5 Easy Meal Planning Hacks to Simplify Your Life
I have a confession to make, I never particularly enjoyed organizational tasks, although I am now starting to more and more as I reap the benefits and quite enjoy the stress reduction it provides! It wasn’t a skill that came to me naturally. It took learning some skills, time, adaptation and system failures to develop a system that works and I am always working on improving it.
For those like me, this will take time to come together and the best advice I can give you is to take the time to plan what works for you first.
Don’t start with planning for a whole week worth of meals start with 2 or 3 and slowly work your way up. This process will need tweaking but the more you use it the better at it you becomes! My second advice is that you have to find a way to make it fun. If you don’t, you will not do it. Do you know the organizational guru Marie Kondo? She talks about how important it is to take pleasure in folding, organizing, tidying up etc… So find a way to make it pleasurable for you;
The benefits of meal planning are simple:
Allows you to keep a healthy dietary lifestyle- or implement a new one, decreasing the need to rely heavily on processed foods and take-outs.
Saves money- shopping list means you buy what you need and reduce on impulse purchases and take-outs.
Saves time- planning a week’s worth of lunches, dinners and snacks in advance means you don’t have to consider what those will be through your week.
Reduces stress- reduces the amount of decisions you have to make in a day, allows for a simpler, more balanced lifestyle and allows you to know: “What’s for dinner”!
Minimizes waste- ensuring that you purchase only what you need as well as planning how to use your leftovers during the week.
Helps you prepare for hectic times- allowing for batch cooking and freezing meals when you have time is a life saver on those nights when cooking is not an option! We all have those!
Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the benefits of meal planning!
What to Consider
When creating your plan and planning out the weekly meals, there are a few things to keep in mind, namely:
Stick to real, whole foods the majority of the time. Minimize packaged and processed foods.
Always include fresh produce (fresh green salad, steamed or grilled veggies) as it should form a large part of your menu. Always have 2 vegetable options available.
Ask yourself if you can make it instead of buying the packaged or processed version.
When that’s not an option, look at the ingredients. Do you know what they are? Could you reproduce it in your kitchen? Think of it this way if made in a lab it will take a lab to digest it. Is there a healthier option available with less preservatives/additives/no artificial colour or flavors and less sugar or sodium?
Plan for your family’s needs and preferences (allergies, sensitivities, budget)
LET’S GET STARTED!
5 STEPS TO MEAL PLANNING
1. Consult your calendar.
Gather your calendar, recipe books/apps, your meal planner sheet and your grocery list. Add to that anything else you need in order to create your meal plan and grocery list, such as budget, coupons, dietary information etc. You will need at least 15-30 minutes to complete your plan, so try doing when you will have relatively interruption-free time. Make it enjoyable by enjoying a cup of your favorite beverage in a relaxing environment.
Add the dates to your meal planner now, as this will make the following easier.
Your meal plan will not make any sense if you don’t take a moment to look at your calendar, checking for upcoming events, busy periods, holidays, birthdays, etc. Some of these events will require special meals (make a note of them on your plan now) while others mean that you will have reduced time to prepare regular meals. Note these on your plan too, and opt for easy meals or leftovers at these times.
Next look at the flow of your regular weeks. Inevitably there will be regularly occurring meetings, training, ballet classes, hockey/soccer practice, swimming /volleyball practice, tennis, late finishes at work, early starts etc. You don’t need to do anything specific with this information other than plan your meals with these in mind. (You don’t want to be planning a time-intensive meal on the evenings that you have soccer practice and a late meeting, for example).
2. Keep it simple assign different themes to each night of the week.
(This might not work for everyone, but I find it has helped to add some structure to our plan, particularly in light of the regular classes, meetings and practices.)
By themes, I mean two things you can do a theme night by doing Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Chicken Wednesdays, Fish Thursdays ect... or a recurring ‘types’ of meals. For example, Mondays may have a late finish with soccer practice, so you have a slow cooker meal each Monday and plan leftovers for the other practice or game night. This means you can prepare it ahead of time and have dinner ready when you get home. On Friday nights no one really feels like cooking, so you can do homemade pizzas or wraps.
