Tips for Quick and Easy Meal Planning
[Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash]
For many people, meal planning feels like a dreaded burden they have to suffer through each week. And yet, many people would also say that meals feel less chaotic and more consistent if they have some sort of plan in place.
A lot of times, when I talk with people about how diets don't work and how to eat more intuitively, they think that means that any form of meal planning is now off the table. Quite the opposite! While highly rigid plans with lots of rules don't work for 90-98% of people for more than a few months to a year at a time, planning ahead for meals is an incredibly valuable tool that often is what makes it possible to feed yourself and your family adequately.
There are lots of ways to plan meals and different things work for different people. Some people like to just fly by the seat of their pants and decide what to make when it's time to eat. Some people like to spend the better part of their Sunday afternoon preparing a weeks worth of food at a time. That is not me. I love food and I love eating but I just do not want to have to rack my brain each and every week for what to make and buy and then spend hours making it. I also don't find it pleasant (or even possible) to try and decide what to make when I'm tired and hungry at the end of the day.
I'm sharing how I go about planning meals in case you can relate. I spend maybe an hour per month total planning meals and making grocery lists. Maybe the same method will work for you or maybe there are parts of it that you can take and adapt. Either way, like with most things I work with people on, my goal is to equip you with some skills so you can find what works best for you rather than telling you what you should do. You're the expert of you, after all!
So, to the planning!
I'm not one of those big time spreadsheet fans that uses a spreadsheet for everything but I do love a spreadsheet for meal planning. Here's why:
Because I use Google Sheets, my husband and I can both access the most up to date menu, which is helpful because....
I can link directly to the recipe for each day for easy access. If he gets home first, he already knows what we're having and how to make it so he can get it started.
All of the past weeks/months are in one place for easy copying and pasting when it's time to plan a new month.
Here's what it looks like:
Each month has a tab and I keep a few months in there at a time in case I need more ideas. I also keep a bank of all our favorite recipes or new recipes I want to try on the right to pull from when I'm creating a new month.
When it's time to plan for a new month, I just create a copy of the current month, change the dates for each week, and then start rearranging recipes. I try to add 1-2 new things into the rotation each time, whether that's new recipes to just things we haven't had in awhile.
To keep the budget in check, I typically aim to keep it at one, maybe two meals per week with meat and the rest without. Unless it's one of our quick go-to meals (like homemade pizza), I usually don't repeat anything for the month. I also try to have at least one meal that doesn't take much time to prepare so we can use that for busier nights. I have a general idea of what nights are busier for us but, because I plan so far in advance, sometimes other things come up. This sheet is more to help me have 5 recipes ready for the week and then I arrange what we'll have on each specific day when that week actually arrives and I know what our schedule is like.
The whole process of selecting meals for the month takes maybe 15-20 minutes at this point.
We typically grocery shop on Friday evening or Saturday so sometime before that each week, I pull up the menu and make a grocery list from the recipes I had planned for the coming week. I also add in breakfast items (this doesn't change much for us week to week), snacks, and other random things we'll need. Leftovers from dinner typically take care of our lunches. The list making process takes about 5 minutes in total.
I like knowing that we have a plan for what we're going to make and that we have all the ingredients to make it because trying to decide what to make (or worse, having to go to the store for ingredients) when I'm already hungry is an extremely unpleasant and stressful experience for me. Occasionally, the meal isn't 100% what I'm craving at the moment but I tend to plan things we really like so that doesn't happen too often. Plus, the reduction in stress that comes from knowing we have something planned is much more valuable to me in that moment. And dessert usually takes care of any satisfaction that may have been missing from the meal :)
Hopefully you found something helpful here that you can use to take some of the stress out of planning meals!