No more, “Ugh, it’s Sunday. I have to plan the meals for the week…” Once you do it, you don’t have to do it again until, well, next month. Second, it helps you to vary your meals so that you are not continually eating the same things week after week. It also helps you to mix up meals so that you are not eating chicken three days in a row one week and then pork or beef three times the next. (Note: For this reason, it is important that you use a monthly calendar to plan your meals. This way you can visualize what you are consuming all month long and easily adjust when things are too repetitive.) Yet another benefit is with your grocery shopping. This part I do weekly, though you can make out all of your grocery lists ahead of time if you like. Every week, as I prepare my grocery trip/order, I look at what I’m making and know exactly what I need to buy so I’m not coming up short when I’m ready to cook my meal!
So here’s how to do it:
1. Make a list of go-to recipes. These are recipes you make often and that your family enjoys. If there are meals that you like that don’t always please the kids, add them to the list anyway. I find it’s always easy to make the kids a quick meal of pasta or homemade chicken nuggets on those nights (though I try not to rely on those too often).
2. Print out a monthly calendar. If you already have a planner, you can use that. If you are more comfortable using your phone or computer, feel free. Just be sure that you can see the month as a whole.
3. Begin to fill in the month with the meals from your list. I like to start with any nights that are somewhat routine. For example, Fridays are often pizza night in our house so that’s an easy one to fill in. We also have Taco Tuesdays (though not necessarily always tacos). So it’s easy to populate those days with a Mexican dish. Continue filling in the days with meals from your list. As you fill in, be sure to vary meals by type of meat, type of cuisine, pasta-based, heavier- or lighter-type meals. This will stave off boredom and is also more health-conscious.
4. Add in nights for take-out or eating out. If this is something you do often, make it part of your plan. If you have a party or event, add it to the calendar. And naturally, things will come up that are unplanned. Maybe unexpectedly you get invited to a girl’s night out; or maybe you aren’t feeling up to cooking so you decide to order that day. No big deal - just swap it and make the
planned meal the next day. Also, I always like to leave room to try new recipes that sound yummy and that the family might enjoy. If I make it - and it’s a winner - it goes on the “go-to” recipes list!
5. Make your grocery list. As I mentioned, I do this weekly. But feel free to do what works best for you. Check all of your recipes for the necessary ingredients and cross-check with what is in your fridge or pantry. Be sure to include the sides, too!
And that’s it! You’re done for a month. No more stress on what to make because you already know. You may find that next month’s menu is very similar to this month’s and that is FINE. You don’t need to recreate the wheel every single time!
I hope you found this helpful and if you give it a try, please let me know in comments!
Good luck and Happy Cooking!!