Some themes to consider including in your plan are:
Left over night
Omelet or egg night
Slow cooker night
Fish or Seafood night
Bean or legumes night
Slow cooker night
Deconstructed meal night
Always plan to have some leftover at least 1-2 nights a week. By cooking 1-2 whole chickens, making pulled pork in your slow cooker or cooking some ground meat on Sunday is useful and ready to use in recipes through the first part of your week.
Also change up your themes through the seasons. For example, during ski season I cook a slow cooker meal on Friday morning (chili, soup, roast) that I bring up for the Friday night and use left over for lunch the next day with cut up veggies or a salad at the hill. I didn’t have time, I simply grab two organic roasted chickens. In the summer, I switch it up to salads and wraps. Ask your family, it can encourage them to eat the meals they have chosen or have them pick the theme nights with you with the understanding of your schedule restraints.
3. Write your plan
This has to be the single most important part and I have been guilty myself of not doing it. Keep a book/binder or app just for menu planning so that you can refer back to recipes, previous menu plans etc... Also try to always incorporate a new recipe a week so that you don’t fall into the pattern of making the same meals over and over. Variety is key in nutrition. You want to make sure that you expose your family to all sorts of colourful foods and nutrients. Think of a rainbow and encourage your family to eat as many colours in the rainbow as they can.
At this stage you have to plan for the main, but also don’t forget to include sides. (To maximize the veggies eaten in our house, every meal is accompanied by a choice of at least 2 raw or steamed veggies or a simple salad. And vary them! It only takes another 5 minutes to prepare but is worth the effort. If you prepare your dressing in advance, wash your lettuce or pre-cut cut or steam your veggies!) .
4. Grocery list
The best way to make this process sail smoothly is to work through your menu plan methodically to make sure that nothing is left out on your grocery list. We all know the feeling of forgetting an ingredient! Also, once your grocery list is prepared look into your pantry and fridge to make sure you don’t already have the ingredient. By using this method, you’ll find it makes this process seamless:
First add all the recurring basics to your list - these are things you use every day.
Next, work through your plan one meal at a time. This step entails looking at the recipe and adding each ingredient to your list as needed.
Once you have completed the list for every meal, work through the extras. Add baking ingredients, snacks, juice/smoothie ingredients, breakfast and lunch needs, as well as any special occasion ingredients to the list.
In addition, I always recommend having ingredients on hand for back-up meals, for those days where you forget to take the fish out of the freezer in time, or when you don’t have time to cook what you had planned. Things like canned salmon, wraps, frozen vegetables and pasta are always helpful to have on-hand.
Next take a moment to consider the extra food items you may need during the week. These items may not appear in any recipe, but you will definitely notice their absence if they are left off the list. Things like herbs, spices and condiments fit into this category.
Once you’ve completed the food sections of your shopping list, it’s time to add the household needs. This includes cleaning products, toiletries, pet needs and paper/plastic goods.
5. Go shopping
The frequency depends on how often you meal plan and how often you wish to shop, but it will likely happen once every week. But in the end, it’s up to your personal preference and circumstance whether you want to do one big trip and buy all the non-perishables and household goods at one time, then do subsequent smaller grocery or farmer’s market trips for fresh items.
When you’re ready to go shopping ensure you take your list and your reusable shopping and produce bags, and make an effort to get everything you need in the one visit.
When you bring your groceries home, take the time (20 minutes maximum) to pack it all away properly and freeze the meat and seafood in correct portions. This also makes preparation much simpler when it comes to daily meals. You can also choose to wash some of your produce at this time and start some prepping for the week.
On How to Meal Prep made easy - Make sure to join myself and my fellow CNE, Tina Nordick at VitalityMd on Thursday January 31st, 2019 from 6:00-8:30 for our next cooking class on Meal Prep made easy.