Throughout my Whole30 experience of the last few weeks, and before that when I was just trying to eat a healthy balanced diet, I realized I ate better on the weeks where I set out a meal plan, even if it was just a rough one. While this system might not work for everyone, and some people like the challenge of trying to come up with something edible on the spot on a regular basis, I like knowing I have a plan, even if I don’t necessarily follow it exactly. Personally, I plan my food a week at a time, with lots of room for rearranging, but planning a day or two, or a few weeks at a time might work for you too!
Here’s my top 5 tips to make meal-planning easier!
- Check the freezer and pantry first: Ok seriously, I can’t be the only person who throws bags of fruit or random meat that’s on sale into the freezer and then totally forgets it’s there. Before starting a meal plan, have a rummage through the freezer and pantry and take stock of what’s there and what needs to be used up. Plan to marinade and grill those freezer-burnt chicken breasts and take them out to defrost. Move the fruit so it’s easy to get to when you want a smoothie for breakfast on Tuesday. Dig out the applesauce you bought two months ago and pack it for lunch this week. This will definitely help cut down on groceries and decrease your food waste.
- Have one meal that could be put off or happen another time: A reality of life is that things change all the time. Maybe you end up going out for dinner on Thursday. Maybe you have leftovers because the recipe made more than expected. Doesn’t matter. Either way, have one meal that can be put off in one way or other without wasting food. I consistently plan a spinach frittata into my meal plan most weeks, which I would make with the frozen spinach I always keep handy, and eggs that are never in short supply or go to waste. That way, there’s always that quick and simple meal ready to be made, but nothing will go to waste if we skip it that week (or three weeks running). Something similar would be keeping burgers and buns in the freezer, or putting the meat you were going to use in the freezer for another week (just remember to follow tip 1!).
- Make notes about meal prep on your plan: This can include things like packing a lunch, defrosting foods for another day, or just chopping some veggies for snacks. I find it really easy to lose track of the little meal prep things that need to be done throughout the week to keep things ready to go for the next meal. To solve this, I started writing all of this down on my meal plan on the days they need to happen. I.e., if I need ground pork on Thursday, I put a note on Wednesday to take it out of the freezer.
- Get ideas from everywhere: Keep a Pinterest board of favourite recipes and things you want to try (if you pin mine, you’re my favourite). Flip through cookbooks and tag recipes you want to try. I have zillions of little Post-It tabs in all my cookbooks so I know what recipes I haven’t made but want to. Rip recipes out of magazines. Do a Google search. Buy a vegetable you’ve never tried from the farmers’ market. Subscribe to bloggers’ e-mail lists to get recipes right in your inbox! Try to make new recipes so you aren’t bored with the same thing every single week. If you always make pasta on Tuesday, find a new easy pasta recipe to try. If you’re bored with your sandwich for lunch every day, try making it into a salad with some homemade dressing. New ideas don’t have to be complicated, but they will keep you from getting bored and completely abandoning your meal plan for take-out.
- Plan stuff you actually like: Even while you’re out there trying new things, remember to plan things you actually want to eat. If you know, like I do, that burgers and grilled veggies is a simple summer meal after a busy day, plan to make some variation on that once a week or every second week. If you know that carrot and celery sticks do nothing for you at lunch time, don’t plan to pack them. This sounds simple, but if you don’t plan for food you like, you won’t enjoy eating it!
How many of you meal plan, even loosely? What tips would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments or on facebook!