One of the elements that is always a component of my challenge groups is meal planning, and every single time I am so surprised at how many women tell me that they have never tried or don’t really know how to create a meal plan. We’ve honestly been doing it since we first got married although then it was primarily focused on saving as much money as we could rather than keeping things healthy. Either way, a meal plan is a great way to stick to your healthy habits and your budget goals, but it’s not always the easiest thing to stick to. So, I wanted to share a few of my tips for creating a meal plan that you can actually stick to. It’s not rocket science, and I’d venture to guess that the more you do it, the easier it will become.
1. Consider Your Goals
So, to me there are two essential goals for creating a meal plan: (1.) to save money and (2.) to stick to some type of nutritional program. You may be focused on one of those more than the other, or you may have a different goal in mind entirely. In any case, it’s important to have those goals at the forefront of your mind when creating your plan. If you do, you’ll be more likely to put things into your plan that align with your goals than if you don’t.
2. Take a Look at What You Have
Using the ingredients in your pantry is one of THE BEST ways to save money in your meal plan, so be sure to take a few minutes to look around. If you’re starting a new nutritional regimen, you may actually want to eliminate some of the items in your pantry (and I don’t mean by having a “gorge-fest” prior to starting the new plan). If you can’t bear to toss them, then consider donating them to another family or even your local shelter.
3. Start Planning
Once you’ve taken a gander at what you have, it’s time to start coming up with ideas. Start jotting down recipe ideas centered on what you already have until you have a few different ideas to work with.
4. Break It Down
Once you have a few ideas, start breaking it down into specific meals. On our plan, I typically break it down into 1-2 options for breakfast (we have our shakes 99% of the time), 2-3 options for lunch (though my husband usually takes the same thing each day), and 2-3 dinners (we’re able to make several meals out of each dinner).
5. Plan Around Your Week
I love only having to do 2-3 actual meals each week. By breaking it up like this, I am able to cook once and eat two or even three times on the same meal. This is especially helpful when we have a really busy week because I can plan to cook on a night that we’ll just be home and then reheat leftovers on a night that we’re busy. Keep your schedule in mind as you plan. Even if your family requires a new meal each night, you can plan a meal that requires less prep time for a busy night so you’ll be less likely to buy takeout.
6. Choose Foods You’ll Enjoy
Even if you are trying to convert to a healthier way of eating, it’s important to choose foods that you’ll actually enjoy eating. You are going to stick to any plan very long if it’s not something that is enjoyable to you. So, try to create a good balance and look for healthier alternatives to some of your less nutritious favorites.
7. Prep What You Can as Soon as You Can
Have things prepped ahead of time will save you time and eliminate your excuses. I especially like to make sure that all of my produce is prepped and ready to be eating, but that even goes for other foods like your proteins.
Now the big question is how often should you meal plan? That is honestly for you to decide. I personally prefer to go to the store once a week, but you can certainly make plans for several weeks at a time. I just find that our tastes change from week to week and having a little more flexibility helps me pick new recipes to try as we want to.
Want to try your hand at meal planning? Check out this free printable meal planner!