Isn’t meal planning for lunch ladies and boring fuddy duddies?
Now, growing up, I knew of precisely NO ONE who did the meal planning thing. It was the 80s and 90s in California. People ate out, or winged it once they got home. The only vague awareness I had of meal planning was in the school cafeteria… They had Pizza Fridays! And… That was it.
Fighting against it
So, as I got older into my 20s, I started to become aware of meal planning from the forums on Money Saving Expert and various blogs I visited like Wholeheartedly Laura. It started to kind of sound nice, but I just kept coming back to the thought of it sounding so lacking in spontaneity. After all, I enjoyed the creativity of coming up with new dishes based on the things in my fridge!
Relying on processed foods
I continued to resist until our household hit the point of relying way too much on convenience foods for my liking. You know the type, pizza, chips/fries, breaded chicken, fish fingers/sticks, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love these things every once in a while, but it was a most nights kind of thing. We were not thriving on it, I was feeling more sluggish and I had enough. Plus, we were spending a lot more money on groceries each week for stuff I knew I could make healthier and cheaper myself!
Once I tried it, I was pretty much hooked. I could still be creative by trying out new recipes by looking them up in advance, so the creative aspect could still be incorporated. I highly recommend Pinterest and the Baby-led weaning cookbook and apps, especially the Slow Cooker app.
What I didn’t expect though? Less stress at the end of the day! This was what really kept me going. Having a demanding job meant that by the time I got home, I had reached peak decision fatigue, and trying to decide what to make for dinner became a massive headache. Deciding our weekly plan during the weekend when my mind was fresh and not stressed was amazing! Not always easy to find inspiration, but to get home and just go on autopilot do what needed to be done to get food on the table rather than having to think about it? Genius.
Seriously, I would mentally high five my past self for each day that I kept it up, because it was such a gift.
Essential tools/tips to get started
- Shopping list or app: Now, you can be old-fashioned and have it on a piece of paper, but I prefer OurGroceries
- Overview of week’s menu: I do this on Saturday and enter it into my to-do list on Google Keep. Each day has meal listed and I can include any links for recipes to bring up easily!
- Slow cooker ** or Instant Pot **/ Pressure Cooker **: These little beauties are such a godsend. I have had my old workhorse of a slow cooker for at least 7 years I’d say. We use it at least 2-3 times per week. Ours is super basic (low/high/off/keep warm) and going strong. We are looking to upgrade soon to an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker as you can perform many functions like sautéing that lock in more flavor than slow cooking alone (and because I’m too lazy to sauté things in a pan beforehand).
- Quick carbs on hand: Having something on hand to cook up quick is great! Sweet potatoes take about 6 minutes to cook in the microwave depending on the power, same with baked/jacket potatoes, 2 minute packet rice is a godsend, couscous that you only need to add boiling water to, as well as tinned beans, lentils and pulses. Most pasta only cooks in 12 minutes maximum, too.
- Checking your lists ahead of time: Find the same time each day (I often do this once the kiddo is in bed) to check our meal plan list ahead of time and any recipes if necessary. I get anything out of the freezer if necessary. Many times, I chop everything up and put it in the slow cooker container, put the lid on and put it in the fridge overnight to then take out and turn it on once I wake up. It makes for such peaceful mornings and one less thing to think about while we’re trying to get everyone out the door on time!
The key to this is don’t be prescriptive. Everyone does meal planning a little differently. Read up and see what others do, try it out. If it doesn’t work, change it up, adapt it to your family’s needs!
You don’t need to follow the plan strictly. I often change what we’re having what days around for any little reason, give yourself that wiggle room if you can.
If possible, try to do certain aspects of your meal planning the same time of day or week so that you get into the habit of it and it becomes more automatic over time.
Keep back-ups around! Add ingredients for one extra meal or having something in the pantry/store cupboard around just in case no one wants what you’ve planned or if you can’t be bothered!
Save the leftovers for lunch! I freeze any extras in plastic takeaway containers and take them out the night before to defrost when needed.
Finally, it can be a little hard sometimes. Try to come up with themes for certain days to reduce the amount of thinking required. For example, we always have pizza on Tuesdays and usually have pasta on Thursdays. If you’re really stuck, try to narrow it down to what carb or starchy veg you would like or haven’t had for a while and go from there!
**Referral links, a girl’s gotta eat!