Pretty much any time you start a healthy eating plan or resolve to cut back on eating out, one of the first things you’ll have to conquer is meal planning. So you look around on Pinterest, find 7,000 posts about planning your meals, cooking, and shopping, (just download this free printable! It’ll cut your planning down to 5 minutes! And you’ll lose 20 lbs. And cut your grocery bill in half. Just by downloading it!). Then, you dive in using whatever system you’ve found that looks good.
Two weeks pass by, maybe a month, and it really just isn’t working anymore. Meal planning can honestly be such a chore, and it’s really hard to not get bored with your recipes after a couple of your meal planning cycles.
But as someone who’s been meal planning for at least 5 years, I’m here to tell you it can be done. Even the most disorganized or busy of you can keep it up; I promise! My meal planning methods worked even when I was working a full-time job, plus a part-time job, plus taking care of a baby at home. Talk about busy!
You just have to find what works for you.
So keep reading for some tips and systems that have made meal planning a sustainable habit in our house.
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Use your phone!
How many times have you walked into a grocery store and realized you left your grocery list at home on the counter? Or have 15 minutes free at work that you could use to finish planning your meals, but darn it if you didn’t leave the meal plan you started making at home.
Know what you pretty much never leave at home? Your phone.
So use it! You have a small computer with you always.
Download a grocery app to use as your list (the Hoffman house uses Our Groceries because it’s Alexa compatible!). Then you never have to worry that you won’t have it available to work on once you get started.
Need inspiration? The Pinterest app is perfect. Or the Tasty app. Sooo many delicious and easy meals to be found pretty quickly.
Create a list of all the meals you want to cook in Evernote. Or the notebook that comes on your phone. Or Google Drive (Bonus: Then you can use a computer to work on it, too!). Your phone is probably the most convenient tool you have at your disposal at any given time.
Plan for the times you can’t cook or just won’t want to.
I know, when you’re feeling ambitious, you are pretty certain that there will no nights that you don’t make dinner. Maybe if you just have a meal already planned for that night, you won’t have an excuse to not cook!
Yeah, the reality is that life happens. You slept terribly the night before and spend the day exhausted. Work was particularly trying that day, and all you want to do is go home and veg on the couch. Maybe grocery shopping was so exhausting that you just really don’t want to spend more time cooking. Whatever it is, it’s fine. Give yourself a little slack.
There’s no need to feel guilty about not sticking to your plan because…you planned for it!
Make sure you build in some meal options that require little to no effort, like mac and cheese or frozen pizza. Maybe buy some pre-assembled sandwiches from the grocery store deli (it’s still cheaper than buying fast-food or take-out).
If you’re meal planning in order to eat healthier, I promise there are stupid easy and healthy meals that require no effort (cauliflower crust frozen pizza? Gluten-free frozen chicken tenders? Sautéed veggies and uncured sausage in a skillet literally takes about 5 minutes.)
Make sure you acknowledge that there will be times you just don’t want to cook a meal you had planned. That’s okay. Plan for it.
Be flexible with your system.
The methods I used 2 years ago are not the same ones I’m using now. Because, you know what, my life is not the same as it was 2 years ago. And I just had to roll with the punches as things changed.
I used to pin meals that I wanted to cook as I browsed Pinterest, then, when it came time to plan, I’d scroll through and make a list of what sounded good. I’d map out in My Notes on my phone what we planned to eat for each and every meal on each and every day of the week. I’d hit the share button on that list with Kyle, so he could see the plan, too. As I added meals to my list, I’d add the needed ingredients to my grocery list app.
Now, I’m obsessed with the Instant Loss cookbook. I follow author Brittany Williams on Instagram; I bought her meal plans before she released her cookbook; I can’t get enough of these delicious, easy, affordable meals (more on this in a later post!). So, my current meal planning involves me flipping through and putting a post-it on the pages of the meals that look good. I pretty much only cook for dinner and maybe 1 or 2 breakfasts. Leftovers, or easy meals like eggs & bacon or tacos, fill in the gaps.
And that’s it. If we don’t have the ingredients for some of it, then I’ll ask Alexa to add whatever we need to the Our Groceries app list.
If you find you just aren’t meal planning like you used to anymore, it’s probably because you need to change up your system. Your old way isn’t working for you anymore. So find a new one that will!
Convenience is everything.
When I worked outside of the home and was gone a lot more than I am now, I used to take 20-30 minutes during my prep-time or lunch at school (I taught full-time) and use that as my meal-planning time for the week. It gave my brain a nice break from the rhythm of the school day AND I accomplished something that needed to be done. Then, I could run to the store on my way home from school. I never wanted to spend my limited free-time after work meal planning (yawn). So, I found a convenient time at work to do it.
Right now, Alexa has made our life more convenient than ever. If we’re cooking and use the last of the garlic powder, it’s so easy to just say, “Alexa, ask Our Groceries to add garlic powder.” We don’t have to worry about remembering to add it to the list later. Or, if we’re out and about, we can just pop open the app on our phones and add it.
Maybe your low-tech version of this is keeping a list on the fridge (make sure there’s something to write with kept right next to the list!). And the rule is that you write it on there as soon as you think of it. That’s fine. Whatever is convenient.
Just prepare yourself for the reality that something has to be convenient enough to stick. If it isn’t convenient, it probably won’t last long. It needs to be MORE convenient than eating out.
That’s your goal: make eating and planning your meals more convenient than going out to get something.
There’s plenty of other tips I’ve found throughout the years to make meal planning work for me and my family, but these are the biggest things that have really made it a lasting habit.
Written by Becca
So what have you found to work for your family? Anything I’ve left out?