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 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. Here’s how to make family meal planning work for you!
How To Meal Plan
1. Plan Your Meals Before Shopping
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.
2. Keep A Record Of Your Meals
Why is it a mistake to only use a pretty white board for recording your weekly menu plan? It means you can’t repeat your meal plans.
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! See next point.
3. Repeat Meals
It is completely ok to eat the same meals on a regular basis. You don’t have to have come up with something new 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 making 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.
4. Be Flexible
You don’t have to assign a specific type of meal to a day of the week. You also don’t have to follow your meal plan exactly!
The problem with a structured type of meal planning, choosing recipes and shopping for the ingredients, is that it doesn’t allow for changes according to the needs of your family.
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’ behavior, or even the weather!
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 on hand for. Then choose from the list the night before or that morning, as to what to cook for dinner.
Remember a freezer meal can be used as a replacement if you are not able to cook a meal one night. Having a back up option gives you a lot more flexibility.
5. Keep It Simple
Apparently, we all are more optimistic when planning and it is common to underestimate how much time will be needed to complete a future task. Don’t plan elaborate meals, where you will run out of time to prepare properly.
Choose simple meals by reducing the number of ingredients or side dishes. One pot meals are a game changer that 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.
6. Food Goes Off
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. A
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. Check out freezer cooking.
7. Shop Your Pantry
Do you have “treasures in your cupboard” you haven’t thought of using? 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, check what you already have on hand. Plan meals around what you already have and save money 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.