By the time you get home from work, tired and just ready to collapse onto the couch, the last thing you want to do is think about what to make for dinner. You have probably forgotten what food you actually bought on your last grocery trip and it seems like too much effort to have to cook. So you buy takeaway. Or you have toast. It’s not healthy and it is a waste of the food you did actually buy.
This is exactly why meal planning has always sounded like the best idea. I have had many failed attempts, however I finally think I have landed on a routine that works for me. Everyone is going to be different in what approach works best for them but I thought I would share a few tips that I have helped me successfully meal plan and ensure I never wonder what’s for dinner.
1. Don’t be too strict
One of the biggest things for me with meal planning is as soon as I plan a meal for a particular night, suddenly I no longer feel like it. Feeling and emotion play a huge roll for me in food as I want to consciously enjoy the experience of food rather than just eating for survival. For this reason, when I plan my meals for the week I do not assign them to particular days, rather selecting from the list what I feel like eating/cooking each night. It works for me and I find keeps me more engaged and more likely to follow through with my planned meals.
2. Try new things
Meal planning has given me the motivation to be a bit more adventurous in the kitchen. From trying new recipes, eating new foods, or learning a new skill. And it is not just me! My husband now makes mayo from scratch using the food processor and we have both got into a weekly habit of scrolling through recipes eager to find something new to try and create. Sometimes they are not great, but often we find ourselves with a new favourite recipe. This has helped us start creating a good list of go to weeknight meals we can consult whenever we feel a little stuck for inspiration.
3. Make sure you have variety
Further to my point above, I think it is so important to ensure your plan has variety. Not only to make sure you are eating a good balance of different foods to maintain your health, but also so that you don’t get bored. I rotate my meals often and very rarely eat the same thing twice in a two week period. Even safe meals like stir fry can be kept interesting by changing up your sauce, try honey soy, peanut satay, or sweet chilli.
4. Plan, plan, plan
Meal planning takes time. Set aside an hour on the weekend and scroll through Pinterest and find some amazing looking meals. Think about the variables in your week that might impact your meal plan. Will you be at home for dinner every night? Do you need meals that will make leftovers to take to work for lunch? How much time do you have each night to prepare? For us, we need quick to prepare dinners, the 30-minute or less variety. We also want to take our lunch to work each day, so for the nights that don’t provide leftovers I also plan easy to prepare lunches for the following day.
5. Shop with a list
I cannot even imagine shopping without a list. I have of course done it before and just end up walking around in circles with zero direction. It makes the grocery shopping experience way more stressful than it needs to be. So once you have decided on the recipes you want to make and any additional meals you will need such as lunches and breakfasts, write every ingredient down on a list. Go through the list and cross off anything you already have in your pantry or fridge.
Once I have written everything down on my meal plan, I start to group items by areas in the store, such as fruit and vegetables, meat, freezer etc. I recently started using Google Keep for my grocery lists and love it. Once everything is planned out I transfer it into Keep. You simply create a checklist with all of your ingredients then as you walk around the grocery shop you can easily tick each item off from your phone.
With the extra time it takes me to plan out my list this way I have eliminated getting home from the store and realising I have forgotten the main ingredient of one of my meals. Total time saver in the long run.
6. Write it down
Have you ever walked out of the grocery store with a trolley full of food and thought “hmm what am I going to have for dinner?” I used to do this alll the time. Now, before I even head to the grocery store I have my meals planned out and written down so all I need to do is look at my meal planner, check out what my options are, and pick one knowing I will have bought all of the ingredients I need. The easiest way is to have your plan in an easy to view area so that when you do get home from a busy day at work, all you have to do is glance at your plan to decide what to make.
To make things easier for you to get started, I have created a simple template which you can print off and fill in to help you start planning your weekly meals. As I said, I don’t believe in planning by day, so start by writing in each box what your options are and you can simply cross them off as you move through the week. Once your meals are worked out, use the list on the right to make sure you know all the ingredients you need before you step foot in the grocery store.
In need of more weeknight dinner inspiration? Check out these posts.