When Brendon and I started dating, there was no meal planning system in place. He didn’t regularly grocery shop or think ahead to dinners. So, there were times when I would get a text at 4:40 pm, “Want to come over for dinner?” followed by “What would you like?” As a type A personality and planner, I ended that fairly quickly. Once we got married, I started planning out meals for each week and going shopping on weekends. This changed over time to shopping every other weekend, which worked better for us because of my step-daughter, and so I would plan even more ahead. Meal planning is essential if you are trying for any of the following: cheap, easy, quick, weight loss, low carb, healthy, Paleo, or nutritious. If you don’t plan, you may wind up making unhealthy choices or eating unbalanced meals.
The biggest part of meal planning was that I wanted a way that we could both use the tool for meals and grocery shopping even if we were out of the house. My husband is a computer software engineer so quickly my mind went to our Google accounts since that is a “language” he communicates very well in. So I created a Google document for our “current grocery list” and a special Google Calendar I called “Family Meal Planning”. For the grocery list, we could both add or remove items as needed from wherever we were. With the calendar. I would label each day with a meal and in the description post the link to the recipe if applicable. Having the recipe link allowed either of us to start making dinner depending on who came home first, and I could copy and paste ingredients into the shopping list. This was great for all the meals I had pinned on Pinterest that looked great, but I didn’t actually know when I would make them. So, I would see a recipe I wanted to try and put it on the calendar.
Our meal planning evolved even further when I had my son Noah because I found that when I walked in the door from work he either wanted to nurse, cuddle, or something else needed my attention. Cooking became even that much harder. Cooking when we got home did not seem like a great option, and quite frankly, we would rather spend that time with the kids as opposed to cooking. So, I started focusing on a few options with the meals I planned to reduce the amount of time we needed to cook once home. My goal was that all we needed to do was steam vegetables, heat food up, and pour drinks at most. So, I strategies were:
- More crockpot meals
- Cook meals the night before after the kids are going to bed and while cleaning the kitchen
- Get up early and cook before the day starts (I’m a morning person)
- Batch cook many things on one night (i.e. Sunday) for the whole week – I like to cook a few starchy sides and use them multiple sides throughout the week
Many families also struggle on busy nights due to kids’ activities. I can totally understand! It’s hard to think about planning dinner when everyone won’t be home until after 7, but you don’t want to spend money on fast food because it is pricey and unhealthy. On these nights, I make tuna salad or chicken nuggets coated with almond flour the night before. We have food containers that have three compartments where I can add the main dish, veggies and a fruit. Then, we can all eat on the go in a healthy way!
Then, there are always those nights when the meal plan just doesn’t work. Maybe you were tired. Maybe you forgot to buy the ingredients. Maybe the kids were being crazy. For us, eggs are always easy and a go to! Everyone can have them the way they want (runny, scrambled) and pick their add-ins (bacon, veggies, cheese). We will cook up a batch of bacon in the oven (350 F for 20-25 minutes) and have it on hand for meals. You can even scramble a bunch of eggs at once, throw them all in the pan, and cook a meal for several people in just a few minutes. I’ve started keeping some hard boiled eggs on hand as well that is great for quick breakfasts for my toddler.
Now, for my biggest tip, when cooking, try to multitask! This makes meal planning and home cooking sustainable. I love to cook, and even I just want to be done with it some nights when I want to relax or go to bed. So, always have multiple things going at once to save time in the long run. It adds up! Here are some ways to multi-task:
- Cook the next day’s dinner while cleaning up from that night’s dinner, lunches, breakfasts
- Have multiple pans and things in the oven at the same time (think about trying to have the most food going at once that is feasible for you)
- Look to the whole week’s worth of meals – what else can you make ahead? Can you boil some sweet potatoes for Friday? Can you brown the ground turkey for Thursday? Can you bake the salmon for Wednesday? Cooking ahead for other meals means that on the night before those meals you may not have to spend any time prepping because the work was done earlier in the week. I even look at my week, plan when I will prep foods, and set reminders on my Google Calendar to motivate me so that I don’t get in a bind last minute for not having something made. Plus, I don’t need another thing to have to remember, especially in the evening.
Meal planning is a skill that evolves over time. So, don’t feel like you have to make an intense plan at the beginning. Start slow. Choose easy recipes. Plan a week. Grocery shop. Decide when you have time to cook. Get in the kitchen!