There are some healthy habits and routines that feel seamless. You’re naturally an early riser, or running is a calming practice for you. And then there are the habits that don’t come quite so easily. Maybe you even spend years resisting the fact that they might improve your quality of life. Quitting caffeine was one of these for me. It took me about 4 years of contemplating until I was finally ready to do it (learn how I did so here). The other habit I resisted for a long time – meal planning.
For YEARS I thought I would never be a meal plan person. I love going to a farmer’s market or co-op and seeing what vegetables look good. I am grateful to have a skill of looking at a fridge full (or not so full) of groceries and being able to sense what flavors and combinations might work well together.
But then I got pregnant, and it all fell apart. I had this weird issue where the idea of eating any food was disgusting until I was actually eating it, so “what do you want to eat” became a fruitless question. Adding my low energy to the mix, getting a meal together became stressful.
It was time to create a meal plan, and I knew that it had to be easy, flexible, and low-key. A fancy app was going to feel way too intimidating.
Shaun and I came up with a system that has served us so well over the last 16 months, through all of my pregnancy, having a baby, and now in quarantine.
With the stay at home order, we’re aiming to only go to the grocery store every 2 weeks, and our meal plan has become even more important so we can actually last through 14 days of eating at home 3 times a day. With our meal plan, we’ve eaten healthfully and WELL over the last few weeks. If we had just generically “stocked up”, I know we would have ended up with food waste AND some pretty boring dinners.
I wanted to share with you all how I made meal planning work consistently and successfully. I am not joking when I say that meal planning has become one of my most important self-care routines.
Step 1: Don’t make it complicated
This was really important to me. I decided to make our meal plan in Google Sheets (you can get the template here!). I wanted something digital, so we could refer back to specific meals and days easily, but still to have flexibility to change around the format and information easily. Google Sheets means that Shaun and I can access it from our computers and phones, anywhere and anytime we need it.
Even within the meal plan, I keep things pretty loose and flexible. One example is a meal that we make called “Rosa Soup”. Rosa Soup is a soup that my mom made for us after our baby was born. We don’t include a specific serving size or even list all of the ingredients. Rosa Soup gives us the general guideline, and it’s enough information for both of us to know what to make.
Step 2: Have A “Meals We Like” Reference Page
This step makes all the difference in the longevity and usefulness of your meal plan. We’ve all been there — “What do you want to eat?” “I dunno. What do you want to eat?” The Meals We Like page removes this issue. On this page, you just list all of the meals you’ve made before that you enjoyed and where to find the recipe. As you make new recipes that you like, you add it to the list. That way, when you’re making your week’s meal plan, you can reference back to those meals and help you resurrect recipes you forgot you loved. Over time, you’ll build a large repertoire of meals that are suitable for a variety of seasons.
Almost as important is a “Recipes to Try” Reference Page, where you can put URLs or notes of recipes you want to try, so you can sub them into your meal plan when appropriate!
Step 3: Make it your own.
Do you eat the same thing for breakfast every day like I do? Then you don’t have to include it in your meal plan. Keep it simple.
Another way that we make it our own is that we break out the meal plan for me and Shaun separately during the week because when not in quarantine, we don’t eat lunch together and sometimes have different plans for dinner. So in that way, we can account for days that we’re eating out or not eating together.
Something that’s been true of quarantine is that we basically always cook a fresh dinner and eat leftovers for lunch the next day. So you might not need to meal plan lunch. Work that into your meal plan to make it your own!
Step 4: Plan
First, check out your calendar to see any meals that you’re planning to eat out and mark those, so you don’t meal plan unnecessarily.
Then, look through your Meals We Like and Recipes to Try lists to create your meal plan for the week. I usually also check out the meal plan from the last couple of weeks (I have them all saved as separate tabs of my google sheet) to see if there are any favorites we want to repeat. You might do online searching if you have a specific ingredient you want to use or a meal you want to make.
Once you’ve created your meal plan and feel happy with what you’re planning to make, then look through the recipes to create a grocery list. *Don’t create your grocery list as you meal plan, because things change! Once you have a template you’re happy with, THEN go through the plan and create your grocery list. It will save you time!*
Grocery shop, go about your week, and reference the meal plan as needed! You can always change up the plan if you have a different craving that day. Sometimes we have a lot of leftovers and will delay making a new meal for a day, OR, we use those leftovers to build a freezer stash, which comes in handy if cooking isn’t an option. We sometimes write “use freezer stash” on our meal plan if there’s a day we know we won’t have lots of time to cook.
I want to hear from you. Are you a meal planner? Have you resisted it? If you’ve meal planned, what strategies have made meal planning work well for you?
I am not over-exaggerating when I say that meal planning has improved my life immensely, and it’s been a life saver during quarantine.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,