I don’t know how, but for some reason I am caught off-guard EVERY SINGLE NIGHT about what to make for dinner. It’s as if, EVERY DAY, I forget that I need to eat, and by the time I get home from work I am already starving and have no idea what to make for dinner and no idea what groceries I have on-hand.
Until I started meal planning.
I won’t lie, at first it took me like an hour every time, to make a meal plan for one week – weekends excluded! And I would run into total chef-writer’s block, where I all of a sudden could not remember one single enjoyable meal I had ever had. I would end up making the same meals over and over again. That is totally one way to do, and nothing wrong with that if you don’t bore easily! Unfortunately, I do bore easily, and I was still having a really tough time breaking out of my dinner/lunch rut.
Finally, one day I was feeling motivated and decided to take advantage of that and just really go wild with meal planning. I sat down and planned out my Monday – Friday lunch/dinner combo’s for an entire month! I felt SO FREE. I am now in the habit of making meal plans in 6 week blocks (weekdays only, as I usually spend weekends eating leftovers or with my family). I use a simple blank calendar template from Microsoft Excel and I spend about 20-30 minutes tops filling it in when I’m about 4-5 weeks into my current plan.
Total Honesty: the first one did take me longer to do. But, now that I have found what works for me, it is ridiculously easy to maintain and it takes so much stress off of me! Another plus is it makes grocery shopping a breeze and I have found I save a ton of money when I can shop with the next month’s worth of food in mind.
So, how do I get started?
Here is what my meal plan calendar looks like, finished, but I would encourage you to change anything that doesn’t vibe with you. Remember, this is supposed to be something that makes your life EASIER, not something that makes you feel like you have to follow like a cult or something 😉
I’ve gotten into the habit of having a bit of a theme for each day of the week to keep my weekly dishes diversified (remember, a diversified diet is a nutrient-dense diet!):
- Mondays – Meatless Mondays or Red Meat Mondays
- I usually do 2-4 meatless meals, 1-2 red meat meals, and 1-2 red meat substitute meals to keep red meat consumption to about 1-2 times a month
- Tuesdays – Taco(ish) Tuesdays
- Wednesdays – Noodle dishes
- Thursdays – soup or grain base with an emphasis on veggies
- Fridays – handhelds or rice based
I try to plan each week so that I can use the same groceries for multiple meals – it’s usually cheaper to buy in bulk so I try to do so where I can!
For example: for the first week, I am making chili (using ground turkey) on Monday and then burritos (with ground turkey) on Tuesday. Instead of purchasing 1lb of 93% lean ground turkey for $6.49/lb that week, I can buy 3lb of 93% lean ground turkey for $4.97/lb!!
I also try to make things easier on myself by lumping my meal prepping tasks together as well. On week 5, I am making steak & veggies on Monday, then a chicken & veggie soup on Thursday. On Sunday, when I prep Monday’s steak dinner, I will double the amount of potatoes and carrots I wash and chop and set them aside in the fridge for Thursday’s soup. Anything I can do to save myself 15 minutes, I’m in!
We eat a lot of produce in our home, so we grocery shop every week to keep our fruits and veggies fresh. I make a weekly grocery list based off the meal plan for the upcoming week, then go through and cross out anything I might happen to have on hand already.
This helps keep me organized and prevents me from accidentally buying stuff we might already have. PLUS it gives me the chance to buy hot-commodities (like uncooked white rice) in bulk and store it on-hand instead of buying a 3lb bag every other week.
When I am ready to start my next 6-week plan, the first thing I do is clear out my calendar and fill in the new dates. While I try to mix up my meal plan each block, I cannot commit to making 30 new meals every 6 weeks. So, I leave in my go-to meals and my “greatest hits” and take this opportunity to clear out things that I don’t want to make again in the upcoming block. I start by pulling ALL of my last 30 meals to the side so I can kick out the ones that we weren’t fans of (or just took me WAY too much time to make!!) and go from there.
Then I add in some new recipes I have found, or bring back old faves from past meal plans. Once I have 30 new meals listed, I just start copy/pasting them one by one into the day/week I want to make that. This is when I try to be smart about how the meal plan affects grocery shopping and my ability to get multiple uses out of one grocery item purchase.
Let know what you thought and how you personalized this to work better for your own meal planning!