Today, we are talking ALLLLL about meal planning decisions! Nope, not the decisions of what to have for dinner – you’ll get to that soon, I promise. First, you need to make some initial decisions to ensure you are building a strong meal planning foundation. So before you even bust out your cookbooks, you need to think through some important things.
· Why are you meal planning?
· How often are you going to meal plan?
· When are you going to meal plan?
Why Are You Meal Planning?
This is the most important question you need to ask yourself. The answer to this question keeps you meal planning week after week. Here’s some reasons to consider:
· You want to stop eating out 5 out of 7 nights a week
· You want to actually go to the grocery store with a plan
· You want to improve your cooking skills
· Insert your reason here
· All of the above
Whatever reason(s) you are choosing to start the journey of meal planning - write them down. Come on, right now, write them down. Now post them in a place you will see them on the regular - could be on the inside of your pantry door or on the front of your fridge. Remembering seeing your why day after day will help keep your momentum long after your motivation to meal plan has left. Here’s the truth, you will lose motivation to meal plan at some point. But seeing your why each day, coupled with the meal planning habits you are creating and the tools you are receiving, will help keep your momentum moving forward.
How Often Are You Going To Meal Plan?
The answer is simple - it’s up to you. Need a reference point? Think about how often you want to go to the grocery store. Once a week? Once every few days? In my experience, it’s easiest to meal plan once a week. I have 3 girls which means going to the grocery store multiple times a week is NOT an option, unless I want to lose my mind every day. My family also lives on fresh fruits and veggies, so going once a week allows for the right balance of fresh produce throughout the entire week. This might not work for you and that’s ok. Maybe you meal plan every few days instead – it’s all about timing and your time is valuable. So you chose how often you meal plan and go to the grocery store as a result.
Speaking of timing, fresh fruits and veggies have a typical “shelf life” of a week (sometimes less). Here’s a Pro Tip - buy your fruits and veggies at various stages of ripeness. Ripe or overripe produce should be eaten within a few days. Underripe produce will ripen and be ready to eat later in the week. Here's a resource I created providing tips and tricks on how to keep your produce fresh for longer.
When Are You Going To Meal Plan?
Now that you’ve decided how often you’re going to meal plan, we are going to reverse engineer a bit. Get your planner or calendar out and write in WHEN you are going to the grocery store. If you’re not used to going to the grocery store on a regular basis, find a consistent day and time you can go. Are you going to be a Saturday morning shopper? Would you rather go Wednesday after work? Or are you going to go both times? Either way, write it into your schedule each week. Now back it up one or two days and write in your planner WHEN you are going to meal plan. Maybe it’s the day before you go to the store, maybe it’s two days before you go to the store. No matter what, treat these blocks of time like an important meeting with your boss. Do NOT cancel on them. Reschedule if life happens, because it will happen but whatever you do, don’t cancel. Give yourself the opportunity to build your foundation or habit one step, one week at a time so you have no choice but to keep looking forward and building.
One last step in the initial planning - you are so close! But before you start the fun part of picking out recipes, you need to look at your personal calendar and see what the week or days ahead look like. You have to know what you’re planning for, otherwise meal planning isn’t going to work as effectively as you want or need it to.
· Are you planning for 5 days of breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
· Do you or your spouse have a work dinner during the week?
· Does your kiddo have a late afternoon swim lesson?
· Is your week a walk through crazy-town and you know that you aren’t going to want to cook
on Friday night?
Here’s some tips to tackle those real-life situations:
· If you know that you aren’t going to want to cook on Friday night then meal plan some take
out! Just because you are meal planning doesn’t mean you have to cook every night!
· If your kiddo has a late practice or lesson, then meal plan a crockpot meal. Nothing says death
by starvation more than a kid who has a late practice and then has to wait for dinner to be
· If you want to meal plan for lunches, then double your dinner recipes. Hello grab and go
You have now completed the initial planning stages of meal planning - CONGRATULATIONS! Now the fun part begins, so gather the rest of your tools! You will need:
· A meal planning calendar (Get your FREE Nourish Meal Planning Calendar!)
· Your favorite recipes/cookbooks/websites/Pinterest boards
· Pen and paper or your cell phone
We will dive more into how to pick out and plan recipes in the third post of this four post series, so stay tuned!
As you go through these initial planning steps, remember that you are trying to make your life easier or healthier, or more budget-friendly, or more efficient by meal planning. As you gain more experience meal planning, it will become easier and you will see the results of the foundation you built. But remember to also give yourself some grace, you’re trying to build the foundation or habit of a healthy lifestyle, not the whole house.