If there’s one question that makes me cringe inside, it’s the one that awaits me at the end of every day.
What’s for dinner?
Ugh. Another reminder that I forgot to plan. Again.
It’s not like I don’t know it’s coming. We literally eat every day. So why does the task of putting together a plateful of meals feel like nails on the chalkboard of my food soul?
Why is meal planning so dang hard?
Maybe it’s the endless hours browsing recipes that I know I’ll never try. Or the multiple Pinterest fails that make me want to throw in the towel. Or the “I just bought this!” surprise discovery when my bag of green beans have grown a few hairy friends.
Failed attempts at meal planning can be discouraging. But the desire to eat healthy, not waste food, and feed my family was what kept me going back to the drawing board. Finally, after years of haphazard meals and last minute take-out runs, I am happy to report that I may have finally found the answers to my dinner planning problems!
These ideas are so simple you might be tempted to overlook or dismiss them. But when I created my own system around these basic principles, I was shocked at how meal planning became much easier to maintain!
These 5 steps can revolutionize your weekly meal planning with little effort and big results!
Step 1: Keep it Visible
Out of sight is out of mind. My biggest mistake was trying to plan in my head. By the end of the week I would find myself staring blankly at the fridge, trying to remember why I had bought so many vegetables.
Free up some mental space and write it down. Keep your meal plan visible (more on this later).
Step 2: Set aside time for brainstorming
I don’t know about you, but I love variety. And I have the attention span of a goldfish. So I get bored rather quickly with the same cyclical foods. The answer? Try new ones.
Easier said than done. In fact, this is probably the #1 reason why people don’t meal plan. Trying to find new recipes can easily waste so much time – it’s no wonder our go-to is ordering pizza!
If you try to figure out all your meals for the next two weeks AND build a collection of new recipes at the same time you may get overwhelmed and quit altogether. Instead, set aside 30 minutes a week to browse recipes on Pinterest, look through magazines, read nutrition tips, or check out the recipes on this blog. 🙂
Planning in advance will take the stress out of the last-minute scramble while giving you the time and space to prepare healthy, nutritious meals for your family. This step is especially crucial for those of us with digestive issues!
Step 3: Phone a friend
Need meal ideas that don’t taste like cardboard? Don’t have time to browse Pinterest for an eternity? Want an awesome resource for good food?
It’s called your Mom. Grandma. Your friends. Your next door neighbor.
One thing that drives me absolutely nuts about my generation is that we’ve stopped asking the people closest to us for advice. When we need help we turn to blogs, social media, magazines, TV, and some random stranger on the internet and then blindly follow their suggestions without giving it another thought. I’m not saying don’t read blogs (obviously you’re reading one right now)! But please recognize we have a wealth of resources only a phone call away; people who actually know us and love us (and most likely have similar tastes in food)!
When I’m in a meal planning drought, I literally ask my friends or family what they had to eat that week. Your Mom is still eating, isn’t she? Your friends haven’t given up food for life, have they? We’re all eating dinner every night so why not ask for advice? It may spark ideas for your own family and give you food for thought.
Step 4: Create a Menu Board (and put it in your kitchen)
Let’s face it, if you can’t see it you’re gonna forget about it (step #1). And keeping a list on your counter or in your smart phone might not be enough.
If my weekly meal plan is not literally staring me in the face, it’ll be grilled cheese sandwiches and ordering pizza that week.
Create a visible Menu Board and put it in a prominent place. It’s both practical and cute! There are hundreds of DIY Menu Boards online to get your creative wheels turning. Or if you’re impatient and indecisive like me, throw a cute whiteboard on your wall and add some fun weekday magnets. Boom. Done.
Put your weekly Menu Board in a place that can be easily seen by the whole family. My husband loves that he can just breeze by the board whenever he wants and get the scoop on dinner. It also gives him something to look forward to during the week when he sees his favorite meal on the menu!
Step 5: Keep track of your past meals
If you’re still eating, you are meal planning without even knowing it. This realization changed my life.
If you’re still eating, you are meal planning without even knowing it.
This year alone, I have already made around 138 meals. And you have too.
Think about it.
If you make dinner most days, that means you already have 19 weeks of meal planning in your repertoire! So why not take advantage of it?
The problem: Each year I make over 200+ meals but once the weeks have passed I forget about that awesome meal that was on the “make again” list. I can’t even find the list.
The solution: I realized if I just kept track of what we ate (whether I had planned it or not), eventually I would have weeks worth of meal plans at my disposal that I could reuse for the future!
When you write your meals on the Menu Board, go the extra step and record that week in a separate notebook. Over time that notebook will develop into a collection of your own weekly meal plans that you can reuse! As an added bonus, keeping track of what you eat each week will also help you take note of what you are eating. This step is especially crucial for those of us who struggle with SIBO, IBS, or digestive issues. Recording your meals and symptoms in a food journal will help you notice patterns and reveal gaps in your diet.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be hard. You can eat dinner without the last-minute stress and scramble! Don’t give up on healthy meals just yet. Give these 5 steps a try for a more manageable week. And leave room for a late night pizza run too 🙂
Do you have good meal planning tips? Share them in the comment section below!