Meal planning is the act of writing out a menu for a set period of time, with a grocery list, while taking your schedule into account. I recommend weekly meal planning, but depending on your schedule and the number of mouths to feed, it may work for you to plan twice per week or even every other week.
You may have followed someone else’s meal plans in the past and that is a great starting point. But what I’m referring to is developing the ability to write your own meal plans.
And quite frankly, not meal planning rips the control of your goals right out of your hands and gives it to your boss, kids, and schedule. All of which, if we’re being honest, do not consider your health their priority.
- Time Constraints
- Taste Concerns
Meal planning addresses all five of these reasons:
- Availability: I recognize that food deserts do exist in this country. But for most of my readership, I believe availability refers to vending machines and fast-food restaurants. If you know that your cubicle sits in the middle of a fast-food jungle, planning lunches and snacks will create a ready-to-eat nutrient oasis.
- Cost: This one is major on multiple levels. First of all, feeding a family of four from restaurants and take-out may cause you to take out a second mortgage. But more importantly, consider this: According to the NRDC, the average American throws away 25% of the food and beverages they buy. This can cost families between $1300 and $2200 annually. In fact, Americans throw away 10 times as much food as the average Southeast Asian. Seriously. These statistics make me want to sit down and punch myself in the face. Strategic meal planning accounts for what is already in your fridge and keeps you from letting food go bad.
- Confusion: The grocery store can be an overwhelming and unforgiving place. Especially if you go in hungry or without a game plan. Walking into the grocery store without a list is akin to driving across the country without a map. You may get to where you need to be, but it will take twice as long and be three times as expensive.
- Time Constraints: It may seem counterintuitive to have to carve out 2 hours every Sunday to meal plan and grocery shop. However, what you’re losing on the front end, you’ll save on the back end. What if you didn’t have to make three different stops at the grocery store throughout the week. Or spend 20 minutes sitting in the drive-thru every night. It adds up.
- Taste Concerns: The best thing about meal planning is that you get to create the menu. So if you don’t like steamed asparagus because it tastes like a wet tree (true story), you don’t have to buy or cook steamed asparagus.
6 Simple Steps to Pain-Free Meal Planning
- Block time every week to write out a meal plan. For me, it’s Sunday afternoon. For you, it might be Tuesday night or Thursday evening. And protect this time.
- Review your schedule for the week. Do you have a work function Monday night and soccer games Wednesday night? Plan for those. It may mean cooking extra so you have leftovers, planning a slow cooker meal, or extra snacks for the week.
- Inventory your fridge and pantry. Check all the drawers for any veggies that may go bad or hidden leftovers to use for lunch. Incorporate those in your meal plan. (Pssst- this is the part where you save all the money.)
- Write it out. Find your favorite recipes, a few new ones, and write out a meal plan. You can use paper, a whiteboard, or a chalkboard. You can see our meal planning pig, Eleanor, in the photo below. Keep it simple or make it fun. Either way, just do it.
- Make a shopping list. While you’re writing out recipes, write down what you need so you don’t forget anything once you get to the store.
- Execute. You’ve done the hard work, now follow through. Don’t let the lure of an unexpected office lunch derail your planning.
Still not convinced yet?
My gift to you:
I have blank meal planning, prep, and shopping list printables for you to use! You may think this is a sick joke – if I really wanted to help you, I would have them filled in with weekly meals, right? But I’m trying to teach ya’ll to fish.
Just click on the link below, download, and print out as many as you need. I use these exact documents when I’m meal planning for the week.
Kelsey Albers, NTP
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