Five Tips for Meal Planning
It's no secret, I'm a hardcore plotter when it comes to my writing. I'm also a serious planner girl who reaches for her Erin Condren planner constantly throughout the day. So it's no surprise that I've embraced meal planning. And today I'm going to share with you why I have and give you a few of my tips.
This month I’m sharing a tool that I’ve been using since the beginning of 2021 to help keep me on schedule with my writing and feed my family. It’s meal planning. I’ve dabbled in it over the years, but it never really stuck, even though I love to plan. Guess it was all about the timing. Ready to learn why I’ve embraced meal planning and learn a few tips I have to enjoy it as much as I do?
What is meal planning:
Meal planning is the simple act of planning what you’ll be
eating over the following X number of days. It can feel unattainable or
overwhelming because it involves planning which recipes to make, what groceries
to buy, and a week’s worth of dinners to make. It’s a lot, but I’m finding
success in meal planning, and now I’m dipping my toes into meal prepping (that's for another day).
I started off simple. I grabbed a journal from my stash, and I’ve been using it since then. It is a place where I can plan next week’s meals. I can also look back and see what I’ve made in the past when I need a little inspiration or when I need to get out of a rut.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a big, fat binder filled with a month’s worth of detailed menus or a freezer full of prepped food waiting to be tossed into a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Meal planning can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. What it is, for me, is a tool that has helped me be more productive, save money and enjoy cooking again.
Why have I embraced this?
Until 2021, I hadn’t created official meal plans. I always had an idea of what meals I’d cook during the week, but I never had a “plan". Then again, before 2020, I really didn’t cook many dinners. My husband works nights, and he was often out of the house at lunchtime, so I only cooked dinners for us twice a week. Then 2020 rolled around, and we know what happened that year, and my routine went out the window. Suddenly I was preparing three meals a day. Hence, meal planning has become a real thing in my life. Which now, I’m grateful for. Because for me, 2021 was the sequel to 2020, and 2022 is looking like it’s going to be another heck of a year.
Last year, I had to continue making dinners because my husband returned to work, and because restaurants weren’t staying open late, he needed to take meals with him. Then as the restaurants started to extend their hours, their prices began to increase. These two things made it imperative that he take meals to work.
The other reason why I’ve come to love meal planning is that it makes grocery shopping so much easier and quicker. We divide our shopping between Costco and our local grocery store. Meal planning also takes the constant stress question of “what’s for dinner” off me. I know what’s for dinner; it’s in my planner. This, hands down has been the most significant benefit of meal planning. It's one less thing to have to worry about. Besides the major shift in my routine, I've also been dealing with elderly parents and crushing deadlines for books. So not having to think about what I'll cook when I close up my office at the end of the day is a relief.
Ready for five tips that have helped me succeed in meal planning? Great! I've also included a bonus tip.
Five steps to meal planning:
Make a list – Once you have your meals planned, it’s the perfect time to write up your shopping list. Review your meals and write up a list of ingredients. Shop your pantry first, and then add what you don’t have to your shopping list.
Stock your kitchen – Having a well-stocked pantry is one of the keys to success in meal planning and meal prepping. We buy in bulk as much as possible to fill our freezers and pantry shelves.
Keep it simple – The meals in your plan don’t need to be complicated or fancy. And you don’t need to do hours of prep work, either. The whole point of meal planning is to take some of your stress away.
Have a theme night – It’ll be fun and saves you time after a hectic day. How about Slow Cooker Sundays? Or pizza Fridays? Get your family involved in the meal planning process.
Create a planning routine – I like to settle in my kitchen with my journal to plan out the following week’s meals. Then, I make a cup of tea, grab my steno pad (I use it for my grocery list), and start planning.
Bonus tip – Even though you have a plan, you can still be flexible because life loves to throw curveballs. Of course, not every day is going to go as planned. But it’s so much easier to get back on track when you have a plan.
This is how I’m keeping my sanity these days. Meal planning has become a regular part of my week. So, I’m curious, do you meal plan? If so, what does it look like for you?
Debra Sennefelder is the author of the Food Blogger Mystery series, the Resale Boutique Mystery series and the upcoming Cookie Shop Mystery series. She lives and writes in Connecticut. When she’s not writing, she enjoys baking, exercising and taking long walks with her Shih-Tzu, Connie. You can keep in touch with Debra through her website, on Facebook and Instagram.