Thursday, March 20, 2014

Meal Planning for Beginners

I'm so excited to share this post with you today! I'm constantly trying to figure out better systems for my life to make me happier, healthier and more organized. "Meal planning" is this popular thing to do around the internet but I always found it intimidating until I created a system that works for me. And since it works for me, I thought it might work for some of you!

I'd love to hear other suggestions as well and what is working for you as I continue perfecting this system. So please comment or email me if you have other awesome tips!

How do I start meal planning?
The first thing you need to figure out is what your goal of meal planning is. Are you starting a new diet, trying to save money or trying to bring your family together more? Different goals will shape your meal planning slightly differently. Make sure you are keeping your goals in mind as you go! 

Our meal planning was motivated by 5 goals:

1. Be healthier- Eating at home is almost exclusively healthier than eating out.
2. Save money- We can feed the 2 of us and have leftovers for even cheaper than fast food.
3. Avoid 5pm frustrations-Nothing is worse than both getting home from work and realizing one of you didn't thaw the chicken or pick up that missing ingredient etc. 
4. Waste less food- Without a meal plan, I forget a lot of the fresh vegetables/leftovers etc. we have on hand and throw away too much food. I hate being wasteful and I hate throwing away money. 
5. Try new foods and develop new favorites- When we are cooking without a plan we tend to stick to the old standbys and those get old fast! 

The Best 5 Tips for Starting Meal Planning

1. Be realistic
  • If you are currently cooking dinner one time a week, don't expect to jump to cooking 6 gourmet meals a week. I was cooking 1-2 times during the week and am now cooking 3-4 times as well as 1-2 times per weekend. If you try to cook every meal instantly, you will get frustrated by not staying on track and give up. Start slowly, maybe just plan 1 week at a time and then over time, as you get more confident, plan further in advance.
2. Use what you know
Please note potato bar does not have an "e" on potato. That would be my Idaho husband that had a slight lapse in spelling.
  •  Write down all the meals you already know how to make. You will be surprised by how much you know! Most people are comfortable making tacos, pasta, sandwiches, omelettes, pancakes etc. Not every meal on the meal plan is gourmet or even officially "cooking." Again, this all relates to your goals. If your goal is to only cook new things, you may not include this but I find most people's goals include saving money and eating healthier. You can certainly do that by making a sandwich or an omelette for dinner!  This was just our first round of "favorites"-we certainly know how to make other things so we need to update our list too!
3. Write it down
  • Call me old school but for all my gadgets and devices, when I meal plan, I do use my computer for looking up recipes but I hand write my meal calendar and my shopping list. This gives me the satisfaction to not only write updates on the calendar but cross off meals when they are completed successfully and who doesn't love that feeling? I also bring both papers with me to the grocery store and keep the meal plan on the fridge so my husband is also aware of the meal plan each night. 
  • I print one month calendars at a time from this website.
4. Be flexible
  • I currently plan one month out at a time- of course, there will definitely be times when plans change and I have to work late and miss a meal. Or in my current pregnant state, not everything I planned a month ago may sound good. Feel free to move days around and update as necessary. It's a guideline for your sanity so don't freak out if you decide to move things around.
5.  Leave adequate time to plan
I set up my station with my computer, calendar, grocery list, and cookbooks/favorites list
  • I think part of the reason I always failed at meal planning was I expected to do it in 10 minutes. I would say it takes me at least 2-3 hours to plan out 1 month of dinner meals. Now granted, I'm indecisive and a food blogger so the average person may need less time. But I would say set aside 1 hour anytime you are going to meal plan so that you feel you have the time to do the adequate internet and pantry research necessary for meal planning success. 

I hope these first tips for meal planning helped you! I'll dive even deeper next time!
Next time in the Meal Planning Series: Grocery lists, meal planning resources & creating a calendar key

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