If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen a lot of what’s on my plate lately, and heard me talk a bit about meal planning.
On the one hand, it’s nothing fancy, but on the other hand, it’s good, satisfying stuff. It’s stuff that I like.
Having a meal plan allows me to keep my relationship with cooking food positive, which may sound like a funny thing to say, but before meal planning, I dreaded making dinner.
I didn’t know what to make, we usually had limited ingredients on hand, and so my creativity was limited. So I would usually start by peeling a few potatoes and hoping inspiration would come to me.
It ended up being stressful, and I dreaded dinner time.
On the other hand, now that I have a meal plan to lean on, it serves not only to take the pressure off of me having to come up with something, but also to guide the groceries I shop for, so that I have a variety of ingredients on hand at any given time.
And then, it goes beyond that to serve as a springboard for creativity.
Now that I don’t have to stress over what to make for dinner, I think about cooking in a positive light, which it turns out, is really good for getting creativity no matter how small my grocery budget it – even if it’s a $20 a week budget.
So often, I don’t end up making exactly what’s on the plan. I mean, I always start off with that intention – otherwise I wouldn’t have planned it. But later on in the week, I might decide to spiralize zucchini instead of making zucchini boats or something of that nature.
And I’m not ashamed of it.
Because having a meal plan is supposed to have a positive impact on your life, not make you a slave to it!
Meal planning has been so freeing for me. That’s why I share my meal plans in our Real Food Meal Plans website.
So, with all that off my chest, here are a few meal planning tips that are super helpful:
1. Create a recipe pool
One way I like to do this is when I come across a recipe I want to make, I put the link to it in a categorized spreadsheet.
Another, probably easier way to do it would be to make a meal plan focused Pinterest board (or several – one for breakfasts, one for lunches, etc.)
Be sure to brainstorm what your family likes to eat on a regular basis, find those recipes, and add them to your pool first, and the new recipes can come later when one pops up in your Facebook feed, or when it’s shared with you, etc.
That way when it comes time to make your meal plan, you don’t have to spend time searching far and wide for recipes.
2. Make a shopping list at the same time you make your meal plan
This is essential – you can’t make a recipe if you don’t have the right ingredients! By doing this, you can also get a pretty good idea of what your meal plan is going to cost, and tweak accordingly.
3. Print it out, and hang it in the kitchen
I’ve tried going paperless by keeping my meal plan on my phone or computer, and it just isn’t the same. Hanging your meal plan front and center where you’ll see it several times a day helps you remember to thaw meat out, or meal prep as you can.
4. Change it up on a whim
As we talked about a little bit above, your meal plan is meant to help you, not make you its slave. So, when you feel like changing things up, do it! In our family, we almost always have the dinner recipes for lunch, and the lunch recipes for dinner because lunch is the meal we all sit down and enjoy together most consistently, and we prefer a lighter dinner.
I also tend to not necessarily make recipes on the day they’re listed. If Thursday’s dinner sounds good on Tuesday, I might just make it.
And on occasion (well, at least once a week really) I make something that isn’t on the meal plan at all just because it sounds good. Like I said, simply having a meal plan has been good for my creativity. It’s not a sin to stray from your meal plan!
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