Living in a fairly big city and working 20+ miles across town meant that I wouldn’t be home until at least 6pm every night. Every once in awhile, I would have to run an errand after work or work late, so this only added to my estimated time home. We have a puppy and she needs to be taken care of as soon I get home, so there’s another half hour. By this time, it could be 6:30 or 7pm, and dinner hasn’t even been started!!! Cue the anger, frustration, and eventual drive to pick something up or eat out. Not the greatest cycle, health or finance wise.
We all know that it’s better to eat at home than to eat out because you can control what goes into your meals. But how do you manage to do this when you’re working full-time and have other obligations (like kids and fur babies)? How do you manage to get healthy and balanced meals on the table before 8pm, so you can still clean up and oh, you know, maybe relax? And how do you decide what to eat on a weekly basis? How do you get ahead so that on a random Wednesday, you’re not stuck in rush hour traffic without any clue what’s for dinner?
Take a deep breath and breathe in and out slowly. Prepare for the golden light that is…meal planning. Meal planning saved me from myself and the viscous, stressful cycle that I always wound up in. This saved my husband from the anger, hysterics, and woeful cries of “I don’t know what to make, but I don’t want to go out to eat either”. And it’s a pretty simple concept: plan ahead of time what you’re going to make so that when the night comes, you’re not scrambling.
Say what? I know – brilliant, right? I truly wished I had come up with this ingenious idea, but I didn’t.
Below are some quick and easy tips to get yourself started!
Set Your Goals
Nutrition is the foundation of any meal plan. Before you venture off into Pinterest land, you should first determine a) what it is that you need to eat and b) how much of it you should eat. This is where the Calorie Calculator comes into play. Based on your weight, your activity level, and your goals (gain, maintain, lose), your caloric intake will look different. “When you meet the body’s fuel requirements, hunger disappears,” says Sagi Kalev, creator of Body Beast. “Food cravings are nonexistent. Energy, mood, mental function, and well-being all improve. When that happens, it becomes very easy to follow a diet plan.”
Make a Master Plan
Now that you know what you need to be eating, it’s time to do the fun part – looking for recipes!! Whether you choose to bookmark websites, dog ear recipe book pages, or “pin” ideas to your boards, it’s important that you make a master list. This will make meal planning so much easier, especially when you have a particularly crazy weekend. One word of caution – make sure you have enough variety so you won’t get bored. “It’s important to keep variety in your plan so you don’t get bored,” says Autumn Calabrese, creator of 21 Day Fix. Remember – this isn’t a DIET; we’re working on a LIFESTYLE change.
Now, there are a TON of options of how to organize your meal plan. You can write things out in a notebook or on a scratch piece of paper. You can write out your meal ideas on the memo app of your phone. You can write them down in your planner, daybook, or on your calendar. You can find a template online and fill that out. Seriously, there are limitless options to choose from. Pick one that fits best with your life, you style, and your schedule! The KEY is to lessen your stress and workload, not add to it!
If you’re looking for templates, check out the below options or check out Pinterest!
- Menu Planning Forms by The Project Girl
- Meal Plan by Printable Crush
- Weekly Meal Planning Schedule by Organizing Homelife
- 21 Day Fix Meal Planning Sheets by Sublime Reflection
Once you have a template, it’s time to start PLANNING. Now, if you’re brand new to meal planning and you have a bustling life that doesn’t afford you the luxury of 5+ hours a week, growing Pinterest for great dinner ideas, don’t fear – it’s seriously simple. Depending on the size of your family, you can make anywhere from 2-5 meals to last you all 7 days of the week. And unless you have an adverse reaction to leftovers, then you can handle this type of plan. All you need are a few quick meals and a slow cooker. Even if you don’t have a slow cooker, you can do this! My top three tips:
- Go with what you know. Don’t pick recipes that you’ve never tried before because a) you don’t know truly how long it will take for you to make and b) you may not like the way it tastes. I’ve found that rarely do I prep meals in the time allotted by the recipes. I’m much slower than the predict! Pick 1-2 recipes that you know how to make already and start out with those.
- Look for meals that can be made ahead of time. Technically, almost any meal can be made ahead of time and re-heated. But there are some variations on how you can do this based on your time and storage space. Some recipes, like soups and casseroles, can be made ahead of time and frozen until ready to eat. you can also use a slow cooker to cook meals while you’re away at work. Or, you can meal prep before the week begins so that come the night of, you just have to bake or re-heat.
- Use what you have and or what’s on sale to make your menu. I love scouring the grocery store ads to see what’s on sale for the upcoming week. If there’s an amazing deal (like pork loin or chicken breasts), I may buy extra and freeze them for a later date. The same goes for your pantry and freezer residents – check what you already have and see if you can use this first. There’s not sense it letting items go to waste – that’s money down the drain (or garbage can in this instance).
Need some help getting started? Check out my Pinterest boards:
Before you venture off to the grocery store, make sure you have made your grocery list! It’s important to go through your recipes ahead of time and write down anything you might need. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe and realizing you don’t have the key ingredient!! Be sure to also include your favorite healthy foods and snacks.
Bang Out the Prep Work
As exhausting as it is to grocery shop, don’t just throw everything away when you get home. Before you put everything away, you can get a head start on your prep work by cleaning, dicing, and chopping up veggies! If you have the space, you can also begin to portion out your snacks that are stable, such as nuts or yogurt.
More on this one in an upcoming post!!
Don’t Sabotage Yourself
Once you’ve made your meal plan and finished your meal prepping, the hard part is over with! Now all you have to do is eat it and stick to your plan! Don’t cave in to junk food – use your prepped snacks! But at the same time, make sure the snacks are something you’ll actually eat. Don’t buy celery if you despise the taste of it!