Want to learn how to start meal planning, but feeling overwhelmed? My friend Emma Dawson over at The Food Brood is here to break it down for you in 3 easy steps! Between halloween candy, big Thanksgiving meals, and holiday baked goods and cocktails, it’s easy to get off track with healthy eating this time of year.
Use this easy process to stay on top of your game! Emma even made you some free printables that you can download and use to map out your meal planning for the week, so there’s no excuses. Grab a pen and let’s go! 🙂
It’s often thought that meal planning is a very long and complicated process; indeed, the thought of having to actually plan meals as well as cook them seems, to some, to double the work they already dread. Then there are those who are curious to start meal planning but find the whole range of styles, approaches and processes totally overwhelming. They never get started because they simply don’t know how.
If this rings a bell with you and you’re curious how meal planning can help, then read on, because meal planning can be both simple and successful.
30 Minutes a Week
You’ve probably heard those people who boast “I only spend 30 minutes a week on my meal plan, it’s soooo easy”. Ok, spoiler alert: I’m one of ‘em. I genuinely only spend 30 minutes a week meal planning, because I’ve got my method honed to suit ME.
You see, that’s the thing.
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to meal planning. You have to find the method that suits YOU, YOUR schedule and YOUR household – or it’ll be more harmful than helpful.
Let me give you an example: dieting. There are thousands of different diets out there that all, ultimately, claim to help you lose weight. But you wouldn’t pick just any diet, would you? Oh no. If you actually want to stick at it and see real results, then you know you’ve got to find a diet that suits you (and ideally still allows you to eat copious amounts of chocolate, right?)
It’s the same with meal planning.
If you try and follow the exact process your friend/neighbour/mum recommends, then unless your circumstances are exactly the same, it’ll never work!
So here’s what you’re going to do: you’re going to follow three easy steps, and create a personal meal plan that will give YOU real results. Then you’re going to be the smug person who boasts about “30 minutes a week.”
Task #1: Food Diary
Let’s start with an easy one. For a week, you’re going to keep a record of what your household eats. It can be breakfast, lunch and dinner – most people just focus on dinner – but the important thing is to WRITE IT DOWN.
Next to each meal that you record, you’re also going to note whether it was quick to cook, a last- minute panicked trip to the grocery store or an emergency takeaway after a late finish. You need to be able to look back over this and see what worked and was easy, and what was a nightmare.
Task #2: Scheduling
When you’re ready to plan meals for the coming week, grab a new piece of paper and a cup of coffee (or glass of wine, if it really is that daunting), and write the days of the week down the left- hand side. Then put a prompt note next to each one for what you will be doing this coming week.
For example, you might write “late in, meeting” or “dinner @ home with friends” or “kids out at party” – anything that jogs your memory about your schedule.
Look back over your Food Diary and see where you had time to cook and where you didn’t, what kinds of meals worked well and were popular, and where you had to run to the shops. Then build these into your Scheduling prompts too, if necessary.
Task #3: Menu
Now the fun starts. Turn the page over and write these four categories:
Quick and Easy, Low and Slow, In Advance, No Cook.
Quick and Easy meals are those that you can throw together in 30 minutes or so – think stir fry, Mexican, pasta and so on.
Low and Slow meals are the kind you put in the oven and forget about – think casseroles, stock pot, slow cooker (crock pot).
In Advance means you will do most (if not all) of the cooking ahead of time, for example by batch cooking on the weekend, or by cooking double of something and freezing half for later.
No Cook means just that – it really will be too difficult to cook and so you’re all on sandwiches, leftovers or ordering in.
By each category, try to write down three meals that you regularly cook that fit the bill. Now is not the time to try something new; it’s also not the time to choose something that only half the family really likes. You need to go for tried-and-tested favourites so that you don’t have any additional battles on your hands. Again, think back to your Food Diary.
Finally, turn the page back over and look again at your Scheduling prompts. Now, pick a meal from your four Menu categories that suits that prompt!
So, if it’s “late in, meeting”, then choose a Quick and Easy.
If it’s “dinner at home with friends” then choose a Low and Slow and use the time to set the table and get ready!
If it’s “kids out at party” then go for a No Cook and enjoy the evening off!
Once you’ve followed these three steps, it not only gets easier to plan for your week, but it gets much, much quicker too:
- The Food Diary was a one-off task to learn your household’s eating habits.
- The Menu can become a permanent list that you pin up in your kitchen, add to as inspiration hits, and refer to week after week.
Now all you need to do is write new Scheduling prompts for each coming week and pick meals from your Menu that suit.
30 minutes a week? Easy.
To help you get started with these 3 steps, click here to download the freebie Meals for the Week and use it to fill in your Scheduling prompts, Meal choices and Menu categories. Enjoy!
Emma is a teacher, academic, food writer, developer of recipes with just six ingredients, and organization nut! She enjoys helping people learn to meal plan, to get organized in the kitchen and to simplify their food strategies – anything to make meal times easier! You can find more information on Emma’s meal planning tools on her site, The Food Brood. She also runs a Facebook Group called SMART Meals for Busy Cooks, which is all about saving money by shopping and eating frugally. Emma is married with two children aged 5 and 1, and lives in the middle of nowhere in rural England, with only a herd of cows for company.