Making a Meal Plan WORK!

Anyone find they start a meal plan, only to have it fail miserably?  I've been there...

I've talked about my meal planning briefly in previous posts.  Meal planning has saved me so much stress, time, and money over the past year.  But I am not going to mislead you - when I first started, I did not stick to it weekly and had a difficult time getting fully into it.  So I am not going to tell you why it's so great (I'm sure you will get the jist of that on your own!) but I do want to give some tips on how to make it work.  It wasn't until I did the following things, where it really started to take off for me.

1. Accountability.  My sister and I started meal planning around the same time.  We both were struggling with keeping up with the meal planning and so to encourage each other, we promised to email each other our meal plans each week.  This honestly worked wonders!  If I did not feel like making a plan, but then got an email from my sister with her plan, I would feel much more motivated (or maybe guilted into..) to make my own plan and vice versa.  It also helped us with ideas, as we often found ourselves getting stuck as to what to make.  While we don't do this anymore since we both have a pretty good hold on it now, it was a great way to get as started!  **I encourage you to think of someone you can be accountable with for your meal plan.  A simple email each week with your plan is all it takes!

2.  An Overall Guideline.  At the beginning, I would sit with an empty template for my meal plan...racking my brain for some-what-interesting meals for the week.  This never turned out well.. After wasting too much time already, I would end up writing pasta 3 times, and stir fry twice.  And then get frustrated and mostly give up.  When I started making a set plan as to what to make each week I began to be able to come up with ideas quicker, and even become a bit more creative.   This is my guideline for each week:

1 crockpot meal
1 pasta meal
1 potato meal
1 rice meal
1 leftover meal
1 overlap meal (a second potato, rice, pasta, or crockpot meal)
1 easy meal (pizza, frozen dinner, burgers, etc.)

Once I started following this, our weekly meals began to have much more variety and were also much easier to plan.  I also made sure this was a general guideline but not a set rule.  If I have a week where I feel like changing it up a bit, I do.

3.  A Good Location.  Having a good location for your meal plan is key to making sure you remember to make one each week, and for easy reference when thinking of dinner.  For's our fridge.  For you, it might be your planner, a cell phone reminder, calendar, etc.

This is what my week looks like. I use a plastic folder to store it in so I can write with washable markers weekly.  

4.  Be Realistic.  Plan your meal plan while thinking about your week plan.  If you have a busy Tuesday, don't plan a new recipe for that day.  There is a large chance you will skip that meal and possibly grab take out.  I remember sometimes writing down a meal I wanted to make, while thinking in my head..'I probably won't end up making this..but I'll just write it down anyways'.  If this is what is going through your head as you write your meal plan, make it more realistic!  If right now, you need 2 days a week of frozen meals...or 3 or 4...then write that down!  Make it doable for what your life looks like that week.  There was a time when I was trying 1 new recipe out a week.  At the time, that worked for me.  Right now, I am sticking to all old recipes, because that is what I know I will be able to do during these weeks (With a busy 10 month old, who needs lots of my attention :).

In case I get a creative urge or Emelyn takes an extra long nap, I keep recipe ideas from magazines beside my meal plan.

5.  Be a Bit Flexible.  Suppose your Tuesday turned out to be a lot busier than you expected and you still have to make that hefty casserole..don't allow the meal plan to add to your stress (It's supposed to take away stress!) Instead, be okay with switching it up - take Wednesday's easy meal for Tuesday and try the hefty casserole on a day with more time.

The first few weeks of beginning a meal plan will take work and perseverance... starting something new always does.  But once you get into the groove of it, you will not regret the savings, extra time, or calm dinner preparations!


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