Now that I’m a mom I can’t live without my MEAL PLAN!
I recently overheard two moms talking.
Mom 1: “I wish I was organized enough to have a meal plan!”
Mom 2: “Don’t feel bad, meal plans only exist on the fake bulletin boards in furniture catalogs.”
No! This is not true! Real people have meal plans. They are amazing. They are life saving. And they honestly are not that hard to make, nor do they take hours and hours of toiling away in cook books. And not all meal plans are a “make everything on Sunday night” kind of meal plan – while that strategy works for some, it isn’t the be-all-end-all of meal plans.
The trick about a successful meal plan is that it must conform to your lifestyle. It should be flexible where you like flexibility, and rigid where you need structure. It should effectively use leftovers so you aren’t making an entire meal from scratch every night. And it should incorporate your tried-and-true, make-with-your-eyes-shut recipes on a very regular basis.
Step 1: Identify your strengths
What do you like about the way you are currently making your meals? Do you like your frequent grocery trips with fresh veggies and adventurous recipes? Do you like reaching into the freezer for a container of four servings of delicious chili you made two weeks ago?
Once you find your meal preparation strengths, you can build your meal plan around them.
I am a leftover fanatic. I want to use the leftover chicken to make wraps or salads. I want to put the chili into a melty cheesy tortilla. My meal plan builds in the use of leftovers into every meal; every fresh meal we make, we make a lot of extra servings, of vegetables especially.
Step 2: Identify your weaknesses
Are you afraid of new recipes? Do you hate the taste of leftover chicken? Do you end up throwing out once-fresh vegetables?
Find your weaknesses and challenge yourself to work around them, but don’t stress about it! A meal plan built on a weak foundation just can’t possibly be strong.
I hate to cook. It makes me insecure. If I apply heat to anything, I am sure it will burn, or be undercooked, or under seasoned, and everyone will certainly reject and judge me as a terrible mother/wife/friend/whatever. Therefore, my meal plan does not revolve around me making complicated meals every evening. My husband – who loves to cook – makes our more involved dishes once, maybe twice a week (and I lovingly repurpose the leftovers), whereas I am making the easier things that I am confident about.
Step 3: Identify your ideal meal
What would your plate look like at every [dinner / lunch / breakfast / snack]? Write that down as your outline to fill in every day. It can be as specific or vague as fits your personality.
Here is my ideal dinner: Main dish, two vegetables, (maybe starch), fruit.
Step 4: Identify your easy recipes
Have I mentioned I don’t like to cook? Here are some of my reoccurring “recipes”:
- toasted pita triangles with hummus
- peanut butter on whole wheat toast
- steamed edamame from the bag with hoisin sauce
- scrambled eggs
- roasted veggies
- bean chili
Step 5: Fill in your meal outlines for each day of the week
Here is what a sample dinner looks like in my meal plan based on the outline above:
- turkey loaf
- 2 veggies (cauliflower and corn on the cob)
- fruit (grapes)
When you fill out your meal plan, I highly recommend strategizing your leftovers. For example, you might write in baked chicken for Monday night dinner, and then put it on the plan again on Thursday but this time served a little differently.
Do not be afraid to repeat things. Decide which meal you want to be special every day and make sure it’s different. We have two breakfast and three lunch “plans” on repeat but dinner every night is different.
Do not get intimidated by the steps and give up after step 1. Invest an hour or two in your meal plan ONCE. I made my meal plan 6 months ago and I still use it every day! It will be worth it.
Do not get overly ambitious and pick out new recipes to try for each day of the meal plan. Conversely, do not feel like you can’t “skip” a night and try out a new recipe once in a while! (Just remember, if you have planned to use leftovers, make sure you think ahead.) It’s also important to allow yourself to change the meal plan as needed and incorporate new recipes sometimes.
My meal plan has streamlined my day and my grocery list, and alleviated a major source of daily anxiety. I love that most meals can be made with very minimal cooking and in under 15 minutes, even with two kids at my ankles. And almost never having to decide what to make for dinner… That is truly priceless.
Robin Sheldon is an artist and therapist, currently staying at home full time with her 19 month old twins and two cats while her husband hunts and gathers. She recently moved from city to suburb and what a transition it has been!