Meal planning is taking control of what you and your family are going to eat for a week or two or even a month. It is a process of spending time and thinking ahead, laying down what you intend to eat for the coming week/month.
Although you will need to allot time for the planning itself and meal prep, its advantages are more beneficial for various reasons.
1. Save time. Saving time is a big benefit if I have a meal plan. Once every meal is planned ahead, I would not be scrambling with what food to prepare and eat come meal time.
2. Eat nutritious food. One big advantage of planned meals is the healthy food choices that I can make at the very outset. Infusing more nutritious food is easier when it is part of the plan.
3. Avoid Food waste. I have been experiencing food waste myself and I cringe every time I throw out rotten vegetables or left-over foods from the fridge. I imagine throwing money because after all, it is hard-earned money that I spend to buy those foods.
Planned meals solve this dilemma because I only buy food or grocery items that are part in the meal plan. I don’t randomly pick items from the grocery shelves just because I feel like buying it but end up not using it at all. Hence the waste.
This time around, I grocery shop with the grocery list derived from my meal plan. It feels good knowing that everything I spent on is put to use.
4. Save money. Generally, home-cooked meals are a lot cheaper compared to those that are bought from the restaurants. This however does not mean that we should not buy take-out foods nor eat out at all.
We can actually make take-out meals part of the meal plan as well. But we just need to have it occasional only or when there are celebrations that call for it.
5. Avoid stress. This one is a biggie for me personally. Once food is in place, it feels relaxing and amazing knowing that the food you will eat and serve for the family is already in place. It just removes the unnecessary stress of wondering what food to serve come meal time.
What to consider
1. Food choices of the family members. This is the first to consider when we start to plan our meals. We have various food choices in the family. I personally love veggies and fishes but my husband leans towards more on meat. These food preferences make our child to become omnivore due to our influences. So we embrace unity in diversity, so to speak, in our food choices.
2. Budget. We recently become mindful of our budget and as our spending tracker reveals, food expense is the highest spending we have in the family. So, on a weekly basis, we have allocated a fix amount specifically for food expense. This then become the basis of the meal plan that we create.
3. Time. Time is another thing we consider when creating the meal plan. We usually make quick easy meals for breakfast and batch cook lunch and dinner. This way, we don’t feel like spending so much time in the kitchen. We can also divert some precious time doing more important work.
4. Food nutrition and balance. This is one of the reasons we meal plan. It is important to eat well-balanced diet and this is more achievable with planned meals.
How to Do Meal Planning
Involved everyone in the family and let them contribute to the plan.
All of you are going to eat the foods that you plan to cook so get everyone involved. Be considerate with everyone’s suggestions and be open.
Encourage picky eaters in your family to explore and have a taste test in some foods. I can tell you, you can convert non-veggie eaters to a raving fan. I did it with my child and it feels amazing to see her eating healthy/ish foods other than those fatty foods she fervently love.
This kind of mechanism will also foster bonding in the family which is awesome.
Keep a stack on the staples
It is important to keep a sizable stack of pantry essentials that are staples in your cooking like salt, dried herbs, flour, seasonings that you prefer as a family. This way, you will only have a handful in your grocery list. You only need to buy those main ingredients in the recipes that you plan to make.
Another option is to grow your own produce with some of your kitchen staples so you will not be spending on them anymore. I personally have mint, spring onions, calamansi, spinach, ginger, lemongrass in my container garden. It saves me a lot.
Take note of food groups that your family are prohibited to Eat or Avoid (eg, food allergy, gluten-free, lactose-free, eggless, etc.)
If all of you in the family don’t have allergy and food prohibitions, then good for you. But there are those that are not as lucky.
Like in our family, my husband has high uric so we see to it to avoid foods that can trigger his gout. We avoid foods that are high in purine and can trigger pain on him.
I personally have food allergy on some sea foods as well so we take note on them. Others are lactose intolerant, have allergy on gluten foods, etc.
It is important to take note of these because there are those who have severe effects on some individuals and you don’t want to end up in the emergency room after enjoying your food.
Begin in your fridge and pantry
The very first time you design your plan, get an inventory on what is available in the fridge and in the pantry. You can then create a recipe using what is available at hand.
You may re-purpose foods that are existing in your fridge to create something new for variety.
Strategically Choose easy and quick-cooking recipes during busy days and enjoy long time cooking Meals on Weekends
Time is always something to consider when creating your plan so choose the fast and have few ingredient food recipes during the busy parts of the week.
You can then have the tasty and flavorful foods such as the slow-cooked pork ribs that needs long cooking time during weekend when your schedule is free.
Its okay to stumble once in a while and not be perfect with your meal plan. What is more important is the act of trying and having started. Just pursue what you have begun and keep meal planning. It is worth your while.