I’m going to be real with you: I hate cooking. I enjoy eating, but cooking just kills the anticipation that precedes a tasty meal. So when I realized meal planning was going to have to be a part of my future, I had to figure out a way to make it happen even when I didn’t want to.
Because let’s face it: As moms, we’re busy. Taking care of little people is a lot of work! We all want to do a “good” job, so many of us have grand intentions of feeding our families healthy, homemade meals…intentions that fly out the window at the end of a long day. Because cooking takes time. Planning takes effort. And when I’m feeling maxed out, time and effort are two commodities I have a hard time expending.
If you find yourself feeling the same way more often than not, don’t worry. You’re totally not alone. I was right there with you about a year ago. Fortunately, even if you’re feeling hopeless, there are things you can do to find the energy to accomplish your meal planning goals.
HOW TO MEAL PLAN
It took me some trial and error and more than a year to learn how to do these things consistently, so allow me to save you some time! Here are 8 key tips to get you started on your meal planning journey:
1) MAKE IT A NECESSITY
Before I started regularly meal planning, the only time I was consistent with eating at home was when I was pregnant. Blood sugar stability was paramount, so I had to know exactly how many carbs I was eating to accurately dose my insulin. It’s hard to know exact carb counts (much less eat low carb) when you eat out, so it just didn’t happen much.
I started consistently meal planning when I had to begin eating dairy free. More often than not I’d find dairy in pre-made, packaged, frozen, fast and restaurant foods, so it simply made more sense to cook at home.
My good friend upped her meal planning game when her husband lost his job and they simply couldn’t afford to eat out. If they wanted to eat at all, it needed to be at home, and suddenly meal planning became a lot easier.
Meal planning feels like a burden when you don’t have to do it. When it’s a necessity, it’s liberating.
To make meal planning happen, make it a necessity. I’m not saying you can never eat out again, but taking that option completely off the table (no pun intended), at least while you’re getting started, will help you stay consistent.
2) STOCKPILE TASTY RECIPES
There is something about meal planning that stifles my creativity. As soon as I sit down to decide what we will eat next week, I can’t think of anything to make. Nothing sounds good, and sometimes I wind up making again meals we had the week before just because they’re all I can think of. We end up eating the same things, we get tired of them, and next thing you know I’m sitting in the drive through.
To sidestep the take-out trap, have a stockpile of tasty recipes on hand at all times. When you don’t have to waste time scratching your head over what you’re going to eat, you’re less likely to fall prey to feelings of overwhelm likely to land you next to me in the drive through.
3) KEEP IT VARIED
As someone with type 1 diabetes, I am always thinking about food in terms of macros: Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. And I realize “vegetables” aren’t a macro, but I plan my meals like they are.
Aim for main dishes and sides that have a good balance of veggies and these three main macros. While it’s not the end of the world to have a plate of pasta for dinner, you want to make sure you’re not eating like this all the time—not only because it’s unhealthy, but because you’ll get bored.
We eat a lot of poultry in our house, so I am always on the lookout for good beef dishes. I enjoy mixing things up with less commonly used proteins like buffalo and lamb, and I’m all about veggies more exciting than carrots and broccoli.
The point here is to keep your meals interesting and varied so that you want to eat the meals you’re working so hard to plan.
4) PLAN FOR THE FUTURE. AND FOR FAILURE.
Cooking every night can really feel like a chore, so you need to plan for nights when you’re not going to want to. Here’s how:
- Have a go-to list of crock-pot meals you enjoy
- Prepare easy freezer meals and have a couple stored at all times
- Double the batch: Making meatloaf or another meal that can be frozen? Prepare twice as much and save the other portion for later.
- Make enough for leftovers (most weeks I only cook 3-4 times)
Having a safety net built in to your plan makes it a lot easier to stick to it!
5) WRITE IT DOWN & DISPLAY IT
It would be hard to keep track of seven days worth of meals and snacks in your head, so writing down your meal plan seems like an obvious given. But turns out, how and where you write down your meal plan and whether or not you display it can have some surprising effects.
First, writing down your meal plan in a designated planner (rather than in a list format) can help you stick to your plan by allowing you to better visualize your week. Plus, filling in a meal planner satisfies our brains’ craving for organization!
Writing down your plan and displaying it has the added benefit of goal setting: One study found that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals simply by writing them down on a regular basis. Displaying your meal plan reminds you to monitor your progress through the week, which research has shown makes us more likely to follow through with our goals.
Plus, if you save your meal plans you can potentially reuse them later, saving you time!
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6) MAKE A LIST
Remember how our brains love organization? They’re also pretty partial to lists. Once your meal plan is written out, create your grocery list based off of what you need for that week. Then comes the hard part:
Commit to only buying what’s on the list.
Now, you don’t have to do this, but by only buying what’s on the list you force yourself to purchase only what you need, minimize waste, and maximize savings. The only exception to this rule would be items on sale. If you see something on sale that you regularly use and that can be stored for later, it’s probably worth it to get it even if it’s not on the list. You’ll for sure use it later, and it’s on sale now.
7) HAVE A DEDICATED PLANNING DAY
Even more important than having a specific time of week dedicated to meal planning is making sure that day is NOT the same day you shop. Why? Because that gives you more work to do at one time.
Meal planning is often more than just writing down what you’re going to eat. It’s taking inventory of what you already have, figuring out what you need, and perhaps even cleaning out what you didn’t use last week that’s now going bad.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it drains your willpower. And you’re not even done yet! You still need to go to the store, put the groceries away, and maybe even do some meal prep before you’re finished with the whole food-getting process. By the time the next week rolls around, starting the process over again will feel overwhelming. So don’t try to do it all at once.
8) BALANCE HEALTH & YOUR TIME
Sometimes cooking meals from scratch can be time consuming. I get that. It’s something that’s important to me, so we don’t often buy packaged, frozen, or pre-made food. But that doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Only you know the limits of what you feel comfortable eating or feeding your family. Do a little soul searching and decide what works for you. And don’t let what others think affect your decision.
In the end, what matters is that you’ve fed your family, they’re healthy and happy, and you’re satisfied and sane.
If you want to more tips on how to get in the habit of meal planning, be sure to subscribe to my email list to be notified of my upcoming FREE eCourse on habit formation!
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