Almost every weekend, I get a piece of paper and write down our meal plan for the week. It isn’t always fancy…or complete. But it’s something that my mom got me in the habit of doing many years ago, and it continues to this day. Now, it doesn’t feel like we’re ready for the week WITHOUT doing a meal planning session!
Why is healthy meal planning so important?
Well, it’s important because food doesn’t make itself!
Okay, that may be overly simplified. But ultimately, that’s it. There’s nothing worse than 5pm rolling around and realizing that you didn’t have any supper planned! Meal planning helps prevent that last-minute frenzy (or you trying to shape frozen hamburgers because you forgot to get anything out of the freezer).
Does meal planning really save money and time?
Yes, meal planning saves money AND time. Meal planning can help prevent you from making compulsive food purchase decisions your budget will regret. It’s also a great way to ensure your family will have a healthy meal on the table in time. In our family, meal planning saves more stress than time, because we won’t be wondering what’s left at the last minute.
How do you meal plan?
Let me caution you here. It can be SO tempting to sit down and plan out a month’s worth of meals. Now, I know there are bloggers, mothers, and homemakers out there who DO plan meals for weeks at a time, and it works well for them. But if your family is anything like mine, it just doesn’t.
We eat a lot of seasonal, budget-friendly, real food. That means we often eat fresh vegetables as they become available from our garden or local producer, and anyone who gardens KNOWS that they rarely follow a schedule. 🙂
In addition, we will often purchase certain foods as they come on sale, stocking up as possible. That means we have to make a plan to use up that produce when we have it, and sometimes we don’t know about it until a few days beforehand. Maybe we’re waiting for a sale on ground beef, but we have plenty of pork chops left. Or maybe we have lots of carrots, but the tomatoes aren’t yet ripe.
All that to say…you need a system that works for YOU.
And for our family, healthy meal planning needs to fit within a week, no longer (except maybe for holidays or special occasions that should be planned ahead).
Use a meal planning system that fits your family’s schedule and your personality.
Healthy Meal Planning Tips
I generally only plan our lunch and supper meals. We’re not big breakfast sort of people, especially when you throw work commutes and unpredictable schedules into the picture. Our lunch and supper menus, however, are much more important to us, so I focus on planning those meals. I also don’t plan much for the weekend, except perhaps our Sunday lunch. There are usually lots of leftovers by the weekend, so this works well for us.
Also, remember that there’s nothing wrong with planning the same meals over and over again! If you talk to most families, they will tell you they really only eat the same 5-7meals every week…and that’s okay. Every family has that core set of meals that are convenient, healthy, and enjoyable. Stick with those menus. For our family, that means we usually eat chicken on Thursdays, spaghetti on Friday, and roast on Monday or Tuesday. It just works well for us.
Remember to plan prep into your schedule too. This is more important if you need to prepare anything ahead of time, especially for parties, special occasions, holidays, etc. On Thanksgiving, for example, I make pumpkin pie with sourdough pie crust…which must be started the night before I want to bake the pie.
Also, keep things simple and flexible. Things happen in life! Maybe someone in your family comes down sick with the flu. Or maybe someone’s work schedule changes at the last minute, so they need a different lunch meal thrown together. Don’t be afraid to keep things a little flexible, shifting meals around if needed. Meal planning is meant to be flexible.
Try to fill out most of your meal plan, but if you can’t fill out the whole week, don’t sweat. Even at the beginning of the week, you don’t always know what life (or the store) will hold. There are often weeks when I struggle to fill a few lunch meal plans, for example, but we’ll end up using a quick meal on those days instead (or eating something from our dinner leftovers).
This may go without saying, but consider setting aside ONE day of the week for planning your menus. It won’t take you long once you’ve got it down. (I probably only spend 5 minutes, if that, on Sunday afternoons. Healthy meal planning is really that simple)