If you had asked me a year ago to write a post about meal planning I would have laughed and given you a list of all the places I planned to eat out at for the week. Meal planning was a foreign subject to me. If it didn’t involve throwing things into a crockpot or a single pan dish you could slide into the oven then I had no idea how to cook it. Here I am now, a year later, completely transformed, living by a meal plan and loving it so much more than eating out almost daily.
I realized our habit of eating out needed to end when we moved into our home. We were homeowners now with a whole list of hopes and dreams that we wanted to accomplish both for our new home and in our personal lives. Those dollars we had been spending eating out needed to be added elsewhere.
I’d often open my fridge and stare into it until I found a few ingredients to throw together to make a meal. Then I got into the habit of heading to the grocery store weekly and browsing the isles for everything that looked good. I had no true plan. I was just hoping something would stick out to me. While this was better than eating out every day it still wasn’t the ideal way to grocery shop or plan our meals for the week so I pushed it a step further and began to meal plan.
Here are 6 steps to help set you in the right direction when it comes to meal planning.
1. Prepare for success
To get ready for meal planning, I went to Walmart and purchased:
- a calendar white board,
- a set of colorful dry erase markers that would magnetize to the fridge,
- a set of cute but simple magnets to go along with all of this.
BEST. INVESTMENT. EVER. These 3 little purchases have completely transformed our families schedule, diet, and lives. I brought them home and used some command Velcro strip that I already had to add the whiteboard to our fridge. That way the calendar would be centrally located in our home and easy for me to consult on a daily basis.
2. Know Your Schedule
Before any true meal planning can be done you need to know your schedule. Will you be out for dinner one night? Do you have an event that goes late and you wouldn’t want to cook after coming home from it? Will you be traveling? Know what’s going on in your life, write it on the meal plan, and adjust accordingly.
I’ve found that when you meal plan it’s easy to travel without spending a ton because you can buy snacks and plan out where you’ll eat ahead of time. Previously, long days or work events meant I would definitely eat out as a reward to myself but now I can plan ahead and put something in the crockpot so I can come how to a nice, warm, homecooked meal that took almost zero effort to create. Write these events and things on your calendar for the entire month so you’ll see it constantly. It will help you be more on top of your schedule throughout the month but will also let you know which days need to be a quick and easy meal. (or leftovers)
3. Know Your Favorites
Knowing my favorite meals helps with meal planning. I’ve realized I have favorite meals to cook and then there are favorite meals to eat. Realizing I have both and adding them throughout the calendar helps keep the foods enjoyable, makes some days extra easy, and also gives me something to look forward to. I also like to know which meals my husband likes so I can try to add some of those to the meal plan as well. Knowing my favorites has given me an arsenal of meals to choose from that can be added to the meal plan without much thought or trial/error.
4. Prepare for the Unexpected
You can be the worlds best planner but there will always be something that comes up that you weren’t expecting. Plan and prepare for it! For me, I like to keep a couple of frozen pizzas on hand at all times. This makes it easy for me if I’m not feeling well, end up having an unexpected event, or just have something come up that I could have never imagined showing up on my calendar.
5. Don’t Make It Complicated
I’ve browsed Pinterest on more than one occasion and found a meal that looks delicious but then requires 40 ingredients and what seems like a week to prepare. Don’t do it! (Unless you really want to) I save my more complicated meals for the weekend otherwise it is simple, easy, low maintenance cooking for me. The less complicated the meal the easier it is to actually enjoy making and then the more time you’ll have to spend doing what you love.
6. Try New Things
If your meal plan is identical from week to week you’ll get bored. Mix it up. Try new things amidst the tried and true ones. A lot of people like to focus on food strictly as fuel but I believe God made it taste good for our enjoyment. Enjoy the adventure of trying something new, learning to cook new things, and exploring the whole wide world of delicious foods we have available to us. Watch cooking videos on YouTube, check out restaurant menus online for inspiration, peruse the grocery store isles for new ingredients to try, and have fun with it.
Meal planning is one of my favorite ways to prepare for a new month because it adds a level of stability, creativity, and adventure all wrapped into one. It also makes sticking to a budget so much easier! Run to the store, invest in some meal planning supplies, and be amazed at what you can accomplish (and how much less stress you have in your life) when you make a monthly meal plan!
Have questions or would like to share your own experience with meal planning? Tell us in the comments below or share with us over on our Instagram at @homestead_it.com.