6 Simple Meal Planning Tips
When it comes to meal planning, the task can seem overwhelming. Like walking through a never-ending forest of information only to reach ginormous mountains of recipes. You are so exhausted you can not even make a decision. Grabbing packaged foods or running through a drive through to get others to decide for you just seems like the easiest thing to do. Sound familiar?
I have been there. I remember having 3 in diapers and learning about “empty calorie” snacks for kids and thought, “that is all I feed them”. I agreed with the information I was learning, but didn’t know how to make a shift or begin to meal plan with real food when I was in need of real convenience.
In this day and age we are bombarded with information and have access to more information. It may seem like it should be helpful, but it doesn’t make meal planning simple.
Over the last few years, I have come up with some easy tips to help me with meal planning. My weeks can look different and all of these tips have helped me to meal plan without any stress. Enjoy!
1. Start Where You Are
When we hear new information about nutrition we can feel the pressure to make a complete change overnight in our menu. Don’t do this. Start were you are, because that is where new things can start to change naturally.
If you are wanting to reduce the grains or dairy in your life, start by adding a new recipe to one meal. Replace some of the grains with veggies you like. Switch out cereals for eggs and Applegate sausage. Replace dairy with real butter and high quality fats.
One simple change will lead to another change. Look and see what one thing you can start with amidst your current food rhythms and make the shift there.
2. Have a List of Your Favorite 10
I have a list of 10 meal items for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner to help make my menu each week. If you don’t have 10 meal ideas then start with what you have. Make a list of 5 meals. Rotate through your meals each week.
If you need more meal ideas, just add a new one each week. When I started my list, I took categories of food to make a list of 7 meals: Italian, Tex-Mex, Pasta, Vegan, Texan, Indian and Breakfast for dinner.
When I am wanting to add in something new or shift something, it can be overwhelming to come up with a whole new meal, so I just adjust a meal we already like from my lists.
For example, we love spaghetti. When we reduced our grains, I shifted to Gluten Free pasta. I used organic grass fed beef in a crockpot with a glass bottle pasta sauce (no sugar) and it was delicious. Then I added spinach to the table to go with it after we introduced more greens over the summer. Now, I mix spaghetti squash with the pasta because I would love to serve spaghetti squash at least once a month. You get the idea. Start where you are and add to your current menu lists.
3. Make Space to plan
Next you need to create space to plan. I plan my meals on Sunday. Sometimes this looks like a spreadsheet on the computer or a print out of new recipes, but often I am taking my lists of 10 and writing down the meals for the week on the back of my kid’s school paper. Choose a day and time that works for your weekly schedule.
Once you write your meals down for the week, make your grocery list. Having a grocery list in the store is key, especially if you shop with your kids. Purchase your list, not what the store advertises you need. Making time to plan and have a grocery list is so key to the planning process. If you start were you are at and have your list of 10, it will not take long to make your weekly plan.
4. Choose Simple
When planning your lists of 10 or your weekly menu, choose simple. Look at what staples, seasons and spices you already have and use that.
If you will write down your favorite foods, even Pizza, it is very easy to add in nutrition or tweak an existing meal rather than to find another recipe to cook. If you eat out once a week, then plan that on your menu. Choose from real food restaurants and enjoy a night off from cooking!
Don’t find a recipe that requires you to purchase ingredients from specialty stores. Choose meals that you can buy at your stores of choice.
I have also found that shopping at local smaller stores keeps me from spending extra dollars on boxed foods. For our family of 7 right now, we shop at Trader Joe’s and Natural Grocer here in Austin. I stick to my grocery list and don’t feel overwhelmed from lots of aisles and advertisements.
When you plan out your meals each week, just choose one simple thing you can rotate, add or change for that week. Unless you are allergic, you can take time and make baby steps toward food changes that will last.
Nutrition is always changing, so we are constantly learning new information on what is “good for us”. Stick with real food and implement one simple change at a time. You will eat every week and so you have every week to make a change.
5. Eat All Your Food
As you start where you are, make a list of 10 meal ideas and make space for planning simply, use your current pantry and fridge as a guide. If you have rice in your pantry, choose a meal with rice. If you have veggies that will go bad, choose a meal to incorporate them like making veggie broth and add soup to your menu.
Use all of the food in your fridge and pantry. I have come up with new meals for the week just by doing this! You will keep from wasting food and money.
6. Call in for Help when Needed
I would also recommend real plans to help with creating a weekly menu if you don’t have space to plan yet. Even if you signed up for a month, it would help you see how meal planning can be simple.
Have more questions? Trying to adjust for allergies? Let me help you! Click here and let me know what you need and I am happy to help!
Happy meal planning!