Meal Prep: Menu Planning

By Meredith |

In our house we like to eat healthy. We aren’t #paleo #30raw #keto #organic we aren’t hashtag anything. I’m just not sure we are quite trendy enough for all of that hashtagging. We eat good protein, fruits, vegetable and try to limit our sugar intake… admittedly, we are least successful on that last one.

The thing is our weeks can get a little hectic and when that happens, we get hungry… and when we get hungry, we start grabbing whatever food we can find. Which also means, we start spending money on junk. What a waste! I really dislike waste.

Meal prep saves us from ourselves. I decided to take a little time over the next several weeks and share some meal prep basics. These won’t be posts for the ultra health conscious or for those who have a cult commitment to a specific eating habit. They are posts for the average millennial family who wants to consider what they eat, but not really think about it during much of their week.

THE FOUNDATION: menu planning

I learned menu planning from my momma and I really cannot overemphasize how it can transform your life. I don’t think I am aggrandizing its importance. She taught it to me as a budgeting principle, but I would add the tags of health and time management.

This is how it works. Once a week (Sunday afternoons currently) I sit down a write out what we will eat for the week. My list includes: what foods will be available for breakfast, what we will eat for lunches (we generally have last night’s leftovers), and what dinner will be for each night. Once you have those things listed out its just takes a quick scan of the cupboard and fridge to jot down a grocery list. These days, this takes me about 10 minutes total. When I first started it probably took me closer to 30 minutes.

Here are a few things to get you closer to 10 than 30:

  1. Pick Your Favorites – I have narrowed us down to our favorite 8 meals, we rotate these meals throughout the month. When I go to meal plan I just pick from my list of favorites. This saves me unknown amounts of time surfing Pinterest for meal ideas. (note: initially I did surf Pinterest for countless hours to find our favorites)
  2. Double Up – another one of momma’s tips! When you plan your menu for the week, plan to double up on a couple things throughout the week. It simplifies your purchasing and spending. For example: If we have steamed broccoli on Monday as a side, we might have chopped broccoli in a stir-fry on Wednesday.
  3. Check Your Calendar – maybe this sounds basic, but conversations have revealed to me that everyone doesn’t do this step. They write out a menu that doesn’t succeed because the demands of the week weren’t taken into consideration. My husband and I both work for non-profits, which means it is not uncommon for us to have evening meetings with volunteers. Guess what? Those nights are not when I am going to be serving up twice-baked potatoes (haha! As if I ever cook anything so decadent…), nope, that will be crockpot dump day. To accomplish this, when I am writing our menu, I have my calendar open.
  4. Plan for Surprises – your freezer is your meal prep bestie. Something in your week is bound to pop up unexpectedly. Maybe not every single week, but at least 3 out of 4. That surprise can either send you rushing through Taco Bell or you can greet it with a Peter Pan, “Oh, there you are…” and keep slaying. My mother-in-law taught me this brilliant piece. I keep a couple items in our freezer that can easily turn into a meal. Fried Rice freezes amazingly well. Pasta Bakes are amazing, they might not be your healthiest meal all week, but they still come in above “is this really food?” You don’t even need a freezer to keep a couple cans of the hearty soup options, in a pinch pop in some toast & heat up a can for a dinner that still exceeds most of the world’s population.
  5. Enjoy Your Weekend – a while back a friend from high school posted on social media lamenting the whoas of adulthood, one being that even on the weekend she had to prepare meals so she and her family could eat. I counter this all too real truth in a really simple way. Each week I plan what I call a “long stretch option” to make on either Thursday or Friday.These are meals that are good for several days — lasagna, potato bake, a hearty soup, stir fry, pasta bake. Since both my husband and I work out of the home, we try to maximize our family time on weekends, to accommodate that I try to minimize my kitchen time.

If menu planning has not been part of your life, I encourage you to try it this week. Use an app, use a post-it or use a fancy Pinterest downloadable template, but just give it a try. I guarantee you will feel more in control, have more time with the ones you love and likely save money with more focused purchases. I would love to hear how you menu plan each week!

Live Well.