You would think that because we have to eat everyday, meal planning should be easy, that with enough repetition and over time, the thing would come naturally.
In theory, I know the drill:
- Open cookbooks
- Select recipes
- Make shopping list
- Go grocery shopping
- Prepare some ingredients in advance (BONUS POINTS if you do this. I never do)
- Cook selected meals
And this is what happens lots of times during the year, but only if I happen to be home on the weekend and if I have nothing else going on. If by chance I have a meeting, we go on a weekend getaway or I have some event planned, my schedule gets all mess up really quickly and I can’t quite recover fast enough. So there is a lot of getting by on egg sandwich type meals. Don’t get me wrong, I love sandwiches, but maybe not when it’s the only thing left in the fridge.
For some reason, regardless if it’s for one, for two or for a family of six, meal planning, for most of us, is such a huge pain in the behind.
I wish I were better at this. Sure I’ll bake and cook in big batches once in a while, but I’m certainly not consistent when it comes to meal planning. So in an effort to make my own experience more positive, I went digging for tools and tips.
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Meal Planning Lessons
1. Declutter your cookbooks
Forget about the fancy cookbook and the complicated recipes during the week. You don’t have time for that. You want to cook, eat, clean and enjoy the rest of your night.
So ditch the books you never cook from and declutter those loose recipes you’ve been collecting.
I think we all have fantasies about what kind of cook we could become, if only we found the right cookbook or the right kitchen gadget. Right? Time to get a bit more realistic and practical.
I don’t want to make this post about decluttering your kitchen or your pantry, but simplifying your meal making experience will elevate your meal planning motivation, I can promise you that.
2. Find a short list of favourite websites for inspiration
So many great recipes can be found online now. You can even search by ingredients, which really helps if you have leftovers and are out of ideas.
Here are some of my favourites (in order or proximity to me):
- Melanie @ The Nomadic Wife – Canadian (Mostly) Plant-Based Cooking (Alberta)
- Angela Liddon @ Oh She Glows – Canadian Plant-Based Cooking (Ontario) | app available on IOS
- Cuisine futée, parents pressés – Canadian Simplified Cooking – Kids Friendly (French)
- Cook with Campbells – Canadian Everyday Food | This was my website of choice as a student, recipes are usually super easy to make
- Gina Homolka @ Skinny Taste – American Light Cooking | This website was awesome when I was loosing weight and continues to inspire a lot of our meals, because they are lighter versions of delicious recipes
- Dana & John @ Minimalist Baker – American Simplified Cooking | All recipes require 10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl or 1 pot, or 30 minutes or less to prepare
- Jules Clancy @ The Stone Soup – Australian Simplified Cooking | Easy to follow 5-ingredient recipes
3. Make the same meals every week – Or have a meal rotation
Which also means, buy the same stuff all the time, making grocery shopping easier. I haven’t quite tried this myself, but I know friends that plan for the same meals, or rotation of meals.
My friend Cindy and her husband started this last year, when she went back to work after her second mat leave, and I thought it made a lot of sense. As two working parents with young kids, meal planning and preparation needed to be more automated, so they could enjoy time with their children.
They decided to pick five main meals for the week. They tested out a few options to make sure the kids liked the meals and recipes were easy to prepare.
So now they know exactly what they’re eating each day of the week. The first parent to come home can start preparing supper. When they get tired of a meal, they just switch it out for something else. Some people might get bored with eating the same meals all the time, but it seems to be working for them.
I know having similar meals for breakfast and lunch was really helpful for me when I was in the process of loosing weight. I knew exactly what I was going to eat, so I wasn’t tempted as much to snack on crap food.
To alleviate the boring factor, you could select two weeks worth of meals or more and rotate them; or have a theme per day, think Taco Tuesday, like in this article.
4. Prepare food in advance
Gosh Darn It I wish I took the time to prep food after grocery shopping! So for the love of carrots, don’t be like me and DO THIS. Even just pre-washing your fruit and vegetables would be helpful.
You could also take time to prepare lunches in advance like in this article.
Once in a while, I’ll prepare a few meals and freeze them and that always makes me feel great about the food we’re eating and saves a bunch of time. I just need to get into the habit of doing it more often.
5. Use a meal planning service
If this is all way too much for you and you’d prefer to have everything all tied up in advance, use a meal planning service. It’s not like having your personal chef, but close. Sure you might have to pay for it, but if it makes your life easier … why not?
I have not tested this myself, but here are some suggestions to get you started:
6. Order your groceries online
Need. To. Try. THIS!
Friends I know that use this service, shop at Canadian Superstore, but other stores offer this as well.
Here are the steps to follow for Canadian Superstore :
- Open an account
- Make your selection within categories or searchable items
- You can also make lists that are saved to your account
- If an ingredient is not available you have the choice of: A) receiving a similar product, B) receiving a replacement product from the same brand or C) receiving an alert that your item is not available, so you can replace it yourself.
- Select your collect time
- Pay online
- Get your grocery: park, call and they bring it to you (in plastic bags) OR bring your reusable bags inside.
- Once you’re setup, it saves time … obviously!
- Easy to follow your budget, you know exactly how much it’s going to cost, so if you bust your budget one week you can swap ingredients or recipes to lower your bill.
- Cheap, only $3 – $5 per order, depending on peek hours.
- You can evaluate your satisfaction with your shopping every time, so the service has the potential to get better.
7. Have food delivered to your home
Food delivery is not new and more farms and organic dedicated companies offer this service.
Here are a few local ones I’ve heard good things about, but you could do a search in your area or ask your favourite vendor at the Farmers’ Market:
8. Use a list
No matter the method you use, have a list handy so you can add missing items as you go.
We use a paper list that’s on the back of a cupboard door – download it from our Printable Library.
What are your tips and tricks for meal planning?
Want to read more articles about meal planning? Check out The Kitchn.