Meal planning can definitely save you money and reduce weeknight stress….. but it can also be a tad overwhelming and confusing. If you’re hoping to meal plan more in 2020, then these tips are for you.
1. Start now start small
Firstly, if you’re waiting for a week that’s less busy than usual….. you’ll be waiting forever! Our weeks are always busy. Even the weeks we don’t think will be busy! So start now! Secondly, it’s unrealistic to think you can go from ZERO to 100 in one week. Whatever you are currently doing, start by doing ‘a bit better’ next week. So if you’re coming from doing ZERO menu planning, start planning just one or two dinners. Or if you’re doing well with planning for three days of the week, start adding just an extra day to your planning. Then you can slowly build from there.
2. Make sure you are stocked up
If your pantry/freezer needs some legit stocking, do that now. It’s going to be easier to make a handful of recipes if you already have things like diced tomatoes, olive oil, rice, and more on hand. I’ve listed a few things I like to keep stocked in our pantry/freezer below but it’s a good idea for you to create your own list! What ingredients do you use regularly use? What recipes are popular in your house? Whats your go-to-last-minute-meal? This is the kind of stuff you want in your pantry/freezer.
My ‘essentials’ list: pasta, rice, quinoa, almond meal, rolled oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs/spices, canned corn, canned tomatoes, coconut oil, coconut milk, almond milk, stock, salt, pepper, honey, frozen steamed veggie bags, frozen roast veggie bag, frozen stir fry veggie bag, frozen fish fillets, stir through pasta sauce, stir fry sauce.
3. Consider the kinds of meals you need
This sounds so simple and obvious, yet it can be easily overlooked. Much like life, meal planning is more successful when you keep things simple. Choose recipes based on the kind of meals you need. Busy week ahead? Use the slow cooker for mostly hands-off dinners. Tight on time? Give one pan or sheet pan recipes a go! Whether it’s budget dinners, vegan options, or meals with make-ahead potential, choose the recipes that meet your needs.
So before you even go searching for recipes, write down a list of what you want the recipe to do for you. It might look something like the following:
- A recipe I can make in under 15minutes
- A vegetarian recipe
- A recipe I can make in one pan
- A recipe that’s got sweet potatoes because I have a couple sitting in the pantry
That narrows down what you’re looking for. Now you can got about finding that recipe. You can comb through Pinterest, or flip through a magazine or cookbook with your criteria in mind. You won’t be making a physical list like this every time you begin searching for recipes, but this technique highlights a way to think. Eventually, you start doing all this in your head!
4. Make extra (or choose recipes that will provide leftovers)
Doubling batches can save you heaps of time in the long run because leftovers can easily be repurposed as weekday lunches or subsequent dinners. We typically make extra – we’ll eat one serve, then freeze another serve for dinner next month!
5. Be flexible
Out of rice? Make couscous instead! Don’t have kale? Use baby spinach instead? Just because you are out of one ingredient does not mean that you need to make a mad dash to the store. Work with what you have.
6. Cook what you know + try something new
Meal planning isn’t about cooking something new every night of the week. This might sound nice, but in reality it’s pretty unsustainable. But that doesn’t mean you should push away new recipes altogether! Build most of your meal plan with recipes you know and have made before, then add one new recipe every so often. It will keep you menus feeling new and expand your recipe repertoire at the same time.
7. Plan to keep a few prepared things on hand
In addition to having a stocked pantry, having a few things prepared ahead of time can be seriously handy! Think about what you can prep on the weekend that could help make your weekly meals easier. Perhaps a big batch of roasted veggies is your side dish for dinner Monday night, or a pot of brown rice will be used to bulk up dinner Tuesday night, or some cut up some veggie sticks will be thrown into your lunchbox on Wednesday.
8. Have fun with it
Meal planning sounds like a lot of work and not enough fun, but you know it’s a good thing to do! Sometimes adding a little bit of fun can seriously help. Maybe get a pretty notebook, buy a new recipe book you’ve been eyeing off, pour yourself a glass of wine whilst you plan, get the family involved, or include a night off in your weekly plan (cause who doesn’t love a Sunday night BBQ with the besties, or a Paddle Pool and pizza party with family!).
BONUS TIP. You do you!
There are soooooo many ways to approach meal planning but it doesn’t need to be all your weekly meals portioned out into containers sitting labeled in the fridge. It can be breakfast pre made, or lunches pre portioned or dinners frozen, it can be veggies pre-cut, lunchboxes partially filled or meat marinading for dinner, it can be one days worth, 3 days worth or 7 days worth of pre-made food. Finding what works for you (your family, your tastes, your budget, your lifestyle) is key. Keeping it simple (so it’s achievable) can be the lifesaver. Over complicating things means ’life’ can easily throw a spanner in the works and completely mess up your week – like the social event that falls on your Sunday, or the bout of unexpected sickness that hits your household, or that beautiful weather that’s calling you and your family outside to play!
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