There are a lot of things that I feel badly about doing when I was little now that I’m a Mum.
A great deal of them are food-related.
I actually feel very badly for what I must have put my poor mother through with my fussy eating. For every night that I whinged when you told me what was for dinner, I’m sorry Mum.
I know how nuts it must have made her because on one occasion, my sister’s punishment for some sort of misdemeanor – I can’t remember the offence – was being banned from asking what was for dinner for a whole month.
Mum used to and still does actually, say that the worst part of making dinner was thinking of what to make every night.
Now that I’m in charge of the nightly meals, I have to say I can totally see where she was coming from.
One of my biggest late-afternoon stressors is trying to think of what to make for dinner.
If it gets past a certain hour then that stress turns into cranky Claire and no one really enjoys having her around.
Enter meal planning.
Why meal plan?
Saves you making another decision.
By the end of a long day you’re suffering from decision-fatigue and not having to think of what to make for dinner is a bit of a sanity saver. I truly believe there are only so many decisions we can make in a day and by automating as many of those decisions as we can, we’re taking off a load of stress.
Think about it, from the moment you wake up you’re making decisions. Do I shower first or unpack the dishwasher. What will I have for breakfast, what will I wear? What will we do today, what will the kids have for breakfast, should I put the laundry on now, will I ring that person at 9 or … You get the picture. It’s no wonder by the time it comes to choosing what to have for dinner we come up blank.
Whether you menu plan then do your shopping or do your shopping then menu plan, working out what you’re going to eat through the week can ensure you’re not letting anything go to waste. It also improves your shopping skills as you learn what you truly need to buy and what is better left on the shelves.
Even if it’s just the time it saves you thinking of what to make, menu planning saves time. If you’re at the extreme end of the meal-planning spectrum, you may even set aside a couple of hours once a week to do as much prep as you can for the meals on your menu which saves a ton of time and stress come cooking time.
If you’re actively setting aside a time to think about what to eat for the following week/fortnight or month, you’re more likely to put in a new thing or two or remember something you love that you haven’t had in a while.
If you’re thinking of what to make for dinner at 5pm while the kids are having witching-hour meltdowns then it’s more likely you’ll resort to the quickest, easiest thing you can think of.
Menu planning doesn’t have to be just mum’s job. You can get the whole family involved if your kids are a little bit older. Have everyone pick a meal for one night a week and make a little event out of planning the family meals for the week.
This is similar to the variety thing but if you plan your meals, you’re more likely to make them a bit healthier than if you were deciding at the last minute and whipping up whatever first comes to mind.
It took me until early last year to really get into menu planning. I knew there were so many benefits, I just couldn’t seem to stick to it no matter how hard I tried.
I’ve said it before but the main thing I had against it was being told what to eat each night (yes I realise it was me telling myself but I’m a bit weird like that).
I also used to get a bit ambitious with the menu and add exotic things or things that were a bit too healthy.
Basically there are a few reasons I had failed in the past…
3 reasons you meal planning has failed
- You were too ambitious putting fancy recipes that didn’t suit your time constraints or abilities.
- You put things on the menu that you didn’t look forward to eating – then when it got to dinner time, you didn’t want to cook them.
- You didn’t look at your calendar before you planned for the week ahead.
Since then I’ve come up with four rules for meal planning success and now I love it. It has been a mega game-changer in making cooking dinner way less stressful.
4 rules for meal planning success
- All items must be something you will look forward to eating – number one rule! Don’t be too ambitious with a new diet plan or mixing up what you usually eat.
- Recipes can’t be too difficult or time-consuming to make.
- Plan at least a week at a time.
- Make sure you look at your calendar before you create the plan – if there’s a night you’ll be home late, make it a slow-cooker night or even schedule in takeaway. As long as it’s on the plan and you don’t have to think about what to have at the last minute.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be as involved as full-on planning out every detail of every meal in a perfectly-laid-out template complete with recipes and instructions for an entire month.
It can be as simple as jotting down an idea for each night on a scrap of paper.
The main thing is taking the thinking out of it so when it comes to the end of the day, when you’re most likely done with making decisions, all you need to do is glance at your list to know what’s for dinner, no decision making involved.
That top left photo… that was me trying to meal plan with an 18 month old crawling all over me. Keepin it real here people!
Once you have meal planning under control, if you add doing a bit of pre-prep work on top of it it’s a total game-changer.
If you’d like to give meal planning a go, I’ve created a basic template for you to set up your first plan.
You can either print it out and write on it or type straight into it (that way you can link to recipes if they’re online).
I also have an example of a weekly menu in our house.
Click here to download your free copy.
What about you? Do you menu plan? Does it work for you?