Meal planning. The great cultural divide of people everywhere. Some loathe it, some swear by it, and some are just intimidated or confused by it. I fall into the “swear by it” camp. Meal planning becomes a necessity when you eat 95% of your meals at home.
I am a firm believer that a well-planned dinner menu not only keeps your family on track with plant-based eating, but also can save you time, money, and the stress of “it’s 6 pm and I have no clue what we are having for dinner” freak outs.
When eating a plant-based diet, it’s even more important that you spend some time each week planning out your meals. You can’t rely on a microwave meal that’s full of animal products and mysterious chemicals. And I don’t know where you live, but in my town there is no healthy drive-thru to bail me out when I don’t have dinner planned for my 3 hungry kids. While it is TOTALLY possible to eat out on a whole foods, plant-based diet, that is another topic for another day. 🙂
One night per week, usually Sunday night after the kids are in bed, I spend about 20-30 minutes planning our weekly menu. I follow a very basic set of 7 steps. I find that if maintain this simple system, I minimize additional trips to the store for forgotten items, I can get through the grocery store faster than when I used to wander around waiting for meal inspiration to strike, and most importantly, I don’t blow my budget.
Now, let’s get planning!
7 Simple Steps to Meal Planning
- Make it Fun- Put yourself in the right mindset to plan meals. Wait until the kids are in bed or busy with an activity. Put on some soothing music, get yourself some lemon water, light a candle (or run an essential oil diffuser), and clear some space for you to work. If you make meal planning fun for yourself, you’ll look forward to that time every week and stick to it.
- Take Stock of What You’ve Got- Look through your pantry, fridge, and freezer and make a mental note of what you already have. This can both inspire your meals and keep you from over buying. Have a lot of pasta in the pantry? Put a pasta dish on your meal plan. Frozen veggies getting close to their expiration date? Make sure to toss them in a stir-fry this week so you don’t waste them.
- Check your Calendar- Is this a crazy busy week where you need super quick meals prepped in advance (slow cooker to the rescue!)? Do you have some days that allow you more time in the kitchen? Keep your schedule in mind when you begin planning out your meals for the week.
- Look for Ideas- Pull out your favorite cookbooks, printed recipes, or browse Pinterest to find some recipes you want to use this week. I try to stick with several we know and love and maybe 1 or 2 new ones to try. Write down the ingredients that you’ll need for each recipe.
- Two for One- Once you have some recipes ideas for the week, see if any of them can be rolled into another meal. If you plan on making burrito bowls one night and a stir-fry another night, plan on doubling the amount of brown rice you make the first night so that when you make the stir-fry you already have the grain component done and waiting in the fridge.
- Think About Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks Too- I am not big on planning EVERY meal of the day, just dinner. However, I do think about the items I will need to buy to have ingredients for breakfast, lunches, and snacks for the week. If you need every meal planned out for the week to make life less stressful, by all means, go ahead!
- Make Your List- I typically shop at 2 different stores to get the best deal and quality to fit my budget. So when I start writing my lists, I make sure to separate them by store. I tend to buy my household items, toiletries, etc. from Wal-Mart and all of my produce from Sprouts. In the last few years, Wal-Mart has really stepped up their organic range (beans, grains, spices etc.) in a price that fits my budget. However, they are still lacking in certain areas, so for those items and organic produce, I go to Sprouts. I also occasionally hit Costco when I can for bulk shopping. Within each shopping list I try to organize the items in the order that I will see them as I walk through the store. It’s never perfect, but it helps me from having to double back while I shop.
So there it is! The 7 simple steps I go through when planning out my weekly menu. I put the grocery list in my purse for shopping the next day and hang the meal plan in the kitchen where I can see it all week, especially when I am meal prepping. I usually end up with a list and meal plan that look a little something like this:
Do you have any other meal planning tips? Share them in the comment section below!
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