Meal Planning Part One–Introduction

I first wrote about meal planning last year, touting a “new approach” for the times when actual meal planning proved too difficult or time-consuming. That post was more of a shortcut to meal planning, focused on using the same recipes repeatedly but changing the flavours and presentation to make them feel different. 

I still stand by that “new” approach, but after a year of stumbling through each week, struggling to pull together meals, I decided to try real meal planning again. This time the habit stuck and I am so happy it did. I am now ready to preach the gospel of meal planning, with the caveat that I’m talking only about supper. In our household, we all eat the same breakfast pretty much every day. (According to this article, there are reasons for that.) And lunch usually consists of things that are easy to throw in a lunch bag. It is supper that stymies us and, I would wager, most families. 

The benefits of meal planning are many:

  • Reducing stress. No more scrambling to come up with an idea for supper or finding out that you don’t have the ingredients for the meal that came to mind.  
  • Being prepared. You’ll have everything you need on hand, and any ingredients thawed or marinated on time, because you will have shopped and planned ahead of time. 
  • A built-in plan for leftovers. Once you get into the swing of meal planning, you can plan for leftovers too. For example, since I work late on Mondays, I build my plan to serve leftovers that day; my husband might do roast chicken on Sundays with a plan to use leftover chicken in fajitas or a stir-fry on Mondays. 
  • Reducing food waste. Because you know what you’re serving, exactly which ingredients you need, and what you will do with leftovers, you will waste less food.
  • Saving money. Wasting less food saves money, but so does the act of planning in and of itself. With a solid plan, you’ll buy only what you need for the meals you have selected. No more throwing an extra box of burgers or package of chicken into your cart. You won’t need  it, so you can save that cost.    
  • Giving the family a heads-up. This is an unanticipated benefit of meal planning. I post my meal plan on the bulletin board in our kitchen. With my husband knowing ahead of time what we’re having for supper, he doesn’t get the same thing for lunch. (That was a problem before.) And my son no longer asks me what we’re having for dinner, nor does he try to sway me in another direction to avoid foods that are not his favourite. He knows that if it’s in the plan, it will be on his plate. 

And what better time to try a new system than the beginning of a new year? I mostly sneer at New Year’s resolutions, but this is one that makes sense. You’re not being asked to sacrifice anything or make radical changes that you might not be ready for. You will have to devote a little time, but in a cost-benefit analysis, it will be worth it since the time you save will result in less suppertime stress. 

Meal planning takes a little effort at first, but it gets easier as you go along, especially if you have a roadmap to guide you. I struggled with meal planning for a long time but now have a method that you can follow to make it easier and faster to adopt this highly recommended habit:

  • Make a recipe roster. You only really have to do this once, although you can add to it as often as you like.
  • Make a meal plan, one week at a time. I break mine down by day, listing a main course, side, and vegetable. I often check grocery flyers first to plan around what’s on sale. 
  • Make a grocery list. Include all the ingredients you need to ensure you have them on hand for each of your planned meals. 
  • Shop.
  • Cook. 
  • Repeat. 

That’s it. So let’s get started. My next post will talk about recipe rosters and include a link to mine, which you are welcome to copy and adapt to suit your tastes.

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