Earlier this week I introduced you to how I get organized for meal planning and how I am able to be successful with this week after week, year after year. Hopefully you are beginning to think about the first steps you want to take to be successful.
Today I am going to share 12 strategies for meal planning you could implement once you are ready to sit down and actually get started planning the meals.
Tip #1 –
Pick a timeframe
- How many days a week you want to meal plan for?
- How many days / weeks you want to meal plan for at one time?
These may sound the same, but are different. For example, you may say I can commit to meal planning for 3 days a week but want to plan out an entire month at once. Where someone else wants to meal plan for 6 days a week but only do a week at a time. Make sense?
I do not recommend planning a meal for each night of the week. Things will come up and you will likely want to eat out some. I typically plan dinners for 5-6 nights a week. This allows 1-2 flex days.
Tip #2 –
Decide what meals you are going to plan. Only dinner? Breakfast, lunch and dinner? Write or type it out on whatever template you decided to use after reading part I.
Tip #3 –
Think about what is going on during that week. Are there nights you need meals that don’t take as long to get ready because you have a sporting event to get to? Are there nights you are going to be eating later, so you want a lighter meal? Is lunch provided at work one day? Are there certain days you definitely want leftovers for lunch – what meals would allow for that?
Tip #4 –
Look at what is on sale that week or any coupons you have and try to plan meals using those ingredients.
Tip #5 –
Plan multiple meals using the same ingredients so you will have less waste. For example, if you need romaine lettuce and tomatoes for a taco salad, make sure you have bacon and bread so you can make a BLT for lunch one day to use up the rest of the romaine and tomatoes.
Tip #6 –
Alternate protein each day for variety. An example could be a beef entree one night, vegetarian one night, chicken one night, seafood one night, then pork one night and soup / salad the remaining night.
Tip #7 –
Always have enough items in your pantry to make at least one easy unplanned meal. This can be accomplished by always making sure you have a well stocked pantry (and refrigerator and freezer). I think one of the biggest questions I get is, “What if we don’t feel like eating what we have planned?” If you have enough items in your pantry to put together a few meals, you now have options. If you don’t want to make the planned meal, make one of your pantry meals.
Tip #8 –
Plan a meal that includes mostly pantry items, with maybe one or two additional fresh ingredients. (this is not the same as #7). If something comes up and you want to go eat BBQ at the local restaurant instead of your planned meal, there will only be a couple of ingredients that will need to be used later in the week to avoid going bad and being wasted. Pasta is usually this for us – add a protein, some fresh ingredients and either an oil/vinegar or tomato sauce.
Tip #9 –
Have a list of your favorite go to meals that are quick and easy. These can also be relied on if you don’t want to eat what is planned or end up needing something quicker. Ours typically are mexican of some sort, canned salmon or tuna salad, eggs / breakfast meal, Kitchen Sink Belly Bowl, snacky meal (hummus, veggies, salad, nuts, fruit, crackers, etc). The snacky is of course my kids favorite because its a fun dinner.
Tip #10 –
Keep in mind meals that take the same time to make 2 or 10 servings. I always make a lot and freeze what is left so it allows for a quick meal later on in the month – soup, hamburgers, ground meat for pasta / mexican, cooked chicken breasts, etc.
Tip #11 –
Plan your grocery list and items needed, in the flow of the store. This is a huge time saver when you are shopping. I actually have a word document I created with most all items I buy at the store regularly. It is typed out and then I just need to put a checkmark next to what I need. It is built in categories like produce, dairy, bulk, etc. and in the order I travel around my store. (This saves time during the planning process because of the template and the shopping process because of the flow of the list)
Tip #12 –
Consider a rotating template. After you have built out a few weeks or months, keep them and continue to rotate them in. This will eliminate the need to start from scratch each time. This is especially helpful for those that don’t care to try new recipes.
There are many benefits in my opinion to planning meals. At the end of a work day, the last thing I want to do is think about what I need to make for dinner and go to the grocery store to pick up any last minute ingredients. If you plan your meals in advance, you only have to do it once a week instead of every single day. You also are more proactive and efficient at the grocery store because you know what you need for that week. My favorite benefits are saving money and wasting less (because you are organized) and you are eating more home cooked meals!
For the meal planners out there already – do you have any other tips that work for you and your family?
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