Anyone who tells you that meal planning is a breeze is a liar. Or, maybe this person is one of those strange mythical unicorns who also finds child-rearing and housekeeping to be a piece a cake. (Also filed under: liar-liar-pants-on-fire.)
Either way, I’m here to tell you that successful meal planning takes a great deal of dedication, commitment, and work. I’ve spent the last thirteen years as the Chief Person in Charge of Meals Around Here, and as I’ve browsed countless food and homemaking-related websites in search of great recipe inspiration over the years, I’ve heard the message loud and clear.
“Meal planning is the foundation upon which your well-oiled machine of family life rests!” they say. “Meal planning will change your life!” they tell me. “Meal planning is so easy!” they say convincingly.
They’re all liars, btw. The first two claims are all well and good. I have no complaints there. And, as an anti-planning personality type, I’ve even finally become convinced of their merit. But that last one? Nope. Nopety nope nopers.
I don’t blame them though. They’re in the zone. They’re subconsciously using the skills each week that they’ve finely tuned over years of practice. It’s habit for them now. Their brains literally use less effort in getting the task done. So for them, I suppose it really does seem easy.
However… I’m still a newbie to the world of consistent, habitual meal planning. I’m still getting my routine down pat. And I’m definitely still needing to think about all of the various pieces required each week. (Although mercifully it feels so much easier than when I started this challenge eight weeks ago. Thank goodness!)
This is the last week of the Plan It Like You Mean It meal planning challenge. When I came up with the idea I just figured it was high time to finally get this meal planning thing down. “How hard could it be?” I mused. Well…
Pretty darn hard, as it turns out. So this is the biggest lesson I’ve learned over these last eight weeks: that meal planning ain’t easy.
I mean – the basic mechanics of meal planning are fairly straightforward, right? Write down what you want to eat next week. Then proceed day-by-day through your plan. Duh. It’s not rocket science.
The more challenging part – for me, anyway – has been to identify all of the moving parts and pieces that must work together in harmony, and to execute them in an order that works and keeps the flow. I have realized that if I miss any of the steps (make the plan well in advance… grocery shop on the weekend… take meat out to defrost in time…) I’m messing up the whole rhythm, which can derail the entire week.
Here’s what I’ve come up with as key steps and considerations:
- Make a master list of family meals you like to make (optional, but helpful)
- Several days before the week starts, write down your chosen meals for at least 7 days (I use the online app, Plan to Eat, and I plan Mondays-Sundays)
- Take into consideration things like your grocery budget, the timing of using up fresh ingredients, the contents of your fridge and freezer, your family’s schedule, leftover nights, and whatever other curveballs life may or may not throw at you…
- A day or two before the week starts, grocery shop for all necessary ingredients
- Be sure to prep ahead when necessary (soaking dry beans, defrosting meat in time, etc.)
- Have some freezer meals and stupid-easy meals ideas on hand for when life doesn’t go as planned
- Stay on the ball, because by the time you’ve done all of this… it’s time to plan and shop for next week 🙂
So yes, while it is one thousand percent worth it (the benefits are undeniable, really), it’s also a lot of work. It takes mental energy to plan the most enjoyable, efficient, and frugal meals, it takes time out of your busy schedule to grocery shop regularly, and it takes a firm commitment to check in each day and make sure the plan is humming along.
And, perhaps the most overlooked component of all: you have to actually follow through on the meals you planned. (Because your plan of “leftovers for lunch” kinda falls apart when you flaked out on cooking dinner last night.)
Nope, meal planning isn’t exactly easy. But it’s worth it.
If you’ve taken the challenge alongside me these last eight weeks but kinda flaked out on it (or if you’ve never quite found your meal-planning groove in the past), I’m telling you: meal planning is not for the faint of heart. And if you’ve put in a half-hearted effort and found yourself frustrated when it all unravels, perhaps now you understand why. It’s not for (and I say this with love, having sometimes been one myself) lazy-asses who disappear at the mention of hard work.
Yup – it’s for committed and headstrong bosses who want to see their household thrive with healthy, homemade meals on their tables and in their lunch bags. It’s pretty much reserved for those with the cajones to follow through on a job that will ultimately provide immeasurable benefit to their families.
Although I’ve not yet perfected the art of meal planning, I’ve decided that I’m definitely all in. As I continue to refine my skills and cement the habit into my brain and my weekly rhythm, I’ll continue to use what I’ve learned through this challenge. I’ve built an excellent foundation, and I feel empowered to keep refining my skills until it finally feels second-nature for me too. Onwards and upwards!
Related: Level up your meal planning with this Quick Healthy Meals Ultimate Guide (101 Tips, Recipes, and Strategies)
(Mega-thanks to Plan to Eat for sponsoring me to do this challenge over these last eight weeks! It has been hard but awesome, and I’m certainly not quitting now. Hooray for new habits!)
Ricci Family Meal Plan: Week 8
Breakfast – Oatmeal // bagels & cream cheese
Lunch – Leftovers
Dinner – Taco salad
Breakfast – Protein smoothies
Lunch – Leftover taco salad
Dinner – Cheesy-Mexi Lentil Macaroni
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs with goat cheese and spinach
Lunch – Leftovers
Dinner – Ricci family chili
Breakfast – Protein smoothies
Lunch – Leftovers
Dinner – No-recipe soup (in the crockpot while we’re at swimming lessons)
Breakfast – Pancakes and bacon
Lunch – Leftovers
Dinner – Homemade pizza
Breakfast – Eggs & yogurt
Lunch – Packed lunches @ dance studio
Dinner – Christmas party potluck dinner
Breakfast – Eggs & potatoes
Lunch – Snack plate
Dinner – Red lentil veggie soup
THIS WAS POST #8 IN OUR PLAN IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT CHALLENGE. HERE’S THE SERIES SO FAR:
- Plan It Like You Mean It (Join Me for an Eight-Week Meal Planning Challenge!)
- Meal Planning & Procrastination (Plan It Like You Mean It, Week 1)
- 4 Meal Planning Tips for When You Want a Break from Cooking (Plan It Like You Mean It, Week 2)
- Meal Planning for the Spontaneous-at-Heart Types (Plan It Like You Mean It, Week 3)
- 20 Low-Maintenance Weeknight Dinners (Plan It Like You Mean It, Week 4)
- 12 Freezer-to-Crockpot Meals (Plan It Like You Mean It, Week 5)
- 4 Reasons Meal Planning Changed My Life (Plan It Like You Mean It, Week 6)
- 16 Breakfasts You Actually Have Time For (Plan It Like You Mean It, Week 7)
- >>you are here<< Don’t Be Fooled. Meal Planning is Hard Work. (Plan it Like You Mean It, Week 8)
The Plan It Like You Mean It challenge is sponsored by Plan to Eat, because eating at home should be easier!
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