Meal planning… is there a trick?

Meal prep, or meal planning, we have all heard it! But I’m not that organized! That is my thought too! I never know what my schedule will really be like each day, and do I have to  eat what I planned even if I feel like a different meal? Does it make me a bad person to want a pizza and not the pork chops I planned on?

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These are the things that went through my head when I first started living on my own. I had heard to make a budget, and meal plan so I can stay in my budget. But, my meal plan didn’t always mean I was saving money.  I usually ended up going to the store each night to get the stuff for dinner, so I never really knew what I would end up with. A few years ago, I tried one of the meal delivery services. It was nice, but since my husband and I are both picky, the choices of things for both of us was slim. So we ended up getting similar things every week. We switched services, and the same thing happened! We also would get home, and look at the clock and the recipe card, and ask “want pizza instead?” Sometimes we would have to throw the meal out (eek!!)! We decided to cancel our service.

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So, how can you make a meal plan that people as picky and lazy as us can stick to? This has been my super simple guide to making a successful meal plan!

  • Look at your calendar for the week
    • Do you have nights where you have a late meeting? Are there friends in town? Looking at these nights can help ease your meal planning. For us, if we have people we are meeting for dinner, I know I will have some left overs the next day (either lunch or dinner). On nights that I have a late meeting, or we are doing something like book club, or a phone date with my brother; I know I am not going to want to cook a real intensive meal. I will use these nights as left over nights. My husband words nights, so on nights that he works, I try to do a slow cooker, or instant pot meal. That way I am not trying to take care of our 2 month old, and cook with out a second person at home!
  • Leave at least 1 day a week for left overs
    • Every meal plan I’ve done has ended up with left overs that go bad and I have to throw them out. I feel like such a bad person throwing away food! I could have given that to a person who lives on the street, or I could have saved money and just not brought that food item! So to help with that, I try leave room in the meal plan for left over nights. My husband does not like left overs, so I usually try to eat them for lunch. However, sometimes I tell him I am having left overs and he can go get something else if he wants (he usually eats the left overs then).
  • Try to have themes for the week (or ways to use all of an item)
    • When I think of themes, I think fall (spring, winter, summer), and what I could buy that will overlap between meals. This usually is something like, apples or zucchini. We might do apple pie pork chops (which uses 1.5 apples), and then apples in the salad the next night. Or we might have grilled zucchini as a side one night, and veggie lasagna (which uses the other zucchini) the next. This is just an idea to help use up the items that will have left over parts. Onions are garlic can be used in almost everything, so using those up in a week shouldn’t be too hard.
  • Look over your serving sizes. How many nights you can get out of 1 meal?
    • This goes along with leaving room in your schedule for left overs. If you make a casserole, how many servings is it? I love to make a cheeseburger casserole, but it makes 6-8 servings (depending on who is eating it). So when I make it, I usually end up eating it for lunch everyday, or leaving at least 2 nights on the calendar for left overs. This is one thing my husband will eat the next night, so it is always good to have!
    • The other thing to look at is how many servings a recipe claims to have, and how many it will actually have. I know I do not each much at each meal, but I do love sides! My husband eats a lot of everything (sides, main, dessert). So I know if it says will serve 4, it will actually serve 3; leaving 1 meal of left overs. If you do a meal kit services (like blue apron, or hello fresh), try to think about if you will have left overs or not.
  • Make a few freezer meals, so you can easily drop those in (or out!) of a plan
    • If you know you have two or threes freezer instant pot or slow cooker meals ready to go, your meal planning just got less scary. There are tons of blogs that have freezer recipes, so you don’t even have to figure out what will freeze well. These make it super easy to add in if you run out of left overs (does that really ever happen?), or on nights when something comes up you just keep it in the freezer! It doesn’t go to waste!

 

Here is an example of our meals for a week:

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