Does “meal planning” sound like the very definition of something time-consuming and unattainable? Here’s another way to think about it.
Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Work. Chores. Kids’ activities. Doctor’s appointments. Bedtime routines. Chores (again.) The pressure of modern family life is real. And while voices all across the internet are urging you to “start meal planning,” you feel they might as well be urging you to “start raising llamas in your backyard.”
Really. You wonder, who has the time and the follow-through to build a healthy meal plan every Sunday, then spend hours prepping ingredients for the week?
But here’s the thing, this classic definition of meal planning isn’t the only one. And it’s not the only way to do it right. In fact, if you’re feeding your kids at least one meal at home, most days of the week, we have news for you. Ready?
You’re Already a Meal Planner.
Yup! Congratulations. Without being a Pinterest-perfect human at all, not even a little bit, you have unlocked the seemingly-daunting accomplishment of being a meal planner. Here’s how that squares:
Every time you go to the store to buy ingredients for a meal you’re not cooking the same day, you’ve made a meal plan. Maybe that meal isn’t written on your refrigerator, or typed into your mobile calendar. But you planned it.
Here’s another one. Every time you know what you’re making for dinner before noon, you’ve made a meal plan. Got a thing in the crockpot? You meal planned. Pulled some chicken out of the freezer to defrost on your way out the door this morning? That’s a meal plan.
One more. Every time you have enough leftovers in the fridge to cover dinner for your family tonight, you’ve meal planned. Sometimes the most awesome meal plans of all are the ones you feel like you didn’t even have to think about.
And that’s the real (sometimes hidden) beauty of meal planning. When it works, it doesn’t feel like work.
Which means the key to successful meal planning in the real world is this:
Identify Your Meal Planning Style, and Roll with It.
A good meal strategy has to be a come-as-you-are phenomenon. It simply doesn’t work if you feel like you have to rearrange your whole life in order to transform into a meal planning unicorn.
Here’s just a small sample of the different ways you can be a meal planner:
- You plan and shop for five weeknight meals all at once.
- You plan 2-3 big meals a week, then eat leftovers every other day.
- You plan breakfasts only.
- You plan a whole month of meals at once.
- You think of a couple of dinner ideas on your way to the store.
- You follow “theme nights” like Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday.
- You plan main dishes, and wing the sides.
- You batch-prep a few ingredients, and recombine them all week.
- You keep your plan on your phone.
- You write your plan on a sticky note.
- You post your meal plan on your refrigerator.
- You keep your meal plan in your head.
- You eat the same five dinners every week.
- You make a meal plan, and your spouse cooks it.
We could go on. But the message here is an invitation… what’s YOUR style?
Be Flexible. And Be Nice to Yourself.
Some weeks (or months) your best efforts might fall flat. It could be that your kid catches a stomach bug. Or your in-laws drop in unexpectedly. Or your boss is asking for a last-minute report. Your best-laid plans for dinner might turn into pizza or cereal.
This means you’re human! As in all things, let yourself and your meal plans go with the flow. Be flexible, and let go of self-judgement or feelings of failure when you have to abandon ship and eat popcorn and smoothies. Tomorrow’s a new day. (Also popcorn and smoothies are delicious.)
To get started planning your meals your way, follow a step-by-step guide here.
To make meal plans and get matching grocery lists on your phone, sign up for Prepear.
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie