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How to Meal Plan

Have you ever tried to keep up a good habit and then realize that it’s slipping away from you? And, you try to reel it back in and convince yourself you didn’t really lose it. But, you did, or were really really close to losing it. The first step you need to realize to get that good habit back is to realize you are slipping.

The next step is to actually do something about it.

Lately, I have not been meal planning or meal prepping like I used to, or should. It’s a lot tougher to do this now that I have ‘time’ to, as a stay at home mom; there’s not as much pressure because I can just whip up whatever, whenever I want.

When I was working full time, I would spend a few hours every weekend meal planning, shopping, and prepping food for the week. Now that I’m home almost 24/7, I guess I had a mind shift. And, not for the better! I attempt a meal plan and buy for what I plan. But, my girls and I pretty much just eat what we feel like eating. Why shouldn’t we?

For me, that’s not ok. I need more structure. If I plan and prep my food at the beginning of the week, it tends to be healthier; there’s more veggies in my diet. When I make food on a whim, it may not be as healthy. I’m not as focused on making veggies the main part of the meal (or in the meal at all)!

But, at least I know I need to start doing this again, and admit that I need to work a little more to get it to work for me again!

How to Start Meal Planning

Alright, so I may be a little bit of a geek when it comes to organization, planning, and making lists. But, the easiest way to start meal planning is to come up with lists of meals or snacks that are liked by everyone, or almost everyone, in the family. (Because you can’t please everyone all the time.) 

You can grab a simple, but very useful template for that here! 

If you’re having trouble coming up with your list, google and pinterest may be able to help you out. I love going on pinterest for meal ideas; they have pictures of food and lead you right to the recipe (most of the time). Don’t feel bad if you use the internet to help you out instead of your cookbooks or old family recipes. The internet is here to help us and it’s not ‘cheating’ to use it to our advantage.Go ahead and follow me on pinterest, that’s where I find and pin most of the recipes that I use!!

Plus, if you have one ingredient and you don’t know what to do with it; you can simply type in the search “dinner ideas with _______” or “vegan meals with ______”. It’s that simple to look up a meal that you may want to try. I do this all the time, at least to get the wheels spinning in my mind to figure out what we want to eat! Lately, I’ve been doing this the day of, instead of planning for the week. I’m going to start planning for the week again, now!

Pinterest can really motivate you to start planning out your meals! There are soo many ideas on it!!

Start Planning Meals

Once you have some meal ideas you can start plugging some of the meals into different days of the week. If you’re not ready for that, there is a partial step you can take; figure out how many meals you can make out of one recipe for your family. For some recipes, or for some families, one recipe will be enough for one meal. Some other recipes will be enough for a couple of meals. For example, this past week I made homemade vegan mac and cheese; this recipe is enough food to last myself and 2 little girls for about 7 meals. But, I could never get my girls to eat this for an entire week straight. So, we have one meal with it, then half goes in the fridge and the other half goes in the freezer. It’s by far the best vegan mac and ‘cheese’ I’ve ever had!

If you’re doing the partial step; you need to have 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 dinners, and 14 snacks (or however many snacks you need, some days may be more than others). You may also want to consider that some people in your family may not like certain meals, or work, and therefore eat something different than everyone else. Or, they may not eat breakfast, no matter how much you try to get them to, like my husband (he’s getting better about it, he ate the muffins I made for breakfast this morning). In that case there’s less meals to plan for, or less people eating the meal, so the food will go further. Whatever it may be, this would be what to do if you don’t want to dive right into plugging meals into specific days!

For an example of how to do this, I’ll share what I planned for this week (which I’m planning it right now as I’m writing).

