It is 5:00 pm, and I am avoiding thinking about supper… Honestly, I’m procrastinating and hoping a meal will just pop off the pantry shelf, leap onto the stove, and fill the house with wonderful aromas. I do have great ideas and intentions when I’m strolling the aisles at the grocery store and I’m thinking about meals for the following week. But, sometimes I forget my creative idea or lose my interest. To be transparent — meal planning has been my arch enemy. Between weird meal combinations and frustration over throwing out expired food, I keep vowing to conquer meal planning one step at a time. As I have continually worked and struggled on meal planning, I’ve actually made progress. If you struggle at times with meal planning, you are not alone. (On a side note: thank you to Lisa, a reader, who inspired this conversation about planning dinners.)
So, why do I keep working on meal planning? Because I know that there are great benefits to meal planning and I have experienced these benefits when I create and follow a plan.
Reasons to follow a meal plan:
- Cuts out stress
Do you ever have a great idea for supper and then realize you are missing vital ingredients? Grrrr. So you either drop everything you are doing and run to the store or you, figure out a substitute, or just say ‘forget it’ and throw a pizza in the oven. Having all of the ingredients on hand is a wonderful time saver. My family also has activities some evenings, so I need to make supper earlier in the afternoon. I don’t have 15 minutes to stare blankly at the pantry as I wait for inspiration to hit me. By planning ahead I am able to serve a wholesome meal instead of a Frankenstein creation for my family.
- Saves $
I’m sure it is not news to you that food prices are increasing and the reality is it will always increase slowly over time. It is nice when our paychecks increase at the same rate as well! I need to embarrassingly admit that I have had some of the best meal plans not come to fruition and then having food going bad and being thrown out. Ugh, I incredibly dislike it when I realize I forgot about making tacos and the tomatoes went to waste.
- Wholesome meals & family time
Being together as a family while sharing a meal is very important to me. It is a time out from work and projects. While we refuel our bodies, we are able to connect about our day. The Family Dinner Project also shares some of the benefits from family dinners based on research.
In our house we have a “no device” rule at the table, so my husband and I are not tempted to use our gadgets. We also have a “no toy” rule for the kids since trying to get pasta sauce out of rockets and Legos is not fun.
It is wonderful to see my family enjoy the meal that I prepared for them. As long as it does not break the bank, I strive to provide whole foods and keep out the trans fats, high fructose and artificial flavors and colors.
My Meal Planning Process
This is how I began conquering meal planning:
1) First, I wrote down all of the family’s favorite recipe names and organized them into type of meals.
2) Then, I began placing these recipes into a generic calendar over a two week period that I can keep reusing every two weeks.
3) This basic setup is refined as I continue to go through the two week cycle.
I plan ahead for those days that I know I’ll have less time to prep meals by purposely doubling recipes on previous days. Another option is to simply plan easier recipes on nights we have events. To nurture my creative side, I leave a few openings on the meal plan for meal ideas that come to me. Since I have three children under six my meal plan will seem somewhat boring. For the actual week I use my Plum Planner’s meal planning section to write down my ideas. You can download a copy of my generic two week meal plan here.
We are not alone
Realizing that meal planning is an area in which I need extra support, I subscribe to two meal planning/recipe blogs. These blogs have been an wonderful asset in improving my meal planning.
My first resource to share with you is The Nourishing Home by Kelly Smith. I originally began following Kelly when she offered was meal plans with gluten free options. She is now offering a monthly gluten free meal plan along with other allergy-free options. Kelly’s monthly meal plan includes pictures, links to the recipes and a shopping list for the supper meals.
My family is not gluten free; however, I really enjoy many of her recipes. She has great resources and videos on her site for meal planning you might enjoy. Some of my favorite recipes are baja-style cilantro rice and chicken nuggets.
Next, I really appreciate the recipes and advice provided by Lisa Leake at 100 Days of Real Food. If you are seeking to reduce the amount of processed food in your family’s diet, then you need to check out her site. Lisa has a gradual process over several weeks to remove processed foods and add whole foods to your diet. She also has 5 free meal plans with the grocery shopping list as well. I enjoy the whole chicken in a crock pot and later I make chicken stock with the remaining chicken.
I am trying out a third resource for my arsenal, an online meal planner called Plan to Eat. My first impressions are good. I like the option to input any recipe from the web by copying a link and the ability to track nutritional information. An added bonus is a grocery shopping list is created from the meal plan and the cooking view when preparing the meal. The site is very customizable for my needs, however, this also means taking the time upfront to enter in my family’s recipes from the web or re-type the paper recipes.
I now have a time slot on my calendar on Sunday afternoons to sit down and try out the Plan to Eat site. The site offers a free 30 day trial, so you may want to try it out yourself. This would be a great option if you have recipes on the web you already use and you enjoy having a variety of meals.
If you are just starting out with meal planning, I would suggest you take the jump and start by planning three supper meals for next week. Sometimes, we need to only take the first step to begin change.
I would love to hear which websites or blogs you have used for meal ideas or meal planning. Please, share in the comments below.
Some of these links shared in this post are affiliate links, you can find out more here.