Implementing a weekly meal planning routine has the potential to save you tons of time, reduce your stress and anxiety around cooking, and make family dinners an achievable goal. But sometimes, your meal plan is a bust and you’re left feeling just as overwhelmed as before.
I think the culprit to most meal planning flops is that people try to do too much. When folks approach meal planning with the notion that they need to cook every night and find all new recipes, it can quickly turn into a recipe for disappointment. Being all extra right out of the gate is the #1 meal planning mistake. And coming from a girl who spends most of her life being extra – trust me – if you want meal planning to stick, you’ve got to ease into it!
News flash: meal planning is simply having a PLAN for what you’re going to eat.
Before I think about what I’m going to plan for dinner, I first think about my dinner strategy: cook an easy meal, cook an involved meal, eat leftovers, or eat out. The dinner strategy comes after I’ve taken a look at my evening schedule for that day (not considering your calendar first would by my second biggest mistake!). If we have a baseball game from 5:00 – 7:30, my dinner strategy is probably going to be leftovers or eating out. If it’s a week night with not much going on, it’s typically an easy meal. And if it’s Sunday when I’ve got the afternoon free, it’s usually an involved meal. In all of these scenarios, I have a plan. When we’re eating out, it’s not because there’s nothing in the house to eat, it’s because we planned to. When leftovers are served, it’s not always because I’m out of other options, it’s because it’s the plan. I’m here to tell you there is freedom in a plan!
The other place where people get all extra is Pinterest! And this girl loves her some Pinterest!! But I have found myself in the Pinterest wormhole scouring the underbelly of the internet looking for that perfect recipe – and it’s not easy to find!! Weekly meal planning is not a 30 minute exercise if you have to go on an expedition to find five new recipes each week. Not to mention, trying to cook five new meals has the potential to make you feel even more overwhelmed than before! Oh and your family might revolt if you stray too far away from their comfort zone. The point of meal planning is to reduce your stress – not add to it!
Instead of jumping on Pinterest to find a new recipe for every night you plan to cook, start with what you already know! Create a Dinner Rotation List that includes all of your current dinner meals. Jot down whether the meal is easy or involved (because some nights you won’t have the time or energy to make an involved meal). Set a goal to get to eventually get to 30 meals on the list (shoot for 2/3 easy and 1/3 involved). But get there by trying 1 (maybe 2) new meals each week.
Here’s a template I created to help you with your list!
Give your meal planning routine a fighting chance! Don’t try to do too much too soon! The most important thing about a meal plan is that you simply have a plan for your meal. It doesn’t mean you have to cook every night. It doesn’t mean when you cook that it has to be a Julia Child-worthy Pinterest find. Give yourself some grace – take a deep breath, start slow and see how amazing it feels to simply have a plan.