It’s no secret: meal planning is a fantastic way to save time, save money, eat healthy and make your life at least a little bit easier.

So if it’s so darn wonderful, why does it never work for me?

I’m not saying that meal planning itself doesn’t work, it’s just that I’ve never been able to make it work for any length of time. I’ve had several times in my life where I’ve committed to planning our meals and it goes well for a few days and then one day it’s 5:30pm and I find myself staring mindlessly into the fridge and freezer trying to figure out what the heck to make for dinner.

Meal planning and I, we’ve just never got along all that well.

In my post about non-running goals for 2014, I decided to give meal planning another chance and declared that Fridays were going to be known as Foodie Fridays from now on:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Food prep
  • Tidy fridge and pantry
Seems simple enough, right? 
It’s only been one week so I can’t possibly declare anything a success yet but here’s what I’m doing to try to ensure my success this time around…

Grocery Shopping
I’ve always just done my grocery shopping as needed. Sometimes that would be every week, every couple weeks or every few days depending on what meals struck my fancy. This year I’m trying to shop only on Fridays and only buy what I need to make the next week’s meals or what’s on sale for future meals. No more random ‘stocking up’.
Food Prep
Everyone marvels about how nice it is to have food all prepped and ready ahead of time so I’m giving that a go too:
  • Chopping fruit and veggies for the coming week’s meals
  • Browning, marinating or pre-cooking any meat that can be done ahead of time
  • Freezer meals like lasagna, chili, casseroles etc.
  • Prepping crockpot meals and freezing, simply grab from the freezer, throw in the slow cooker and dinner’s ready (this is genius!)
  • Making sure I have everything I need for other meals: side dishes, starches etc.
For example, here’s what I did last Friday for this week:
  • Made ‘sweet and tangy’ pork ribs and froze ribs and marinade in a Ziploc (will make in the slow cooker one night)
  • Made a lasagna (and one extra for another week)
  • Chopped ingredients for a crock pot turkey, bean and kale soup and froze everything in a Ziploc (frozen stock, turkey meat, bouillon cubes etc)
  • Made sure I bought the sides and remaining ingredients needed to make meals of things I already had in the freezer and fridge (like sausages, portobello mushrooms and frozen mahi mahi)
It really wasn’t very much work but in a couple of hours I had all of my meals made or prepared for the following week. All I have to do this week is pull things out of the freezer, throw things in the crock pot and cook simple side dishes like veggies and rice. Easy peasy.
Some of my freezer bags are green because I bought the
Christmas ones on sale after the holidays!
Tidy Fridge and Pantry
I think part of the chaos at meal times comes from not being prepared. When you don’t have a plan it’s impossible to remember everything you have on hand and what meals you can make with it. I have this theory that if I keep my fridge and pantry tidied up and regularly cleaned out, I’ll be able to keep better tabs on what I have, what needs to be eaten up and what can be frozen for future use. There’s nothing worse than throwing out food because you forgot you had it…
My pantry is one of my favourite rooms in the house and it
makes me happy to see it tidy
Why I think it’s going to work this time…
My biggest pet peeve with meal planning from previous attempts is that it always fell apart when I didn’t feel like making what I had on the schedule. Inevitably the day would come where I wanted pizza instead of split pea soup like the schedule said.
I think I have a simple strategy that will make it all stick this time. It’s so simple I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. Are you ready for my holy grail of meal planning?

Plan a week’s worth of meals instead of planning a meal for every day of the week!

Pretty simple huh? I always objected to having to make whatever I’d planned for each night of the week. If I simply prepare enough meals for the week, each day I can pick from what’s there depending on what I feel like eating.
It probably sounds silly since that should have been obvious but in my previous meal planning attempts I always got hung up on making a schedule of meals instead of simply planning a week’s worth of meals. Sometimes a change in perspective is all it takes to make a habit stick.
Now let’s see if this theory of mine works out! So far so good! It’s pretty nice having all your meals ready to go. It almost feels luxurious to simply pick something every morning for that night’s meal!
Do you meal plan? What are your tips and tricks to make it successful?

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  1. Rebecca@RunningFoodBaby    

    I do meal plan – but roughly. I plan more on “do I have 5 minutes or an hour to cook dinner”. Right now it is just toddler and I for dinner 3 nights a week, so I do not make a full dinner on those nights – more snacks, small dinner plates (or pasta).

    I also like to sometimes plan meals that can roll over to another day – like roast chicken on Sunday, followed by hot chicken sandwiches on Monday!

