Meal Planning Mecca
Five simple tips to get you on the path to menu planning success!
By Galit Zeira
If your household is anything like mine on any given weekday evening then it shouldn’t be hard to imagine the chaos of coming home after a full day at work. You quickly realize there’s nothing at all planned for dinner, and stand in front of the pantry blankly attempting to figure out what to possibly make. Hastily attempting to make sense of this “Chopped-esque” challenge, the kids run around wild, unrefereed, with mild-to-moderate fighting and/or crying and/or complete silence (I’m still undecided as to which is the worst of the three).
This was my life until I discovered the wonderful world of meal planning. I am now a proud and full-fledged addict. In addition to being both cost and waste-efficient, planning out my meals in advance has given me the peace and stress-relief that is only found in a well-made plan. No doubt a great resource for busy, on-the-go parents, meal planning is also a tool that can help facilitate any schedule and reduce at least some of the stress related to meal time in any household.
Being a self-proclaimed expert, I’ve put together a list of 5 easy-to-follow tips that will help you follow the path to meal-planning success.
Plan at Your Own Pace
As you get set to plan out your menus, pick a realistic time frame to plan for. For some people, this could mean one week a time, for others, this could means a few weeks or even in some cases months at once. No matter the period, there is no “golden” schedule that must be followed. Feel free to flex to the ebb and flow of your calendar. In our house, we seem to be pretty decent at planning one week out at a time, but in the winter, when the kids have fewer mid-week activities, we extend our meal planning up to a month a time. Whatever you choose, as long as it’s working to make your life easier, then know that it’s working!
Although Pinterest is my personal go-to to find recipes, how do you pick from the thousands of options that pop up? To help narrow down the recipe-selection time, determine in advance how you want to plan out your meals. It might be important to think of the seasonal ingredients available (and, say, decide not to make fresh corn on the barbecue in the middle of February). However, there are also other ways to even further simplify your planning. In our case, we try to theme each day of the week: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Chicken Wednesday, Turkey Thursday, Fish on Friday. Whatever your strategy, make sure to maximize the potential meal planning offers by ensuring that your plan is diverse – both nutritionally and in terms of flavor.
Don’t Be a Slave to the Plan
I know how it can go: you put all this up-front time and effort into putting together your plan, and something comes up and ruins your entire schedule! Early on in my meal planning madness, I used to get super frustrated when my husband came up with a mid-week dinner-craving or if my family suddenly suggested a night out at a restaurant. The truth is, like the rest of our lives, meal planning isn’t always going to go according to plan, and that’s okay. Where possible, push out the menu a day later, or if you’re worried the food will go to waste, cook it and freeze it for one of those super crazy nights or refrigerate the meal for lunches throughout the week. Like anything else in life, meal-planning will be prone to bumps and changes but as long as you are prepared to adapt and carry on, meal planning will continue to steer you right!
To be cost-efficient, planning around weekly sales may help identify key ingredients that are available at a bargain and can even help reduce waste if you can find multiple (but diverse) recipes in which to incorporate that product. Not only can this be a cost-efficient way to plan but it can also serve as a source of inspiration. As I meal plan, I scour the weekly flyers for deals on ingredients my family loves. If something of interest pops up, say fresh peppers, I try to select recipes that I can incorporate them into (like fajitas one night and stuffed peppers another). And, because items on sale vary from one week to the next, I know that the kids won’t get bored with the menu.
Bargain tip: When proteins go on sale, like meats or chicken, stock up, stick them in the dated bags in the freezer and defrost as needed. You can even pre-marinate chicken or flash-freeze your seasoned ground beef so that it’s ready to cook once it defrosts.
I will admit that at the beginning, meal planning can be time consuming. The most difficult aspect for me was creating a nutritional menu with diverse proteins that didn’t repeat too often through the week. Over the course of your meal-planning adventures, you will begin to discover meals and even full-out weeks and months that worked beautifully into your schedule. You will also discover meals that were disastrously epic failures. Keeping a list of the routines that worked and that didn’t work on hand will allow you to evaluate and tweak your plans as needed. Eventually, I found a nice groove of about five weekly plans that I just keep rotating. This is not to say that I don’t get the itch to change things up every once in a while, but I at least know that I have my tried-and-true schedule to fall back on.
Galit Zeira is Circulon’s marketing manager and mother of two who unabashedly talks to herself on a semi-regular basis. Besides her family and meal-planning skills, she is most proud of her ability to recite most raps songs, by heart and with the appropriate inflections.