Creating a weekly meal plan is a habit that has served me well over the last few years. It keeps me organized, saves on the budget, and helps me stay intentional with eating healthy meals. I can’t think of any reason I wouldn’t meal plan. It just makes life easier. However, even the best meal plans can get off track when life interferes. This can happen when you get sick, forget to take food out of the freezer, a friend asks you out to dinner, or you’re simply not in the mood to eat what you planned. Basically, meal planning does not always go as planned.
So what do you do?
Life is always going to happen. If we wait for life to go exactly as planned every day we are going to wait a very long time. And most likely be very disappointed. However, don’t throw the meal-planning towel in just yet. There are more benefits to meal planning than not. And in my experience, a meal plan is needed most when life gets busy. The key is to create a system that works for your lifestyle and a backup plan for when life throws you some mealtime curve balls.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your weekly meal plan, especially when life starts to gets busy.
#1 Check your schedule
Your weekly meal plan needs to reflect your schedule and both should work together. Keep in mind that your meal plan is meant to make your life easier not stress you out.
Most weekly meal plans struggle because we plan meals that do not work with our schedules. For example, trying to prepare labor-intensive recipes on days you don’t have the time is only going to result in takeout or a bowl of cereal for dinner. At least that has been my experience. Now I know when I am going to be busy, or out of the house at dinnertime, I plan meals we can eat quickly or on the go.
Looking ahead at your schedule will help to plan accordingly. And despite any natural disaster or emergency we actually have control over our schedules. Even if we think we don’t. As long as we are diligent with putting events in our calendar we should be able to check ahead of time at what the schedule looks like and create a meal plan around that.
Of course, schedules don’t always go as planned either. Things change and come up all the time. In this case it is important to be flexible and make adjustments as needed. However, in my experience, preparing my meal plan around my schedule is still better than flying by the seat of my pants.
#2 Prep meals and ingredients ahead of time
Another reason meal plans flop is because we run out of time to prepare the recipes we planned. I can’t tell you the number of times readers say to me “I have all the ingredients but no time during the week to cook”. Trust me, I completely understand. It wasn’t until I started prepping my food on the weekend that my family began to eat homemade nutritious meals during the week. Until then our dinners consisted of frozen pizzas and boxed mac n cheese. Sad, but unfortunately this is true.
Now I take a few hours every weekend to prep some of my meals and snacks for the week. This can be as simple as cutting up vegetables and washing fruit for snacks to preparing lunches and a few dinners. You can do as much or as little food prep as you want. I always say even the littlest bit of food prep will make a difference.
If you find that your meal plan is not working because you don’t have the time or energy to cook from scratch during the week then try prepping some of your meals on the weekend. It has made a world of difference for me.
For more information on food prep check out these beginner tips.
#3 Have meal starters available in the freezer
When life gets busy you need simple and easy recipes at dinnertime. That’s why a lot of us call the pizza guy – because it is easy. If takeout took too much effort then we wouldn’t do it. Having meal starters available in the freezer can make dinnertime a snap. It is easy to make chicken quesadillas when the chicken is cooked, shredded, and ready to use. The same goes with making a homemade pizza. You can have a delicious pizza pie ready in less than 30 minutes when the dough is already made.
Of course, this takes some planning ahead of time. Along with prepping ingredients for the week I also like to take time to stock my freezer with meal starters on the weekend. This way I can throw together a quick homemade dinner during the week or switch gears if my original dinner does not go as planned. It is helpful to get in the habit of preparing food when you have the time so you can eat nutritious healthy food when you don’t.
My favorite meal starters to have in the freezer are meatballs, sauce, shredded chicken, shredded beef, pizza dough, and all different kinds of shredded cheeses. Many different dinner ideas can be created using these meal starters. Check out this post on 25 recipes you can prepare with make-ahead shredded chicken.
#4 Plan for leftovers
By the end of the week, my refrigerator is filled with leftovers so I have learned to include them in my meal plan. For example, if we have tacos on Tuesday I will plan to have taco pizza on Friday or Saturday. Or if there are a variety of leftovers we will have a leftover buffet of sorts.
If I were to plan a different dinner every night of the week I know I would either be stuck with too much leftover food or a bunch of ingredients for a recipe I didn’t end up preparing. Planning for leftovers saves money and reduces food waste.
#5 Freeze the ingredients you don’t use
Almost all ingredients can be frozen, so if your meal plan gets completely derailed consider freezing any or all ingredients you are not able to use. You can even freeze many meals you prepared ahead of time. I like to freeze recipes into portions to make my own homemade diet freezer meals (see my homemade broccoli alfredo lean cuisine). This ensures food will not go to waste and you can push the recipe to another week.
A meal plan can be your best friend when it goes as planned. However, when it doesn’t try not to get frustrated. Remember, what works in one season of life might not always be the best plan in another. We all know life happens so instead stay flexible and have a plan in place to improvise.