Have you ever thought, “I am so busy today and don’t have time to make dinner. I wish there was something I could throw together to eat.” Or, “There isn’t anything in the house to make dinner tonight and I’m not sure what to eat!” If you've had those thoughts then I have the answer - Meal planning!!!
"Haha!" you say,"I've tried to meal plan but it's not realistic for me". Do you wonder, “How can I come up with meals for the WHOLE week?” Or, “I’m so sick of what we eat but I don’t have other ideas for meals." Or maybe, “I’d love to meal plan, but I just don’t have the time.”
You are not alone! Meal planning can seem challenging – but it is so worth it. And once you get the hang of it it doesn't take much time. Here are some steps to get you started:
1. Make a list of meal ideas.
Make a list of foods you enjoy or you know you can make. It is so helpful to have something written out to refer to when you don’t know what to plan for dinner. Write down everything and add to the list as you find more recipes you like or want to try. You’ll be surprised as you look back on the list and remember foods you like but haven’t had for a while.
2. Find new recipes.
If you don’t have many foods you like or know how to cook, start looking for recipes! Ask your parents or grandparents, read cookbooks, look online. There are so many great recipes out there. There are also lots of simple recipes. Cooking doesn’t need to take 2 hours every night. Search for quick 30-minute meals.
3. Look at what you have.
Open up the fridge and the pantry to see what you have on hand. Plan meals around what you already have – or maybe what you have will help you think of something new to try.
4. Stick to what you know.
Remember you don’t need to try ALL new recipes this week. Keep to your normal routine and make what you typically make. Add in one or two new recipes during the week to try.
5. Plan out your meals for the week – or at least 3-4 days at a time.
If a whole week is too daunting, start with a few days at a time instead. Just remember you will need to go grocery shopping more often if you only plan a few days at a time.
When I plan, I like to choose foods from different cuisines so that we keep our food interesting. Here is an example of how I meal plan:
Pick one theme day. Right now we have soup every Sunday. We’ve done this for a few months now so I will probably switch the theme day up soon. Having a theme day helps to simplify the planning – I know I need to plan a soup for Sunday - BOOM one day planned. Other theme day ideas are written below.
Have a leftover day. Our leftover day is usually Thursday. I don’t have to plan a meal for that day because we will just eat whatever is in the fridge. If for some reason we don’t have leftovers that week, I usually make breakfast food for dinner.
The rest of the days I fill in with different cuisines. I usually have 1-2 Mexican meals during the week, an Asian meal, an Italian meal, and then some other American meal or “other” option (see below).
Here is what it looks like:
These are some ideas from different cuisines that we love. This is our list but there are so many other cuisines and recipes out there!
Mexican: nachos, tacos, burritos, rice and beans, enchiladas, taquitos, taco salad, tostadas, taco soup, fajitas
Italian: pizza, Alfredo, marinara and pasta, manicotti, baked ziti, lasagna, carbonara, ravioli, any other pasta dish
Chinese: stir fry, fried rice, orange chicken, beef and broccoli, lo mien
American: mac & cheese, hamburgers, wraps, paninis, casseroles, sloppy joes
Korean: kimchi fried rice, beef bulgogi, bibimbap
Thai: Red curry, chickpea coconut curry, pad Thai, Thai drunken noodles
Indian: tikka masala, chickpea curry, red lentil dhal, butter chicken
Other: soups, breakfast food, pasta salad, stuffed peppers, baked potatoes, chili, salad
Meat: chicken, pork chops, steak, fish, etc.
Theme days: breakfast, soup, taco Tuesday, grill night, pizza night, vegetarian night, etc.
When I meal plan, I like to make sure there is a carbohydrate, protein, and fruit/veggie for all my meals. For example, if we are having grilled chicken, I would add mashed potatoes for my carbohydrate and then broccoli for my veggie to make it a complete meal. Some meals I don’t need to add many sides because the main dish has everything in it, like stir fry (chicken and veggies served over rice). I may also add a fruit, a dessert, or a calorie drink to the stir fry too.
Once you have planned out some dinner ideas for the week, make your grocery list and head to the store!
So there you have it. What challenges do you have with meal planning? Let me know what works for you or what doesn’t work for you!