Let’s talk about meal planning.
You already know how my life is set up: I have almost zero time to scramble at 5pm trying to decide what we are going to eat every night. Last year, my life seemed to follow a pattern: go grocery shopping on Sunday and spend an obscene amount of money buying what I think we MIGHT like to eat that week. By Tuesday: look in the refrigerator for what to cook…feed my child pizza or breakfast because it’s easier or because I forgot to take out a meat to unthaw that morning…end the week with a freezer full of food that we did not eat. Repeat the next week. I was flying by the seat of my pants. And our diets and budget suffered because of it. And my piece of mind. But then, I decided to start actively meal planning BEFORE I went to the grocery store every week.
I know there are other busy working moms out there who want to know how to get started with meal planning. The most essential part of meal planning is basic preparation. So are a few things to consider to get started on your meal planning journey.
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Meal Planning 101
Create a master food list.
The first thing to do is determine what kind of meal planner you want to be. Are you looking for comfort foods, low-fat, Paleo, or something else? Are there any allergies in your family? Do you want to go meatless once a week? Meal planning is an important factor in any diet. If you know ahead of time everything you can and cannot eat, you will find it easier to create meals and list pantry essentials for your master food list for the grocery store. Your master list should include all of your favorites sauces, seasonings, and proteins. Also, be mindful of expiration dates and how long meals can last after preparation.
Make a goal for your family.
Is meal planning a stress relief for you? Perhaps you have a busy workweek( like me) and need freezer meals ready to go, defrosted, and in the slow cooker? Meal planning can help you spend more time with your family as well. You can create a calorie goal too since you will know ahead of time just what you need for each meal. Try to create a long-term goal, a short-term goal, and a goal for everyone in your family in relation to meal planning. For example, I’m trying to get Pookah to eat more veggies, so I factor in his favorites and ways to hide veggies in meals. This will make it more motivating for your weekly plan and shopping trip.
Containers are key.
You are going to need the right containers and food safe containers to help you store your food throughout the week. There are some containers that offer a space for your protein, vegetables, fruits, and sauces. Others offer lids and microwavable safe plastics. Bento boxes, soup containers, and freezer bags will also be important for your meal planning.
The right kitchen appliances are necessary for your success.
Of course you need a stove to prepare most of your meals, but it will be helpful to begin your meal planning journey with a slow cooker, a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, and a few simple tools like a garlic press and can opener. These kitchen gadgets can add variety to your meals too, for example, slow cooker on Monday, leftovers on Tuesday, a baked item on Wednesday.( In case you are wondering, the slow cooker and Insta Pot has saved my life!!!!)
Schedule time for meal planning.
You are going to need to create a day of the week to prepare your meals. I usually do my meal planning on Sunday Mornings, looking at the weekly circulars for sales. I also check my panty and freezer first to see what’s left that I might use for the coming week. Then I write a shopping list. You can use apps like Paprika or Yummly to create a meal plan as well too.
Set up a meal planning station.
When you have all the ingredients for your weekly meal plan, it is time to start prepping your dishes. You can do this in several different ways, but perhaps the easiest is to lay out all your supplies on your kitchen counter in order of use. Try this: a cutting board for preparing meat, a vegetable cutting board, all of your containers, your spices and seasonings, freezer bags, and your calendar with notes of what to serve and when.
Ok so that was a lot! But these basic ideas will help you get started with basic meal planning. It might feel overwhelming, but in all reality it is just a calendar with what you are eating written on it. How much you want to meal plan (or how little) is up to you. Hopefully, these tips will provide you with the strategies and motivation that you need to get started.