By now, almost everyone knows that having a plan is the key to success, and that applies to just about any situation in life. Healthy meal planning is definitely the key to not only being successful in healthy eating, but to food budgeting as well.
I love to meal plan because it takes a huge burden off my shoulders. I know what’s coming and so does everyone else. (I post the menu on the fridge!)
And, when I menu plan, I know what groceries to have stocked in the house. I dislike it immensely when it’s nearing dinner time and I have no plan and no food that goes together. It makes it too easy to grab something unhealthy.
The Healthy Meal Planning Process
When I sit down to do my healthy meal planning, I like to follow a certain pattern without getting too locked into that pattern.
I usually pick a protein-focused pattern: chicken, beef, pork, fish, and meatless meal every week. (Sometimes this changes, depending on step #1 below.) That takes care of five meals. We have a standing pizza night at our house, so that’s meal number 6. That just leaves one night to figure out. This is a great “flex” night: it could be leftovers, planned overs, or out to eat. Or it could be a fend for yourself night where everyone finds their own dinner. Variety is key to avoid ruts and feeling uninspired.
ALLOW FOR FLEXIBILITY IN YOUR MEAL PLANNING
I never get too hung up on the pattern. If we have meatless more than once, or two beef nights in a row, or some other variance to the guide, I just let it go.
Life is lifey, and as my father in law says, “you have to maintain a state of rigid flexibility.” (It’s one of his favorite phrases, and you know what? He’s darn right!)
Variety is the key to avoiding ruts and feeling uninspired.
You might choose your own pattern for healthy meal planning based on yours and your family’s preferences. Maybe you just do a cuisine pattern: Mexican, Asian, Italian, American, Indian, leftovers, and 123 Eat! Maybe you do a starch variation pattern: Rice, Pasta, Bread, Potato… Your pattern is up to you, but I highly recommend at least somewhat of a map if you want to plan meals on a regular basis.
USE 1-2-3 EAT! MEALS
I try to incorporate at least one 1-2-3 Eat! meal because they’re easy and delicious and not difficult to get everyone on board. 1-2-3 Eat! meals go together quickly and most without even a recipe, so my time can be spent elsewhere from the kitchen should I choose it to be. These are great for picky eaters because it’s easy to customize every item without making everyone their own meal. I’m not a short-order cook, nor do I want to be, but errybody’s gotta eat!
USE FREEZER MEALS WHERE APPLICABLE
If/when I have a busy night in the week, maybe sports nights or other activities for the kids, where I’m not going to be home to cook a meal, but we still want to eat (and drive through is just not our thing very often), I plan on a freezer meal. I normally have freezer meals stocked in the freezer, but even if I don’t I can prep one or two in less than 30 min at the start of the week and then they’ll be ready for those busy nights later in the week.
Three Steps To Healthy Meal Planning
So now that I’ve gone over the method to my quote-unquote madness, here are the three easy steps to healthy meal planning:
First (1), shop your inventory. I try to shop my pantry, fridge and freezer first, and use what I already have, oldest first. Maybe I have a few random veggies from last week’s recipes that I can cook up and put into a frittata, which fits the meatless category. Maybe there’s a couple of chicken breasts, some mixed veggies in the freezer, and some brown rice, coconut oil, and Bragg Liquid Aminos in the pantry that I can turn into chicken fried rice for the chicken category. Maybe there’s some leftover taco meat that can be nachos.
Next (2), shop the Sale Ads. After I shop my own inventory, I hit the world wide inter webs and look up my local grocery sale ad. (Or if you prefer, check the printed ads in your local paper.) What’s on sale that can inspire me?
This is another place where knowing 1-2-3 Eat! is super helpful. What meats, veggies, and green tier starches are on sale? Is whole wheat pasta on sale? Are eggs cheap right now?
Not only are sale ads helpful for budgets, they can be used for inspiration as well.
And finally (3), Plug and Play. All that’s left now is to “plug and play” using the pattern discussed above. Using the 90/10 Nutrition Online Meal Planner to drag and drop recipes is easy and, frankly, kind of fun. (I’ll take, “how you know you’re an adult for $1000, Alex.”) If you’re not a Clean Plate Club member, grab your free 3-week membership and try it out, or use your preferred meal planning implement. (Like a notebook and a pen.)
And, now that you have a plan, you can be a little bendy. If you planned on stir fry for Monday, but you’re not in the mood for Asian now that Monday’s here, just swap it for a different meal later in the week. Just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you can’t be a little moody about food.
Ryan even takes it a step further. He plans a week at a time, but only shops for a few days at a time (which is easy to do in our meal planner because you can set the date range for your shopping list!). That way he can be even bendier with his plan, because he’s not locked into the ingredients he already bought.
To wrap it all up (ooh, wraps! I should put those on the meal plan!), all you need to do to plan your family’s meals ahead of time is shop your inventory, shop the sale ads, and plug and play.