WHAT IS A MEAL PLAN?
Meal plans come in many shapes and sizes. A meal plan can be created by meal, by day, or by type of food/nutrient (so as to ensure you are including all in your daily eating). People use meal plans to keep track of calories, portion sizes or nutrient content. They can help you organize one or more meals per day, prepare a shopping list and incorporate foods into your diet that you have been meaning to but never have. They can be very simple to very detailed. It all depends on what you want to accomplish.
For us, we were tired of last minute decisions about dinner, made while we were hungry at the end of the day and with often missing or unprepared ingredients. We wanted to save money by eating out less, both at dinner, when the end of the day rolls around and we are too tired to decided what to eat let alone cook, and at lunch without leftovers, dinner out would often mean lunch out the next day.
BENEFITS OF MEAL PLANNING
- Now, I shop from a list made from our plan and I don’t deviate, so that has decreased our grocery bill.
- I’m not guessing about what we will eat. I’m not buying too much food that will go uneaten and wasted.
- Most recipes are 4-6 servings, so we make the full recipe and then eat the leftovers for lunch. Neither of us are buying lunch out anymore.
- By mapping out the week’s meals, we can balance foods each day, incorporate healthy fats, proteins, vegetables and grains.
- We make sure that we incorporate fish a couple times a week
- We prepare ahead of time: we can properly prepare our beans and grains, by soaking them in filtered water and a dash of apple cider vinegar overnight or early in the morning.
- We are almost never eating out and are in full control of the quality of the nutrients we are taking in.
- Since we no longer have a debate each night, we save time by planning our meals only twice a week. It was a little more time consuming when we first started, but now we are a well oiled planning machine and it takes less than 10 minutes.
- I also save time at the grocery store. I know exactly what I am there for, so I no longer wander around or run back and forth to different departments.
Create ease around mealtimes
- We know exactly what we are going to eat each day, so instead of debating and deciding at the end of the day, we sit down twice a week and map it out (see more about our process below). My husband and I have limited time together since he works long days, I often work evenings and weekends and we have a toddler. Decreasing the amount of time we talk about logisitical things, like what’s for dinner, gives us more quality time together on a daily basis.
- On busy nights, we can choose easy, quick to prepare meals or meals that whichever of us who is less busy that evening enjoy to prepare the most.
We have chosen a very simple process of creating meal plans. If you are interested in creating meal plans to track calories, nutrients or portion sizes, click here for downloadable forms or do a google search for meal planning forms.
Twice a week we sit down and choose which meals we will have over the next 3-4 days. What we choose depends on many factors, including: what each evening’s schedule is, what meat we have from our CSA in the freezer, what staples we have, who will likely feel like cooking, what is seasonal, what are our current favorite meals and many others. We eat primarily fresh foods so we do this twice a week and I go shopping twice a week, so that the vegetables, fish and meat aren’t going bad in our fridge. This can easily be done once a week using frozen or canned ingredients to streamline the process further.
As you can see from the photo, we have a reserved section of a white board in our kitchen just for our meal plan. We have chosen the simplest form or meal planning. You can write out your meal plan on a piece of paper or a form and put it on the fridge. No need to buy a fancy board or spend time hanging it!
Creating the Shopping List
Once we have chosen our meals, we use the recipes to create a shopping list. I put only the ingredients that I need on the list. I also have on my whiteboard a list of foods and household products we have out of and need to buy. As soon as we are out of something notice, we write it up there. Then I add that to my meal plan shopping list. Now, I am rarely missing something I need.
You’ll notice that we only plan dinners. We eat breakfast separately and have “staples” in our family. My husband eats his granola, yogurt and fruit every morning and my daughter and I rotate between eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, steamed greens, smoothies, sausage and bacon. So those I add to the “out of” list on the whiteboard as needed. When we make dinner we make a full or double recipe so that we can each eat the leftovers for lunch, often more than once. Another thing we do is make a big pot of soup on Sunday that is solely for lunches, in the case that we don’t have leftovers, like when we have a big salad for dinner.
We were worried that we’d wouldn’t want to eat the meal that we had planned, since we were used to just eating whatever we felt like each night. That has only happened now and then and usually it is wanting a meal that is scheduled for another day of that week so we just switch or we go out to dinner. I think there is something about choosing the meals and then seeing them posted on the wall that prepares the mind and body for that meal. I look forward to dinner time now!
I also thought that we would not stick to this and it would be another good idea we let go of. However, we have received so many benefits and it has become so easy to do that we do it religiously. I have come to depend on it to make our food shopping and preparation so much easier.
Other concerns, questions or experience with meal planning? Post in the comment section below.