I get a lot of questions about our meal plan, and how I make our menu. Since it’s the New Year and many people have made resolutions to eat healthier or to lose weight, I thought I’d take a few minutes to go over the basics of how I meal plan.
The process will differ for everyone, but the basics are pretty…well, basic.For most people, the planning part will actually come pretty easily with just a small bit of practice. The much harder part is to switch from eating on-the-fly to eating what’s planned. Most people are used to catering to their whims for eating, and often balk at the idea of a regimented eating plan. Unfortunately, the “spontaneous” food thing is part of what has led 2/3 of this country’s adults to be overweight. So, the first part of meal planning is:
1. Commitment. It can take several weeks for a person or family to get on board with eating on a plan. We’ve been there, so we understand. But, once used to it, most people actually find meal planning far preferable to “oh, crap, what am I supposed to make for dinner?” Meal planning takes the stress out of meals, because the ingredients are on-hand, and the planning wasn’t done after a stressful day at work. So, commit to meal planning for at least 8 weeks.
2. Find 10 meals you and/or your family will eat, that you either know how to prepare or that you can find a recipe for easily. Write them down, and keep them handy.
These pre-planning items are things you’ll only need to do once. If you have them, move on to the things you’ll do for each meal plan.
Meal Planning 101
1. Get some paper and a pencil. Don’t do this in your head, it won’t work. Write it down, whether it’s in hard copy or on your computer.
2. Check your schedule. Figure out how much time you have each day/night to cook, or if you need to batch cook on your day off. Keep it realistic. If you’ve only got a half hour on Tuesday to prepare dinner, don’t plan on Duck a l’orange.
3. Start with dinners only. You can move on to breakfasts and lunches in a week or two, but unless you have lots of time on your hands, doing this all at once can be overwhelming.
4. Assign a meal from your “Top 10 list” to each day of the week for which you want dinner. We typically do two weeks at a time, and leave one night each week for leftovers; but, this may not work for you. You can start by just planning a few nights a week, and working up from there. Again, check the prep times against your schedule to make sure you are being realistic.
5. Keep it simple. Re-check your planned meals. To start, keep them simple recipes that you’re either familiar with, or that require few ingredients. You’re more likely to stick with this if you don’t overwhelm yourself in the beginning.
6. Check for double-use ingredients. Depending on your family size, you may be able to save time by planning meals that require a few ingredients in common. That way, you prep once but use twice. Ground beef, for example, could be browned all at once, but used in both tacos and spaghetti sauce. If you’re chopping onions for one dish, check your list to see if anything else needs chopped onions and just do them all at once.
7. Write it down. List each day for which you’re planning a meal and the meal itself. Below it, make a quick note if there are double-use ingredients you can get out of the way for another meal later in the week, and note if you need to take something out of the freezer for the following day.
8. Make a shopping list. This is where the big money savings comes in, and the calorie savings. Using your meals, write down all the ingredients you need to purchase for the week. Make sure you don’t already have any of these items on-hand, of course. Stick to your list when shopping.
9. Post your plan. Make it visible to everyone in the house. This keeps you on-track, and keeps you from having to hunt for what’s supposed to be for dinner, or what you need to take out of the freezer. It’s also a way to start re-wiring your brain to thinking about what you’re going to be eating, which will help the household get used to non-spontaneous eating.
10. Follow through. Obviously, this doesn’t work if you’re not going to do it. It’ll be a bit rough at first, as are most things that are worth doing. It’ll get easier, I promise.
There are many tips and tricks for people who’ve been doing this for a while. Some, like taking an inventory of anything in the house that needs to be used and planning meals around it, will usually become obvious after a week or two of planning. Others, like batch cooking on your day off, can take a bit more experience. So, for now, start with the basics and get used to meal planning. Use what works for you, tweak as necessary. And, let me know how it works for your family.