The Importance Of Planning Ahead – Meal Planning

May 14, 2018 | Cooking Tips

Meal planning is not the most exciting topic in the world. In fact, it can be straight-up boring. Unfortunately, it is one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against food waste. And of course, in the effort to stretch the ever-shrinking grocery budget there is no more valuable tool. Why is meal planning so important? How do you properly build one? How do you stick with the plan?

Why is meal planning so important?

Imagine that you are wandering aimlessly around the grocery store, filling your cart with whatever catches your eye. You have picked what you think is enough food to get you through the week and head home. A few days later you go to make dinner and you are struck with the realization that you don’t really have anything to make dinner with. You have chips and crackers. You have some cheese, and maybe a frozen pizza or two. You may even have a few fresh veggies that are starting to go bad. The problem is that there really isn’t a meal here. So you go out and buy more groceries or grab some takeout completely demolishing that budget you had set for yourself.

…planning is everything. 

The scenario above is not an uncommon one. In fact, it was my life for a very long time. And in all honesty, occasionally still is, though I am much better than I used to be. What I have learned over the years, and really what I have translated from the restaurant world to my home life is that planning is everything.

…you fly through the aisles with a smile on your face…

Imagine instead that before you left the house you made a plan. You looked at the flyers and know what’s on sale where. You mapped out what meals you are going to make for the week and what ingredients you need to make those meals. You have even planned to buy a few snacks. Once you get to the grocery store you fly through the aisles with a smile on your face knowing exactly what you need to get, and in the blink of an eye you’re done and on your way home.

Because you have a plan, none of the food you just bought is going to sit in your fridge and go bad. It will be used because you bought for a reason. You have a plan for what to do with it. Now, there is no trying to figure out what to make for dinner when you get home from work, you already know. This makes life a lot less stressful. It also makes it a lot less likely that you are going to panic and just eat takeout three nights a week.

How do you properly build a meal plan?

Building a successful meal plan is like doing a puzzle.

Building a successful meal plan is like doing a puzzle. There should be no spaces left and you shouldn’t have any extra pieces leftover at the end. Start with the edges just like doing a puzzle. In the case of meal planning, the edges would be the main ingredient. This would usually be the protein. Now, fill in the rest of the puzzle with vegetables, starches, and sauces.

…BUY AS FEW INGREDIENTS AS YOU CAN WHILE STILL MAINTAINING A VARIED DIET.

There are some ingredients that you really can’t buy in small quantities. Things like cabbage for example. So, if you plan on making a stew or soup with cabbage early in the week, plan on making a coleslaw with the leftovers later in the week. Essentially, the idea is that you buy as few ingredients as you can while still maintaining a varied diet.

There are always sales. Use them.

As I talked about a little bit earlier, use sales to your advantage. Where I live we have two main grocery store chains. Very often they go back and forth with sales. One week something will be on sale here, the next week it will be on sale there. There are always sales. Use them. Even if it means that you have to go to two different grocery stores. I know that seems like hell to a lot of you but if you know why you are there and what you’re getting it will only take a few minutes.

Consider leftovers when meal planning as well. Even build that into the plan. If you know that there is one night next week when you just are not going to have time to cook, plan for a bigger meal the night before. This way you have leftovers and don’t really need to worry about cooking. Leftovers are also great for lunches.

…try at least one new recipe or ingredient each week…

Plan for variety. Try not to get stuck in a cycle of making the same meals every week. This will get boring to eat and to cook. Build into your meal plan the idea that you will try at least one new recipe or ingredient each week and it will keep things exciting. This will also make you a better cook.

You should also, on occasion, plan for a night out or to get take out. I think it’s important to build this into your plan for once or twice a month. Acknowledge that you are going to order a pizza sometimes, or go out for burgers. By building this into the meal plan you are taking away any negative feelings and instead have given yourself something to look forward to as a fun night.

How do you stick with the plan?

Sticking to your meal plan comes down to practice. Really, you just have to do it. But once you do it for even just a few weeks, you will notice that you are less stressed, you are spending less money, and you are eating better. You may even find that you enjoy cooking a bit more because there is a lot less stress.

Try not to be too hard on yourself if you mess up. Life is ever changing and despite your best efforts sometimes your plan will just go to hell. Live with it, learn from it, and get right back to it. But don’t beat yourself up over it.

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