Why meal plans are awesome.
I meal plan partly because I love food and I thrive on organization. But only partly. One of the main reasons I meal plan and that I condone meal plans for everyone is because one of the only things I hate about cooking is heading to the kitchen at 5:30–tired from a long day and battling two cranky kids and a clock (insert your own scenario)–with no idea of what I am doing.
Here is a list of reasons why meal planning is for everyone:
- No last-minute grabbing fast food or take-out or order-in. Equals more health and more money.
- No standing in the kitchen with that confused look on your face. Equals more time and less frustration/stress.
- No aimlessness in the grocery store, meaning less trips, healthier choices, and quicker shopping. Also, I think it probably helps to reduce food waste. Equals more time and more health (and more money).
- You can take advantage of sales and coupons, since you can plan out the week with those papers in your hand. Equals more money.
So menu planning=health, money, and time, minus stress. I think you should try it.
Now here is a list of tips for menu-planning, from someone who has been meal-planning for eleven years and is an organization freak besides:
- Sit down to do your planning with ads/coupons (if you want), your cookbooks/recipes (or the computer if you use AllRecipes or something similar), a couple pieces of paper, your calendar, and a pen. It’s helpful if you have a master grocery list, but not imperative.
- In the end, you are going to come away with a schedule or list of foods/recipes, and a grocery list. It is easiest to keep a running grocery list as you decide on each recipe/food and organize it later.
- I keep a scrap of paper on the fridge at all times, which I jot foods I have run out of, whenever I run out of them. They go right on the grocery list when I sit down.
- Instead of getting up every time you are unsure if you already have a grocery item, just star or highlight the items. When done with your planning, visit your pantry and fridge to check if you already have them.
- It is helpful to make copies of the recipes you are going to use and keep them handy in the kitchen. It’s easier than working with cookbooks. However, that may not save you time in the long run. You decide.
- You can plan up-to-the-moment, or leave it kind of loosey-goosey. There are times when I have planned each day out… the meals, snacks, and beverages for any given date. There are other times when I have just listed out several dinners, lunches, breakfasts and snacks (leaving a little wiggle-room) and bought ingredients for all those things. Then, I post the list on my fridge and give it a glance every night before bed and decide what I might make the next day and act accordingly.
- I make sure that I either rate or star items that need to be prepared up front (recipes that use lots of fresh ingredients or very perishable items, such as mushrooms, avocado, or sprouts).
- Take a day here or there to use up leftovers. If you plan up-to-the-moment, make sure to leave meals where you consume leftovers or make meals from leftovers.
- Unless you are crazy like me, it helps to rotate menu plans and keep re-using favorite recipes. Keep a list or file for ease.
- I suggest a two-week plan each time, but you could also go with a 1-week or—if you are especially talented—a whole month (with a half-way trip for more perishables). Longer plans mean you have to prep less often and shop less often. However, shorter plans mean more flexibility, shorter shopping trips each time, and more fresh foods. Up to you.
- Make sure to consider your calendar when you meal plan. Are there days when you will be away or expect to eat away from home? Do some meals need to be packable? Do you need to bake a cake for a birthday, provide a party spread, take a buffet dish? Might as well plan that out now and grab all your groceries in one trip.
- And if you hate all the planning and don’t mind repetition, you will want to consider moving from meal planning to meal scheduling. I’ll be addressing that option soon.