 Breakfast

  • 2 days: Oatmeal with Blueberries and Banana
  • 2 days: Oatmeal with Apples and Cinnamon
  • 3 days: Green Smoothie Bowl

Lunch

  • 7 days: Different Variations of Salad and Pasta (I know, vague, right? I’m still working on what exactly we’re going to have)

 Dinner

  • 1 day: Tofu and Sweet Potato Bowl (with broccoli and brown rice)
  • 3 days: Minestrone Soup
  • 3 days:  Brown Rice, Beans, and Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Snacks

Our snacks lately have been focused on the A to Z snack challenge series, simply because we already came up with so many options! Either that, or fresh fruit, muffins, or energy bites. So, for this week:

  • mangoes
  • nuts
  • chia seed pudding
  • melon
  • other fresh fruit, like apples, grapes/strawberries, and bananas

These are all snacks that we tend of have on hand at all times, or are very easy to make!

Plug the Meals into day

The next step is where it starts to get fun! Now you can get out your calendars and plan which meals you’re going to have on which days. Be mindful of when you will and won’t be home, and plan around outings if need be. If you plan the same meal for multiple times in one week, make sure the food won’t go bad before you eat it all up; freeze it if you need to. If you have busy mornings most of the week, leave the meals that take longer to make for the not so busy days. Or, if you know you’re going to be out all day running errands, maybe that big dinner that needs to be made fresh can be made a different night, or make a crock pot meal that you can set up in the morning and have it done by dinner without touching it again!

I know us moms like to think we’re super humans (because we are), but life isn’t perfect; sometimes it takes longer to make a meal than we thought it would (this is where meal prepping comes in handy)!

2 week meal plan

 If you need a FREE empty template to use for meal planning I created a printable version!! Subscribe below to get it!

For an example for one day (since you probably don’t want to sit here and listen to a whole week of what my family is going to eat); for tomorrow (where we have no outings planned for the day) we’ll have oatmeal with blueberries and banana for breakfast, melon for morning snack, pasta and salad for lunch, an apple and peanut butter for afternoon snack, and minestrone soup for dinner. See, it’s really not that difficult. The hard part was probably the previous step; where you actually had to come up with the meals. Or, at least that’s usually the hardest part for me!

Your Grocery List

If you don’t know yet; I love lists! I even have a list of all the steps to meal planning at the bottom of this page! They are so helpful. And, they can be even more helpful depending on the way they are written. But, your first partial step to writing out your list will be to simply write out all of the ingredients to the meals you just planned. At this point, just write them down, it doesn’t matter the order yet.

Check your fridge and cupboards to see if you already have any ingredients (I sometimes do this before meal planning too, to use up ingredients we have and to save money!). Also, this would be a good time to clean out your fridge and cupboards of anything expired, or that mystery meal your husband put in the fridge a week ago and forgot about.

An Example…

For example, for my first day of meals; for oatmeal with blueberries and bananas; I need bananas, oats, soy milk, and blueberries. Then, for morning snack I need a melon. For lunch the only thing we need for tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and a red onion, I already have the rest of the ingredients. I need to get apples and peanut butter for afternoon snack, since my older daughter loves peanut butter and we go through about a jar (32 oz) a week! For dinner we need veggie broth and the veggies, we already have the pasta and the other ingredients.

Once your have your list, it’s time to organize it based on the store’s layout. My list is organized into a few different sections. The first section (or column), and usually the longest, is for fresh produce. The next section is for any frozen food, then bread. Then anything in the middle section of the store, like pasta/beans, baking ingredients, and anything else that happens to be in the middle isles (peanut butter). The last column is for anything in the dairy section, like soymilk. Go ahead and organize your list in a way that makes sense to you. This will save so much time and energy from having to run back to an isle you were already in because you forgot something!

Go Shopping

And no, I don’t mean for new clothes, though in some cases this shopping trip may cost just as much, or more! This next step can be tricky, especially when trying to stick to a budget. I know, there are a ton of tips out there to help you stick to a budget while shopping, so I won’t rant on for 5 paragraphs about those. But, my favorite tips, and the most effective tips, are to eat before you shop and to stick to your list. The first tip is certainly a lot easier than the second. Sticking to your list can be difficult, especially if you don’t shop alone.

