It’s that time of year- New Year’s Resolutions!  The top five traditional New Year’s resolutions?  1) Lose weight- get healthier  2) Make more money – get out of debt  3) Spend more time with family   4) Get organized,  5) break a bad habit, like smoking.  This article is the first in a five part series on healthier New Year’s Resolutions.

Meal Planning.  It brings up visions of 1960’s home economics classes and stay-at-home moms a la June Cleaver, and if you’re a bit of a rebel like me, meal planning can be a spontaneity- stealing and time consuming.   What if your family doesn’t like the planned menu?  What if something changes?  What if your best laid meal plans get trashed?  Is it worth meal planning if you’re cooking for just one or two? (YES!)
Ironically, meal planning is the exact opposite.  Sure, it takes some time in the beginning, especially if you’re new to it, but the benefits of planning your food in advance, pile up fast! Meal planning actually frees up your  time, saves you money, helps your family eat healthier, and is a key factor in maintaining a healthy weight.  Less chaos, is less stress!  When you have meals planned, you can actually be more spontaneous if there is last minute company or a change in your schedule.  Once you have a baseline in your meal planning, it is simple to change it up.
Like any new system, you need to follow it very closely in the beginning before you tweak it.  This is especially true for those of you who feel a need to customize everything. Follow your plan , it falls apart quickly, and you find yourself back in meal time chaos and discouragement.

Bringing Sanity to Your Mealtime

Getting Started- For most families dinner time is the big meal problem of the day.  If meals aren’t planned and ready, it’s easy to fall into the frozen food/fast food/delivery pizza trap.  If planning dinner seems overwhelming, then start with something easier, like planning a week’s worth of breakfast.

How long to plan for?  Plan for one or two weeks.  Once you’ve built up a few weeks plans, you can easily plan out for up to a month.

Plan to Plan- Sounds obvious, I know.   But 4 PM on Monday afternoon is not the time to get serious about planning your meals for week. (True confession, I did that).  Pick a down time.  I plan my meals and homeschool lessons on Saturday or Sunday afternoons.  It took me longer in the beginning, now it can be done in 20-30 minutes.  A planning program like Plan to Eat makes it very fast.

What kind of planning tool?   Don’t get bogged down looking for the “perfect tool” when you’re getting started.  As you get in the habit of meal planning, you will end up with your own system that works for your lifestyle and family.  I started out using a freebie calendar that I received from a realtor.  How’s that for low key?  Then I got an inexpensive calendar book.  Now I use Plan to Eat.  I’ve used the All Recipes meal planner, but I prefer Plan to Eat because it allows me to import any recipe I want.  This is very important for families that are planning around special diets.  My next level in meal planning is to have my holiday and special event menus logged.  Perhaps will all the time I’ll save I’ll be able to work out more! (That’s another resolution).

Lay out your plan:

1)    Look at your schedule.  Are there days that are busier than others?  Is Saturday taken up with sports?  Committee meetings on Monday evenings?   Make a simple notation on your calendar.
Busy nights are for crock pot, one pan, or meals that you’ve made ahead.

2)    What are your favorite recipes? Which have the fewest ingredients?  Which ones can be easily doubled and frozen for busy days?

3)    Take a quick inventory.  Look in your pantry and freezer.  What do you have on hand?

4)    Got a grocery store circular?  What’s on sale?  Avoid the processed foods. Stick to meats and produce. This is when I reviewed my coupons, too.

5)    Write it down.  In the beginning, I just wrote down the main dish, and a main side dish.   If you’re like me, and can get bogged down in “planning perfection”, keep it very simple.  The goal is to start bringing order to your meals, not plan every detail.  You will add more to your plans as the habit of meal planning grows.

Here’s an ultra simple starter  meal plan:

  • Sunday-  Church-  Roast pork loin, salad, broccoli, baked potato (may have leftovers)  Another option- start something in a crock pot.  This will depend on how crazy your Sunday mornings are, or if you plan ahead enough to make the meal on Saturday night.
  • Monday –  Soccer/Scouts/ Business  conference call-  grilled burgers,  fresh veggies
  • Tuesday-  Spaghetti , salad, garlic toast. Double batch spaghetti sauce for freezer
  • Wednesday- Soccer practice, after dinner business appointment- crock pot  chicken cacciatore,
  • zucchini, rice (double batch rice- freeze half for another meal)
  • Thursday- evening Bible Study- leftover night!
  • Friday-  burritos, refried beans and rice.  Double batch taco meat for another night. Make a few extra burritos (meat/cheese/beans) and freeze them.
  • Saturday – Soccer game, household projects, meal planning-  Grilled salmon, veggie, pasta salad

Now look what you’ve accomplished after one week-

  • Busy nights have simpler meals – but no take out or fast food!  (Money saved, healthier family)
  • You have prepared ahead: spaghetti sauce and taco meat and burritos (Use these on another busy night)
  • No wasted food (Money saved) – left overs are planned for.  These can also be frozen in individual portions for lunches or busy nights.
  • More time- less stress.   Now you have a foundation to plan your next two weeks.

That’s it! Let me know how your meal planning is working.  If you’re on Plan to Eat – look me up- I’m Longevity Coach

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