    1. Nikki Scott    

      Yeah those mom/toddler meals are kind of nice for their simplicity! And I like the roast chicken idea. That’s on the menu for us this week!

  2. Anonymous    

    I plan 6 (or 5 if going out is in on the schedule) meals for the week (no certain day assigned). Then if the plans change a little, we have leftovers, etc, we don’t end up with something extra. We always have eggs on hand or burgers in the freezer if we end up needing that extra meal.

  3. Diana Martinez    

    I really wish we planned our meals better – but most nights of the week, we’re doing something (either my husband is gone, or kids have a class), and we usually end up eating whatever and it’s usually not as healthy as could be, nor is it very fun. The kids eat at a table, I eat at the computer, etc. I’m hoping that things will settle down and we can find a time to all eat together, but lately it has not been happening.

    1. Nikki Scott    

      We can’t eat together every night because of work schedules etc. but regardless it’s nice to have the stress of thinking of what to make out of the way! And don’t worry, we’re never as healthy as we could be!

  4. jillconyers    

    I’m a long time weekly menu planner. I needed to do something to help make busy weeks less stressful and meal planning worked like a charm. My top tips, grocery list (if it’s not on the list don’t buy it), meal prep and plan for leftovers. Looks like you’re already planning to follow my tips :)

    You should link up with us for What’s For Dinner every Sunday. It’s a great way to create a new habit! This is from last Sun

    1. Nikki Scott    

      Yeah I’m hoping to get my willy nilly shopping trips under control. So far they’ve been so civilized and way cheaper! Thanks for the What’s for Dinner suggestion, I’ll totally check it out!

  5. Runner Leana    

    I used to just buy random things at the grocery store and that resulted in a lot of pizza and eating out. I now spend Saturday mornings meal planning. I write down my workouts for the week and try to plan meals out that will give us leftovers for lunch the next day. Then the grocery list grows from all of the recipes I’ve planned for. I try to keep recipes easy for nights where I swim after work and Neil is cooking on his own. It seems to be working so far!

    1. Nikki Scott    

      Whole30 kind of forced me to start planning better. It’s really tough to throw together a meal within those guidelines if you’re not prepared! Hopefully it sticks this time because I’m enjoying it so far!

  6. Crystal Rhyno    

    We have similar goals! I am trying to shop every two weeks (on pay day). I buy enough for two weeks but I am allowing myself to shop for fresh greens. (I run out often). I try to make 2 meals for the week for lunches & I rotate. I’ve always chopped my greens & vegs but this is the first time I am making “actual” dishes for the week. Good luck to you!

    1. Nikki Scott    

      A 2 week plan is a great idea! And yeah, the fresh stuff is my exception. I’m not going to feel bad if I have to run to the store for fruit, veggies, eggs or milk. Maybe if all goes well I can try a couple 2 week stretches and see how it goes!

  7. Maria H    

    I think you’re off to a great start! I’ve been meal planning but only for dinners and making sure I have the shopping trip and recipes done and ready. I’m going to be focusing more on prep for the week also. This will help me be more successful in my meal planning as well as for my lunches. You just reminded me that a make ahead lasagna makes a great easy meal and I’ve been craving lasagna lately. How did you make yours?

    1. Fairytales and Fitness    

      Unfortunately I don’t meal plan. I plan the meals in my head, but don’t do the prep work ahead of time. Kudos to those who do!

    2. Fairytales and Fitness    

      Unfortunately I don’t meal plan. I plan the meals in my head, but don’t do the prep work ahead of time. Kudos to those who do!

  8. Abby    

    Your pantry is the size of my entire kitchen. I am a lot jealous!

  9. Deryn @ Running on Real Food    

    I’m so jealous of your pantry! I have one tiny cupboard to house everything and it’s totally unorganized. I do meal plan, shop and prep and my fridge is usually organized, but the “pantry” is a mess. It must be soooo nice to have all that room!

  10. Cindy    

    so jealous of your pantry!!! I’ve meal planned for the past ten years and it’s been a lifesaver! it does take a bit of time but worth it…I shop around the flyers so try and work into account stuff that’s on sale so we save money, plus it gives me ideas of things to make! we shop once a week and get everything we need and then I prep everything Sunday morning for the whole week. we don’t plan what day we eat things, just what the meals are that week. we used to shop every day and by the time we got home and made dinner, we were so hungry we’d be snacking and always end up making something fast (and very processed!).

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