How often have you picked up the kids in the evening and let them talk you into the local drive-through, because it was easier than going home and trying to figure out what to serve for dinner?
If this ever happens to you, even occasionally, you are not alone! We live in what seem to be frantic times, and there’s always something else that needs your attention.
But there is a solution to the last-minute fast-food decision. It’s called meal planning.
Meal Planning truly is life changing. For me, meal planning is one of the main tools that helped me lose over 100lbs and keep it off. It also allows my family to sit down and eat together a minimum of 5 dinners a week. And my family is just as busy as yours…I promise. Sometimes we sit down at 5:00pm to eat before leaving for practice at 6pm; we’ve also eaten at 4:30pm and then again later. It’s that important to us to eat together and it’s that important for my son/athlete to fuel properly for his practices. I’m amazed at how many people drop their kids off for a practice or game with a bag of Chik Fil A or nothing and expect them to perform at their peak. I’m not judging, this is what I do, I know better, that’s why I am here to help.
There are some great reasons to plan your meals in advance instead of just standing in front of an open freezer, wondering what you can throw together, usually making poor nutritional decisions because you are hungry, stressed and tired.
• Meal planning helps you save money. It’s much cheaper to eat grocery-bought food than fast food.
• When you fill the pantry with real food snacks and meals, you and your whole family reap the benefits. These include: eating fewer chemical additives (which adversely affect us in so many ways); eating more vitamins and minerals (which not only builds your immune system and helps you fight germs and illness, but also helps your children’s bones and organs grow well); feeling healthier; BEING healthier; and being less likely to gain weight.
• You’ll waste less food when you plan exactly how you’re going to use it all. This isn’t just the main meals; it also includes leftovers and snacks. This is the best way to avoid finding unexpected science experiments in the back of the fridge!
• If you’ve ever wondered, “What are we going to eat for dinner tonight?” at 4 pm, or even at 7 pm, you’ll realize how much unnecessary stress you’re putting on yourself. It takes up a lot of mental energy to try to think on the fly. It’s a lot less stressful if you already have the meals planned in advance, and know exactly what you’re going to serve each night.
• Planning in advance also definitely saves a lot of time. A little time up front planning truly saves on the back end.
OK, so those are all the compelling reasons to plan your meals. How do you actually do it? Here are some steps you can take right away:
● Start with a weekly template – breakfast/lunch/dinner. If this seems overwhelming how about start with planning 5 dinners this week? Once that goes smoothly start adding in your lunches and breakfasts until you are planning all your meals for the week. Take out your calendar and see WHEN you can eat; planning around your families weekly activities/commitments. You can’t plan a labor intensive meal if your calendar says you have 30 minutes to get it on the table. Plan accordingly.
● Make a grocery list for those meals and cross reference with ingredients you already have in the house. Too busy to shop? Most grocery now offer pick up or delivery an amazing time saver.
● Build up a go-to resource of at least 20 family-favorite recipes. Use at least 4 of them each week, rotating so you don’t use each one more than once every few weeks, and add in a couple of new recipes the other days.
● Plan to eat leftovers for breakfast and lunch. This means making a little (or a lot) more when you first cook the meal. I make a double batch of my dinner and pack it up in a lunch portion size container for the next day. Now, I only plan dinner and my lunches are already planned. Less food is wasted this way.
● Look at your meal plan the night before to see if something needs to be prepped ahead of time to prepare for the next day ie – crock pot meal etc.
● More tips:
○ Stretch your meat by putting it in a stir-fry or salad where you can include a lot more veggies. These are quick to make too.
○ Make some meals ahead, say, on the weekend, with a double recipe especially the more labor intensive meals.
○ The next week before planning meals, look at what you still have on hand and plan around using that first.
I hope this has given you at least a few great ideas you can try that will make meal planning easier, cheaper, and healthier for you and your family.
I offer tips like these every Monday on this Facebook page so if you find them helpful make sure you follow the page to continue to see them. If you think this can help someone, feel free to share! Happy Meal Planning.