Power of a Meal Plan

If ten minutes doing a task every week could give you: hours of free time, make you much healthier, save you money, reduce waste and considerably drop your stress, would I have your interest?

healthy mealPlanning your meals to some sounds like an incredibly meaningless or boring task. But in truth, it is often one of the most inefficient areas of most peoples’ lives. It is surprising how much we think, stress, and in general, under-prepare in this area of our lives. I wish I could measure the collective inefficiencies of the number of people who drive to the store to grab a few ingredients they forgot for a recipe, or how many times people in a house can’t agree on what’s for dinner and end up driving through McD’s to appease the fam (and the surprising mental anguish that comes with trying to get several people to agree on one restaurant!).

How many times have you gotten home hungry and looked only to find ‘nothing for dinner’ or can’t find something your roommate/spouse/kid will eat? Pre-deciding on a few items will ensure, at the minimum, that you will at least have a complete meal and ingredients every evening (even if you decide you want to mix it up).  Basically, creating a weekly meal plan batches the stressful process into a short burst of thinking and decision making that transforms the rest of the week into a relaxed and well planned process.

What Does a Meal Plan Look Like
For me, it’s simply a list of seven meals a week. That’s it. The trick is deciding these before you go to the grocery store. Most of the fresh produce I buy last at least a week so we tend to go grocery shopping in that interval. Also, we tend to eat more out of the freezer at the end of the week and eat the most perishable items towards the beginning of the week.

Mon: Spaghetti and Spinach Salad
Tue: Homemade Pizza
Wed: Chicken Soft Tacos
Thu: Dinner at Friends House
Fri: Chili
Sat: Chicken Stir Fry & Brown Rice
Sun: Mac and Cheese and Frozen Veggies

Seriously. Making a meal plan takes about 10 minutes. Even faster once you get the hang of it. We actually keep a running list on google docs of all of our favorite meals that are reasonably healthy, inexpensive and easy to cook. This makes putting the meal plan together even easier each week. If you do eat out, put it on the calendar. It makes it even more fun if you eat out only once in awhile and can look forward to it.

We typically do a dinner menu and we try to eat at home together almost every night. For lunch we keep it consistent with mostly leftovers and staples like sandwiches or soups. For breakfast we typically eat the same thing for a week or so and purchase most often what is on sale. Bagels, oatmeal, cereal and smoothies are some of our favorites.

Other tips we use:

Eat the same things often – Most people do this on accident or by choice. We typically eat some sort of chicken and veggie stir fry at least once a week. Planning this reduces options and reduces stress: Nick Saban’s Lunch.

Frozen Veggies – Cheap, keep forever, healthy, tasty and lots of variety

Frozen Chicken – Our go-to source for protein. Relatively inexpensive on sale and freezes extremely well. We buy on sale and freeze the individual breasts trimmed for easy use each night.

Make a list of 30 meals you like – Ask your friends or family members or think about your favorite restaurant meals and try to recreate simpler versions of the same thing.

There are services out there that do this type of thing for you (eMeals, Saving Dinner, Six O’Clock Scramble). We looked into these but they actually ended up being more expensive than our typical grocery budget. Some of the meals were pretty neat though.

4 thoughts on “Power of a Meal Plan

  1. Doug and I have been planning our meals weekly since we got married. We go once a month to get our pantry staples, then go back once a week to get veggies and meats. And I live by my recipe binder, where I keep all my recipes in page protectors. I just pull out the ones I’m using for that week, then put them back when I’m planning the next week’s menu. Planning ahead is definitely key!

  2. That is awesome. I didn’t realize that y’all planned so far ahead. I’ll have to touch base sometime and swap some go to meals. We always enjoy trying new things! I’m looking forward to expanding the garden a good bit this year so maybe we can trade some produce too.

  3. Pingback: Healthy Eating for a Family on $200 a Month | Simple Economist

  4. Pingback: Our Grocery Purchases Revealed | Simple Economist