Happy Sunday everyone! I hope those of you fellow Dallasites have been enjoying this beauuuuutiful weather we have had this weekend! I know I have taken every opportunity possible to be outside, one of those opportunities being a long Saturday walk with my sister-in-law and youngest nephew.
Today I want to talk meal plans for just a minutes. If you’ve been following along on my stories these past couple of months then you have seen me share some of my weekly meal plans, or at least a loose framework of my meal plans. I’m not one to prep everything in individual containers and have have them all ready for the week, but I do like to have a general idea of what meals will look like and when we will have them during the week. I also like to make sure that the groceries are already in the house as the week begins. While, yes, I do this to have some healthy meals ready to go for the week, I admit I do this more so because, by doing this, it is one less thing that I have to think about during the week! I have found that part of what leaves me exhausted at the end of the day is not the time I woke up that morning or how much I ran around, it’s how many decisions I had to make throughout the course of the day. Plus, having a general plan in place typically saves me money in the long run, which is certainly another plus!
SO, I have found that if I can take 45 minutes to an hour at some point, either all together or pieced together throughout my weekend to plan what we’ll have for the upcoming week, it is totally worth it if that means I will not have yet ANOTHER thing to think through on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday afternoon. This is super helpful for anyone but especially families with kids in multiples sports, clubs or extracurriculars.
In this post I’m sharing with you guys my main meal planning principles and ten steps to making easy weekly meal plans a reality.
TEN STEPS TO SIMPLIFIED WEEKLY MEAL PLANS
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Be Flexible
Before you even begin, remember that this is a loose plan. There is always room for flexibility, room for changing your mind, room for accepting a spur-of-the-moment dinner invite and room to mix and match. Don’t stress! If you decide to go out instead, throw the meat in the freezer or save the potatoes for next week or cook the veggies tomorrow.
FIND YOUR GO-TO RESOURCES
Decrease search time by figuring out what your go-to recipe books, magazines, and blogs are. This decreases more of that draining decision-making and time spent planning. Ask yourself, “What blogs or cookbooks have I had the most success with?” Find your top 3 and stick with them when time is tight! For me, I typically turn to recipes from Ellie Krieger, Ina Garten, The Yellow Table and some of my own personal recipes.. I have had a lot of positive feedback when making these meals for family and friends, I know that they match up with how much time I can spend cooking (they have pretty simple recipes that are fairly fast to prepare), and they match my culinary skill level. For more info about my go-to cookbooks, you can visit my previous post. Do you have go-to recipe sources? Figure out what yours are by answering 3 simple questions:
What are my food preferences (eat everything, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.)
What is my skill level of cooking?
How much time do I and my family have to prepare meals?
SIMPLIFY YOUR OPTIONS: Meat, Fish, Veggie
I realized the beauty of having fewer options while wedding planning a year and a half ago. Too many options can be a bad thing and I am thankful for a wedding planner who got to know me and was able to provide me three options, at most, that were all very much “me” for everything. It makes the decision process so much less overwhelming. In this same light, there are so many recipes I could choose from, including ones I have already cooked in the past. The thought of this used to overwhelm me! Which is why I have now simplified things by picking one meal from each of three categories below. This really narrows things down initially and speeds up the process…
Pick one MEAT meal (if you eat meat)
Pick one FISH meal.
Pick a meal that is VEGETARIAN
Include 3 out of the 5 food groups at each meal. Basically, make sure you include a veggie and a starch, milk and / or fruit with your protein choice (starch can mean winter veggie, peas, beans, or whole grains)
MAKE MORE THAN ENOUGH
Leftovers mean easy lunches the next day and a “leftover” night one day during the week. This is especially helpful when there are evening games, meetings and practices to get to. Plus, as the weeks go on you can mix and match your proteins, veggies and starches at lunch and / or dinner.
PICK YOUR RECIPES
Limit recipes with long ingredients to just one.
Don’t choose recipes that all have a laundry list of ingredients. If you are picking multiple recipes, make sure a couple of them have a small ingredient list OR that you already have most of the ingredients so that your grocery trip won’t be crazy expensive!
MAKE YOUR LIST
Write all ingredients and groceries needed on one list. This makes sure that you don’t forget anything and you can pair duplicate items needed together. (Ex: if one recipe calls for one clove of garlic and another calls for three cloves of garlic, you can notice that, condense them together, and add four cloves of garlic to your list. This also makes sure that you won’t forget to check and see if you already have that 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin that you think you have but are not 100% positive).
CROSS OUT WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
Then it’s time to cross out what you already have! You will be left with exactly what you need to get from the store and less doubt that you have forgotten something. Already have that 1/2 tsp ground cumin? Check it off!
GET TO THE STORE
Sometimes I re-write the list and organize it by section of the grocery store. I know, that’s super type A, but it makes actually getting through the grocery, which can be a task in and of itself, easier, especially if going on a Sunday afternoon or going with kids or (gulp), both. Get to the store with your list , stick to it, get in and get out!
PREP AND STORE
Now what you do is up to you! Some love to cook everything ahead and some either (a) don’t enjoy this or (b) don’t have time to do this. I fall into all three of these categories, depending on the week. Whether you go ahead and prep or not, you know that you at least have everything you need for the week to make all of your meals. Any way you go, you have at least freed up brain space during the week and have saved yourself from having to determine what to have for dinner, where to get it, how long it will take and then making that extra stop at the store.
These are the steps I have followed over the years. It may take some time in the beginning, especially if you don’t have your go-to resources already. However, I promise it gets easier and will become second nature soon enough!
Do you already have certain meal planning tips that you follow? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!