Meal planning can sound intimidating. Here are the steps you need to help you on your way to a nutritious diet.
- Posted on Mar 8, 2019
Content provided by Good Samaritan Society.
I have a confession. I don't like to cook. I also don't like to plan menus. Or shop for groceries. Over time, this has resulted in many frustrating trips to the grocery store, countless fast-food runs and weight gain from poorly planned meals. But now, after years of tweaking my system, I have finally reached a place where I can tolerate meal planning, shopping and cooking. And, sometimes, I even enjoy it. Want to know my secrets?
If you're like I was, you have recipes everywhere and in many different formats. Some might be in your favorite cookbook. Some might be bookmarked on your computer. Some might be in your recipe file, lovingly written in your mother's or grandmother's handwriting.
One of the keys to easier meal planning, shopping and cooking is organization. Bringing everything into one place will save time and frustration.
My recipe book is a three-ring binder where I keep all the recipes in my menu plan. Over time, I have typed these recipes into easy-to-read electonic documents and tweaked them to my family's tastes. Each recipe is printed on a sheet of paper and inserted into a plastic sleeve, so it can be pulled from the recipe book to be referenced while making my shopping list and cooking.
If you can't part with those handwritten recipe cards, that's OK. Those can be included in the plastic sleeve, either by themselves or along with the typewritten sheet.
If you don't have a lot of favorite recipes, find some. Ask friends and family to share their favorites, or think about the types of things you like to eat — or the foods you should be eating more of — and do some internet searches. You will find plenty of ideas. Many recipe websites come with a handy print feature, for ease in adding to your collection.
Here are a couple of my family's favorite recipes:
More than 10 years ago, I began tinkering with a written meal plan. Over the course of that decade, I refined my plan until it takes very little effort on my part to come up with my weekly menu.
Your meal plan should reflect the things that are important to you. You may need recipes that are:
But while having a meal plan is important, it's also important to be flexible. If it's too rigid, you won't stick to the plan.
Write your meal plan in an organized manner. My meal plan is a document that covers a four-week span filled with different recipes each night of the week, and includes lunches on the weekends. (Only a few recipes — family favorites — are repeated over the four-week period.) Once I've gone through the four weeks, I start over at the beginning of the plan.
Once you have your monthly meal plan written down, you can break it into weekly chunks. For quick reference, I have a menu board in my kitchen where I display the week's menu.
I've found many advantages in having a meal plan, including:
Once our weekly meal plan is set, I pull the recipes from my binder to make my shopping list.
I keep a master shopping list on the side of my refrigerator, so items can be added as needed.
On the evening specified for meal planning and shopping-list making (for me that's Monday night), I take the master shopping list off the fridge and add the ingredients needed for each recipe on the menu board.
Once the shopping list is complete, there are several options for buying groceries:
I order my groceries online and have them delivered, which saves time and reduces the stress I feel from pushing that cart through the store searching for my items. And it keeps me from getting distracted by that new ice cream product or my favorite bag of chips.
Once your groceries are in the house, you're ready to make your meal plan work.
Be sure to allow enough time in your day to prepare your meals. If possible, cook with another person to divide up the duties. Make it a social occasion rather than another chore to be completed. Many times, my husband chops vegetables while I'm cooking, which speeds up the preparation time and allows us to spend more time together.
Practice the technique of mise en place, a French term that means to gather all your ingredients before you start to cook. This will not only ensure you have the ingredients you need, but it can also speed up the cooking process.
Enjoying cooking might require a change in perspective. If you feel like cooking is a time-consuming chore, try turning those thoughts on their head. Add up the time it takes to choose a restaurant, drive there, wait in line, order and wait for your food. You could easily prepare a meal in that amount of time. You will also, more than likely, save money by preparing meals at home.
Remind yourself that many people consider cooking a pleasurable hobby that teaches them lots of different things, such as structure, organization, creativity and patience. Your meal might taste more delicious when you've made it yourself, especially if you have tweaked the recipe to your specific palate.
When you're cooking, turn on some music and make it a fun event. Experiment with herbs and spices. You might even want to watch a cooking show or two for inspiration.
If you have leftovers, they can be part of your meal plan. You can make extra of a particular recipe so it can be used in future meals. For example, I make a large amount of taco soup one night and serve with corn muffins. The following evening, I serve the soup with grilled cheese sandwiches.
Leftovers can also be eaten for lunch. I recommend purchasing single-serving-sized, microwavable storage containers. They are easy to transport and easy to pop into the microwave for a quick but delicious meal.
Your meal plan probably won't come together overnight, but the more you tweak it, the easier it should become. As a work in progress, it should change as your lifestyle and nutritional needs change.