“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” Jim Rohn
Planning and executing a week’s worth of meals that simultaneously take into consideration all of the various needs in any given household while also trying to keep them healthy, budget friendly and something everyone might entertain eating is tough work, my friends. As someone who has made my share of ‘meals-that-didn’t-fly, I know.
It. is. tough. work.
The thing is, the time and effort you put into planning yields huge pay-offs; saving money, eating healthfully, feeling relaxed (instead of crazed) are just a few that come to mind. While being motivated certainly helps, personalizing your system and making meal planning into a habit is what will ultimately keep you going (thank you, Jim Rohn).
Here are some tips to help you go from motivated, well-meaning meal-planner to confident, habitual meal-planner:
1. Keep it Simple. Contrary to what you may think, you do not have to create a gourmet meal! We are talking about using simple, fresh ingredients to plan meals that will not put you over the edge. Find your recipes from resources you trust like favorite magazines, cookbooks, websites, your recipe binder (see #7). Make a list of ingredients you need from those recipes. Buy them. Make said recipes. The majority of my weekday meals are recipes I have made before and know how to execute or have prepped/planned in advance. If you have a desire to try something new, aim for a night or weekend where you will have more time to experiment.
2. Make a commitment to yourself.
This is important. It takes 21 days to form your habit. Make sure you set yourself up for success by creating a goal to meal plan and by sticking to it. Bust out your calendar and take a peek at the week ahead. Which nights do you have time to prep something simple? Which nights will you have no time at all? Plan for busy nights by using a crock pot, cooking a meal in advance or cooking extra portions and re-purposing the ‘left-overs.’ Start slow by choosing 2-3 nights (you can have leftovers for lunch) and keep moving!
3. Keep your pantry, freezer & refrigerator organized.
Organize by shelf in your pantry (i.e-baking goods), or by food in the refrigerator (i.e.-vegetables), keep oils and vinegar in one spot, etc. Organize in a way that works for you. This way you can cross-reference what you have, what you need, and what is on sale. You also will avoid having five, partially-used bottles of rice-wine vinegar!
3. Chunk it out. Your time, that is. Not only for meal-planning but for shopping, prepping and organizing. When can you plan meals? Is your shopping day also your organizing/prepping day? What works for you? Sundays are usually the day in my house where I am hard-boiling some eggs, baking/grilling off some chicken, cutting/roasting vegetables or making double batches of something (brown rice, quinoa, whole grain waffles) that I can either freeze or use throughout the week. During the winter when days are short, I may even make an extra dish and freeze it for ‘one of those nights.’
4. Cook once, eat twice.
Okay, you don’t have to break Venezuela’s world record for biggest pot of soup, but I recommend living by this rule whenever possible! Roasting chicken on Sunday? Have a chopped chicken salad on Monday night. Or shredded chicken tacos. Or chicken tetrazzini. You see where I’m going. If your kids don’t like ‘leftovers’, don’t call them ‘leftovers!” Having salad? Chop up a few heads of Romaine and keep it in a salad spinner–it will last a few days in the fridge! Making brown rice for a stir fry? Make a double batch and keep in the fridge for your lunch or for another meal later in the week. Same goes for soups, chili, stews and baked goods. Food nerd alert:How sweet is it when you realize you have an extra loaf of chocolate zucchini bread in the freezer? It’s like finding $5 in an old pair of jeans. Cha-ching!
5. Have a ‘sure-thing”.
There are certain things I always have on-hand (lemons, garlic, olive oil, greens, frozen shrimp, brown rice, white beans, artichoke hearts, tomato/marinara sauce, herbs/spices). I can always quickly make something with these ingredients. Limited to eggs, spices and frozen spinach? Try a frittata or make breakfast for dinner–this is always a hit in our house!
6. Have a go-to list of staples. Create a list on your computer of staples that you get each week. That way you can simply add to your list instead of starting from scratch. Here are seven different iphone apps that allow you to create and share lists, scan specific items into your list, and more.
7. Create a family recipe binder.
This tool is critical for me. I have recipes from my family, my friends, magazines, online, etc. The recipes in the binder are tried and true ‘keepers’. I have a different file for recipes I’d like to try. Full disclosure-this is not a picture of my binder! My binder is old, food-stained and not pretty at all, but it works! Some people like to have their recipes on a computer or saved on a particular website. I have the recipes organized in clear sheet protectors so I can utilize both sides for recipe in a way that works for me (Breakfast, Sides, Chicken, etc.). You can organize your binder in a way that works for you.
8. Utilize a system.
A blank calendar, an app for your phone, a white-board, a chalk-board, a meal-board like those found on Pinterest. Find something that is true to your style and that you will actually use. I use (drum roll please…) a piece of paper and a pen. See? Now you know my secret.
9. Add a theme. “Fiesta Tuesday”, “Breakfast for Dinner”, “Wacky Wednesday”. Themes are fun! Themes help you plan! My personal favorite now that my kids are older is “YOYO–You’re On Your Own”! If you have kids, let them create a theme/come up with a name!
10. If you have kids, bring ‘em in! Create a list or menu and post it. Allow your child to plan the menu one day/week (they will be more likely to eat it!) Grow, shop, cook with your child. Not only are you giving them a life-skill, but including them in the process also means they are more likely to eat what they have helped plan.
11. Trust yourself. Planning is all well and good but life happens. When you suddenly find yourself in the throes of ‘one of those nights’ unprepared, take a quick look in your pantry. Chances are, you probably have some items on hand that will make a tasty meal. Trust yourself to create something without a plan. Yes, sometimes what you make will suck, but other times you will do a big ol’ fist pump because you have created something to add into your ‘rotation.’ You can always plug the ingredients you have on-hand to one of my favorite websites,www.epicurious.com for ideas.
12. Keep trying. Planning meals takes time and effort. It requires us to make time to plan, time to shop, time to organize, prep, and cook. Keep plugging away to find a system that works for you! Start slowly (plan 3 nights) and work your way up to having the week planned (enjoying one night out can be part of your plan!). Finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, find something that works for you. My pantry, binder, & fridge are not “Pinterest worthy” but they work for me and get the job done!
Please add any meal-planning strategies that you use and find most helpful–we are tremendous resources for one another and don’t forget about the meal planning workshop on Thursday, October 16th from 7:30-8:30 pm at Thomas Moreland Fitness! You can sign up right here!