Happy New Year! (Can I still say that on January 15? Well I’m going to because it’s my first post of the year.)
Last month I asked readers what topic they might be interested in learning more about, and “Meal planning your way to 30-minute heart healthy meals” was the winner by far.
As I was doing our meal plan Monday, I thought about all of the ways that meal planning helps me.
But first, can I just clarify what I mean when I say meal planning? Sometimes I think people envision a detailed document that dictates every bite they eat, from morning to night.
Don’t do this. I don’t even recommend planning every dinner.
Really you should meal plan in whatever way works for you, as simple or as elaborate as you like, but typically I suggest just figuring out 3-5 meals you’re going to have for dinner that week. That’s it.
If you like, you can note a special breakfast or snack you’d like to make, but typically for those I rely on “go-to” lists: 2-3 regular breakfasts and snacks you like and always have the ingredients for. And lunch is leftovers.
If you want to get fancier or more detailed, go to town. But if you keep it simple, you might still be doing it in December. And by making even a very simple plan, you’ll still be better able to:
- Make changes to your eating habits. If you want to eat more veggies or beans or whole grains or whatever, you have to plan for it! You need to not only buy those things but if you write down when and how you’re going to eat them, chances are they won’t end up in the compost.
- Cook more, takeout less. While experts might debate carbs versus low- carb, vegan versus paleo, no one debates the value of eating more home-cooked food. And meal planning can help make it happen. Look I love eating out, but it’s always more enjoyable when it’s intentional and a treat, not when you’re in a drive-through because you didn’t plan ahead.
- Eat more fun, interesting, enjoyable food. Bring on the new recipes if you want to freshen things up, but have a good look at your calendar first and figure out when you’ll actually have time to play in the kitchen.
- Save time! Meal planning can mean fewer trips to the store. Don’t you hate showing up there at 5:30pm with all. the. people. ugggh. because you’re out of milk and need to pick up something for dinner? The worst. I would even argue to people who say they don’t have time to meal plan and cook it can be faster than eating out. Build a collection of favourite 30-minute meals (hi my cookbook*), make them in double batches, freeze the extras, and suddenly it’s a time-saver. Seriously. Thank goodness for leftovers. Who has time to eat out?
- Save money! Besides cutting back on restaurant food, you can build your meals around in-season, on-sale items. And you’ll throw out less, assuming you build a meal plan you actually follow.
- Recruit helpers in the kitchen – If you’ve planned meals and it’s printed somewhere the rest of the family can see, other family members can start or even make the whole meal before you get home. Yes please! And kids are more likely to eat meals they helped plan or prepare.
- Reduce stress. Picture this. You’re driving home at 5:30pm and not only do you know what’s for dinner, the ingredients are in the fridge, and your teenager is prepping the vegetables. You’ll all be eating happily before everyone gets hangry. A fantasy? Nope. (Except maybe the teenager part.) It just takes a little, you guessed it, planning.
I know this isn’t easy. Trust me. I think my “word” for 2020 might be “plan” I’m so bad at it. But meal planning? I’ve got that. And you can too! (I can help. Stay tuned.)
Next week I thought I’d write a bit about all the (very good) reasons people don’t meal plan. Lack of time and a preference for flexibility are the two that I hear about most. Any others I should add? Any benefits I missed? Do you meal plan? I’d love to hear your thoughts, as always, on Facebook.
* That’s an affiliate link, which means if you use it to buy from Amazon I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, and this blog gets a bit more funding without advertising or sponsored content, which I never do. Thanks for your support!