Have you ever felt like meal planning just doesn’t work for you? You start a weekly meal planning practice with great enthusiasm, search through recipe books for ideas. You write out and shop from a detailed shopping list only for the motivation to wane after a while. Guess what? It may simply be because one or more of these common meal planning mistakes are getting in the way of meal planning success for you and your family.
Are You Making One Of These 7 Meal Planning Mistakes?
Here’s what you can do instead!!
Mistake 1. Not Planning At All
According to Katie of Wellness Mama, meal planning saves her on average 3.5 hours a week on planning, preparing and shopping for meals.
“I also saved about $45 a week shopping when I planned vs. when I didn’t.” – Wellness Mama
Set aside 10 to 15 minutes once a week and write down a list of meals you want to prepare for your family to eat. It could be for evening meals only or include breakfast, lunch and mid-meal snacks as well. Thinking ahead and planning meals and snacks based on healthy eating guidelines such as the Australian Dietary Guidelines and Australian Guide to Healthy Eating can help you stay on budget, make shopping easier and support healthy weight loss.
Mistake 2. Using A White Board Or Chalk Board To Write Down Your Meals
Yep, I have been making this mistake! Why is it a mistake to use a pretty white board for recording our weekly menu plan? It means you lose the ability to repeat your meal plans.
If you do want to have a quick reference guide for yourself and your family to see what’s for dinner, then by all means keep the white board or chalk board in use. However make sure to use a notebook to record your menu planning ideas for the week as well! That way you can avoid the following meal planning mistakes.
Mistake 3. Not Repeating Meal Plans
We simply create more work for ourselves when we think we have to produce something new, looking up recipe books or Pinterest for ideas, every week. Not that variety is bad, or trying new recipes out is not a good idea! Personally, I have found I get bored and unmotivated to cook if I am not having a go at something new occasionally. But most likely you don’t remember what you ate 3 weeks ago and neither does the rest of your family.
Repeat your meal plans every 3 to 4 weeks. You can have them on rotation depending on how much variety your family likes. If it does start to feel monotonous, you could add in 1 or 2 new recipes a week.
Mistake 4. Having A Set List Of Recipes And Shopping According To Those Recipes
Or assigning a specific meal to a day of the week.
Or thinking meal plans are to be followed… EXACTLY!
Isn’t that what meal planning is all about? Looking for some gorgeous family friendly recipes, printing out a shopping list with all the ingredients on it and shopping according to the list?
The problem is this structured type of meal planning doesn’t allow for changes according to the needs of daily family life. We may not feel like eating or cooking a certain meal the night it is planned for. The kids may be sick or we get home late from work. For me personally, I find that my plan for the evening’s meal can be affected by my energy levels, the kids’ behaviour, or even the weather! Inflexibility is one of the common meal planning mistakes we can all make!
We need to change our thinking, that it is ok to vary our meal plan. A week’s meal plan can mean choosing 5 or 6 meals to have the ingredients for on hand. Then choosing from the list the night before or that morning, as to what to cook for dinner. Prepping ahead of time makes this strategy even easier because than you won’t be affected as much by how long each meal takes to cook.
A good tip is to have a freezer meal or two on hand as a replacement if you are not able to get to cooking a meal on the meal plan. Having a back up option gives you a lot more flexibility.
Mistake 5. Being Overly Ambitious
Apparently, we all have an innate tendency towards optimism bias and underestimating how much time will be needed to complete a future task. One of the common meal planning mistakes is to plan elaborate meals, which we run out of time to prepare properly. Personally I get myself into trouble by underestimating how much energy I will need to not only cook a meal but also clean up afterwards.
Choose simple meals by reducing the number of ingredients or side dishes. I tend to put a lot of one pot meals on my menu plan now days for this reason.
It’s perfectly fine to put simple items on your menu – at least you’ll be prepared and you’ll have the ingredients in the house. – Sarah, Early Bird Mom.
There is nothing more discouraging or unmotivating than putting a lot of effort and time into an elaborate meal which is then met with loud disapproval by the kids (or even hubby). Unless I am choosing a complicated recipe for my own enjoyment of cooking or health reasons etc., receiving comments of “That’s gross! I am never eating that! That looks like poo!”, are not worth it! Simple meals are the way to go!
Mistake 6. Storing Food In The Fridge For Too Long
Vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, peas and sweet corn lose their nutrition and flavor more quickly than apples, garlic or onions, and need to be eaten not long after purchasing. Also food that has been transported long distances is not likely to be as nutritious as food which is grown and stored locally.
It’s best for taste and health to plan meals that use ingredients that perish quickly early in the week. Plan meals that don’t require those ingredients later in the week. Another way to avoid food going bad from being stored for long periods in the fridge is to set aside time to prep and cook meals in advance.
Mistake 7. Buying New Ingredients Every Week Without Shopping The Pantry
Do you have “treasures in your cupboard” you haven’t thought of? While writing out a shopping list of ingredients every week can seem efficient, it can mean you leave existing food unused. Stored food in the pantry, fridge or freezer will deteriorate over time, take up space, and is grocery money already spent.
Before planning your meals and writing out your shopping list, check what you already have on hand. Using those “treasures” will save you $$ on your grocery budget! Another idea is to try a Pantry Challenge every few months, where your goal is to to use up what’s in your pantry by planning meals using the ingredients you have on hand. I love the $21 Challenge by Simple Savings for this purpose, and the $21 Challenge book has a really useful section on substituting ingredients in your recipes to use up what’s on hand.