How many times have you attempted to meal plan only to stop? You’re not alone. Meal planning can be one of the toughest systems to create, let alone simple meal planning. It takes a lot of trial and error as well as patience. But the best part is there are ways to keep meal planning simple. The first rule of thumb is to have a plan. It’s called meal “planning” for a reason. And today, I’m sharing five strategies you can use to make meal planning easy and flexible.
Let’s look at 5 of the best simple meal planning strategies you can start doing today
#1 — Create meal formulas
Simple meal planning begins with a list- a list of meals you know you and your family love. I’m sure you’ve heard of outfit formulas before. Well, now you’re going to create meal formulas. Basically, you’re going to sit down and create a list of meals you make often and enjoy. Include the central dish (meat, protein, fish, etc.), and be sure to list popular sides.
Do you prefer green beans tossed in garlic or plain? Do you like a certain vegetable over another? Split your list into two columns. Keep all sides in one column and meat, protein, fish, etc. on the other. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down as many options as you can think of.
When you’re done, mix and match the two columns. Try and create as many meal formulas as possible. If you need a number to get you started, 7-14 is a good range to shoot for. This will give you a week or two worth of meals. Meal formulas are tried and true recipes you know everyone likes. Because you make these quite often, you likely have the necessary ingredients on hand. That will save you money when it comes to grocery shopping.
#2 — Decide on a menu
If your goal is to try new recipes, another simple meal planning strategy you can do is create a weekly menu. This is similar to creating meal formulas, but you’re going to add some new ideas into the mix.
Take some time and search online or through cookbooks for recipes. Write down any that spark your interest or mark the page with a post-it. For online recipes, either print the recipe out or save it as a bookmark. Once you’ve found 5-7 new recipes, start planning your menu. Most people meal plan for a week. But depending on how often you go to the grocery store, you can expand your menu to cover two weeks.
Write down what days you want to make what meal. Create a grocery list of the things you’ll need and shop for only those items. We’re going to talk about this in-depth in a little bit, but for now just get that list written down.
Remember not to overdo it with new recipes, especially if they’re complicated. Mix and match your menu. Do a new recipe on Monday and a meal formula on Tuesday, then another new recipe on Wednesday. Take into account your day and how much time you have to prep and cook the meal. Your schedule will dictate your meal planning so make sure you’re leaving plenty of time for prep.
#3 — Shop your pantry
Once you have your menu and meal formulas figured out, the next strategy to follow is to shop your pantry. You’ll be surprised how many times I’ve helped a client organize their pantry and we find expired foods they forgot were there. This is a common problem, one that causes unnecessary waste.
One way to fix that is to compare what you have in your pantry to your grocery list. Before you go shopping, check to see what you already have. If you have enough of a certain item, remove it from your grocery list. If you need more than what you have, leave it on. Note any substitutions. If a meal calls for parsley, but all you have is basil, could you use that instead?
It’s fine to swap one thing for another, especially if you know you won’t use it for anything else. You can also ask a neighbor, friend, or family member if they have something specific. So before you go and spend money on something you only need a teaspoon of, shop your pantry, ask a friend, or consider a substitute.
#4 — Shop with a list
I said earlier we’re going to talk more about shopping with a list and here we are. Simple meal planning can become overcomplicated and burdensome if you’re not careful. And one way you can overdo it is by not shopping with a list.
Shopping with a list is a good idea whether or not you meal plan because it’s going to help you save money. When you begin your meal planning journey, I want you to be strict with yourself and only shop with a list from now on. Yes, even if all you need is a gallon of milk or bread!
Why is this important? When you shop with a list, you’re less inclined to buy things you don’t need. You know exactly what aisles you need to go to, skipping ones you don’t and thus saving you money. How? Think about it. If you shop aisle-by-aisle, you’re more likely to fall prey to sales. If you do see an amazing sale, ask yourself, “Do I really need that?” You might see something on sale and think, “I can’t not buy that and my husband loves that stuff.” Cut to a week later. Your husband hasn’t touched the item in question and you throw it out three months later because it’s expired!
#5 — Cook in bulk
This simple meal planning strategy is great for families that are constantly on the go. If your kids are involved in a lot of after-school activities, cooking in bulk will save you a lot of time. Create a list of at least seven meal formulas. Give yourself plenty of time on the weekend and make 2-3 of those meals in bulk.
For example, instead of making enough pasta sauce for one night, make a large pot of sauce. Split the contents into 2-3 containers, freeze what you don’t need, and use what you do for that evening’s meal. This way the next time you need that sauce, it’s already made, and you simply need to thaw it out. Casseroles are another great option for this. You can make two batches. Serve one on Monday and serve the other one on Friday.
When you prepare food in bulk, you’re able to get food on the table faster. Know ahead of time what you want to reheat and give it plenty of time to thaw.
You may not always be able to make new recipes this way. You’ll have to save those for nights when you actually have enough time to prep and cook. But cooking certain dishes in bulk will make dinner a quicker and more painless routine.
When it comes to simple meal planning, these five strategies are great starting points. They can get you comfortable with the process and once you do, you can adjust as need be. Once meal planning becomes a chore, it’s time to evaluate your methods. When that happens, come back to this post and see if you’re skipping an important strategy.
Want more simplified tips? Check out this blog post about creating simple systems for your 2022 calendar. And then make sure to check out my services. My aim is to help you simplify your home through organizing and downsizing. Contact me today and let’s make a plan.