One of my favorite weekly activities is planning our meals for the upcoming week. I enjoy this activity so much that I usually plan my meals a week in advance of my shopping trip – though I do have a friend who meal planned her entire February, which impressed me.
I love scouring recipes, finding old favorites and trying new ones. It’s always a risk with a new recipe; I’m never positively sure if my family and I will love the meal, like it for one eating, or if we’ll be ordering pizza later in the evening. But it’s fun, and we’ve found some favorites because of my kitchen experimentation.
Meal planning is also great for answering that age-old question, “What’s for dinner tonight?” Because you already know – it’s in the fridge.
One of the great things about having food in the fridge for the week is just that: having food in your fridge. It’s harder to grab a burger at the nearest fast food place when you have chicken that’s going to spoil if you don’t go ahead and use it.
A few negatives do exist, however, with meal planning. First of all, you’ve got to plan that week’s meals. That takes some time and effort, and if you’re not really interested in meal planning, it just adds one more thing to your “to do” list. Another problem – and this is a biggie for me – is that if you meal plan, it’s harder to take advantage of weekly sales. Sometimes you can quickly alternate your course in the grocery store, but I have a hard time doing that. I’m a list person, and I like sticking to it.
However, I am an advocate of planning meals out in advance – especially if you’re looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I’ll use myself as a personal example: as I look over next week and what needs to be planned, I notice a few things that I need to take note:
1. My husband will be taking vacation with me during that week, which means he’ll be eating lunch with me, which is not the usual for our family.
2. We’ll be traveling to New Orleans during part of the week, which, to be honest, means we’re going to be eating big, fried meals. Therefore, I want to do very little eating out before then – I also want to focus on much healthier meals since I know we’ll be eating poorly on our trip.
3. We have a birthday celebration for a friend – I don’t necessarily need to plan dinner that night except for my two-year-old, who will be left with a babysitter.
I like lists, and I like plans. And knowing that we’ll be traveling, I don’t want to plan heavy, calorie-laden meals during the week. Simple items, such as sandwiches and fruit for lunch and maybe a green salad with a side of grilled chicken for one of our dinners will be best.
And while I don’t usually shop sales at the grocery store unless the sale item is on my list, meal planning does help me stay within our budget. Last week, for instance, I knew I’d need four pounds of hamburger meat for various meals. Not only did I buy the meat in a large container, but I also was able to think, “Well, if we are spending this much money on hamburger meat for two meals, maybe for two of the other meals, we should eat something that doesn’t cost so much.”
Anything with meat or fresh produce will generally be more expensive – but I have found ways to combat that expense. We eat a lot of potatoes and sweet potatoes in our household. A sweet potato with honey and cinnamon will fill up all three of us.
For me, I’ve noticed when I have a list prepared of meals for the next week, I shop more efficiently and effectively. I’ve actually shopped “wildly” before without a list and ended up with items that were more expensive and less healthy than when I meal plan.
If you don’t like to meal plan, I would suggest reading “Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes” by Shauna Niequist. Not only is this book filled with delicious recipes (the risotto and the green well salad are now regulars in our household), but it also makes you fall in love with planning meals and cooking – and hopefully will give you some inspiration as well.
Other delicious new recipes I’ve discovered while meal planning:
Tilapia topped with Mango Pico (Whole30 approved) – This is SO delicious. Add some prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with it, and you’ve got a meal that you won’t even realize is great for you.
Easy ravioli bake – Listen, this one is not healthy for you. However, when you’ve got unexpected guests (or even expected ones), this is a sure-fire way to feed everyone on a budget.
Fiesta Lime Pork Chops with Guac – Serve it just how she does – pork chops, guac, and mac and cheese. Couldn’t be easier.
Do you meal plan? What are some tricks of the trade that you can share?