I love a plan. And I love, love, love a meal plan. But much like I love food and cooking, but don’t love cooking dinner every night, I don’t always love sitting down to make a meal plan. Is this seriously my job every time?! Have seven days come and gone already? What am I doing with my life?? …and other existential questions.
So, while it’s kinda one of those things where you just have to do it, even when you don’t wanna, like eating overcooked broccoli in front of your children with a smile on your face while chirping about how much you like to eat trees, or getting out of your nice, warm, cozy bed to exercise on cold mornings, or flossing…I have some tips to make the process a little smoother!
1. Know your go-to’s. These are the meals that the majority of the people you’re cooking for approve of (at my house, 3/5 ain’t bad), and/or that you can make without a recipe, and/or that make some nice leftovers for your lunchbox/freezer/a busy night. These are meals that are in heavy rotation. For example, I’m definitely cooking this super quick fish a couple of times a month. Same with spaghetti, burrito bowls in some form (like these, these, or these), and beef vegetable or chicken noodle soup. Everyone pretty much enjoys these, and they’re staples. The building blocks of the meal plan, if you will!
2. Be brutally realistic about your actual week. Sometimes I feel all creative and chef-y on the weekend when I’m planning, and end up feeling burdened by my fun! new! recipes! all week. I usually check in with my husband at some point on Saturday or Sunday and we figure out our schedule for the week – what nights he’ll be home for dinner, a good night to cook out on the grill, can we fit in a date night, things like that – and I decide which nights require a crockpot meal or something easy from the freezer, and which nights I’ll have a little more time to spend in the kitchen.
3. Use your freezer! If you’re new here, perhaps you haven’t heard of my love for freezer meals. It is deep and wide, friends. Spaghetti sauce coming out for a dinner that only requires me to boil water for pasta, half a dozen muffins going in over the weekend, a package of carnitas waiting there to rescue us on a busy night – it’s my favorite! There are lots of foods that make good freezer meals, and my favorite method is to freeze our leftovers rather than burn everyone out on them for days on end. (As our family has grown, I often have to make intentional leftovers – making a double batch of chili, for example, so I have plenty to freeze.)
3. Keep inspiration handy. However you keep track of recipes you want to try, meal planning ensures that you don’t get in a dinner rut (unless you’re happy there in your rut, in which case: carry on, warrior). I personally use a tried and true combination of the following: Pinterest, printing them out and sticking them in my planner, texting about them with my sister, cookbooks from the library out on the coffee table, cookbooks from my collection on my nightstand, dozens of issues of Cook’s Illustrated hanging around the house, and of course, browsing my favorite blogs! 😉
4. Meal planning is better with friends! If you want some meal planning motivation, inspiration, and commiseration (and probably some more applicable -ations), please join our Facebook group! Members of the group post their weekly plans & ask each other questions, and seeing plans pop up in your feed can be just the little reminder and accountability you need to make your own. Plus, you get to stalk other people’s plans for a good crockpot meal for Tuesday night or ideas for the salmon languishing in your freezer. (Finally ate mine last week after a 9-month languish.)