Personally, I use Ibotta to reverse coupon and get a little money back every time I shop. Sometimes it’s only 25 cents, other times I’ve gotten up to $5 back; it simply depends on what you buy. I even know people who look at the money back options on Ibotta before they get groceries and shop based on that. I don’t, but others do. And, I’ve still earned over $50 so far using the app. You can get the money sent straight to paypal after you earn $20!

If you want to learn more about meal planning when sticking to a budget, check out How to Make a Healthy Meal Plan on a Budget!

Honestly, we go over what I’d like to spend on food just about every week! Not because I didn’t plan or stick to my list. But, because we go grocery shopping as a family…and my kids aren’t the reason we go over.

I could plan til I’m blue in the face, and use up the ingredients we have, and try to spend as little as possible at the store. But, my husband doesn’t eat the same food as our children and myself. So, it’s like we’re shopping off of two grocery lists, except he just grabs the food he wants instead of coming up with a list first; this drives me crazy!!

I’m like PLAN, PLAN, PLAN; and he’s just picking up items as he sees them, not planning what he’ll eat and not knowing if he’ll have enough or too much food for the week.

For example, when we went shopping this weekend, all of the food I had on my list actually came up to less money than the items he randomly chose to put in the cart. And, when I added everything up he didn’t believe me! Although, he probably just didn’t want to believe me!

So, if possible, I would recommend to shop alone and have a snack before you go. Just make sure to get food that everyone will like!

Meal Prep

This is another fun step in the process! For a lot of people the biggest obstacle in eating the food they plan is finding the time everyday to eat the healthy food that’s planned.  This step counteracts that obstacle; all you need is a couple hours, one day a week to prep your meals. This way, all you need to do for your meals everyday is to warm them up. How simple is that!?!

If you have a few hours when you get home from shopping, this would be the ideal time to meal prep; it’s less work this way and you’ll waste less food if you prepare it right away. I can’t even begin to tell you how many zucchinis I’ve bought for muffins or dinners, that went to waste, it’s horrible!

Of course, some meals can’t be prepared ahead of time. For example, sandwiches and smoothies can’t be prepared too far in advance or they’ll go bad. But, the oatmeal and soup can be made at the beginning of the week and stay good all week. Some foods can even be made and frozen to stay good longer, like vegan mac and cheese and muffins!

Grab a collection of Meal Planning Templates to make this process even easier!!

The one thing I can’t do for you on this step is to tell you exactly how long meal prepping will take you. It depends on how long each meal takes to make and how many meals you are able to prep for. It even depends on the number of distractions you have going on during the process.

I know doing anything can take about 10 times longer with children, especially when they help (this is important for their development, though, so I’d recommend letting them help with what they can). I have two young children and I meal prepped every week when I worked outside the home. It was either that or I didn’t eat at work that week. It’s odd, but the more time you have to prepare your meals, the more likely won’t do it; wasting time and energy, and creating unneeded stress everyday.

If you’re nervous about meal prepping and wanting to make sure you’re optimizing your meal for healthy; learn how to do it with confidence instead! Find out how, here!

Some Obvious Benefits of Meal Planning

Making food this way, and planning healthy meals ahead of time, can save you time, stress, and an unhealthy future, including possible medical bills from bad eating habits. Getting into the habit of meal planning and meal prepping is the hardest part of eating better. Once you actually start and do it a few times, it’ll start to feel normal and you may even start wondering how you didn’t have this habit before!

So, if you’re like me and like lists, here are the steps for how to meal plan:

  1. Get meal planning inspiration

  2. Figure out what meals you and your family enjoy

  3. Plan Meals Based on Amounts of meals a recipe will make (based how many people are eating it and how much they eat for one meal)

  4. Plug the meals into the days of the week

  5. Write your grocery list

  6. Go shopping

  7. Meal Prep

  8. Enjoy your meals and not stress!

How to Meal Plan

If you have any tips for how to meal plan, don’t forget to leave a comment and share!

Related Posts:

How to Make a Healthy Meal Plan on a Budget

The Benefits of Meal Prepping

8 Quick and Healthy Vegan Meal Ideas

More Posts You May Enjoy!

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