Let’s get honest: my meal planing lately has been less than stellar. For the past few years, my meal planning has consisted of salads from Trader Joes and a few pre-made deli items from Whole Foods. I always had just enough in the fridge to feed me when I came from a 16 hour day on set but never enough that I was going to be cooking anything fancy. But with recently life changes, I found myself learning to meal plan again. In a house that features both plant based diets and a diet that rivals the pickiness of my favorite 4-year-old, meal planning is at best a challenge.
So how do you stay in a budget and keep everyone happy with their food needs? Here are a few of my tips:
- Be honest with yourself: when I first started meal planning, I was that person who would find 3-4 recipes for myself with this great motivation that I was going to eat homemade meals all week. Lies. I’d end up picking recipes that I’d never tried and found myself hating most of the food I was making. Stick with 1 or 2 new meals a week. You aren’t going to like every recipe you make so overwhelming yourself with food you can’t stand to eat for a week or more isn’t going to help you stick with the planning.
- Be Flexible pt. 1: If you’re feeding for multiple diets, the last thing that you want is to spend your life in the kitchen. Build meals that allow everyone to eat something they love. Burrito bowls, pizza, burgers (veggie & regular) and salads are all meals that can be adapted to make your life easier and accommodate the masses.
- Be Flexible pt. 2: Just because it’s on the list to make tonight doesn’t mean you can’t swap meals around. Staying motivated with healthy eating and planning can be hard. Allow yourself the flexibility to swap meals around if you need to make a shorter meal one night because you’re tried or maybe you have a craving. Who knows, maybe your meal plan includes a night of take-out. Whatever it may be, being open to swapping things around will help you stay sane and keep you on track in the long run.
- Eat seasonally: Now, I’m not going to bash the girl who wants strawberries in the dead of winter because Lord knows I’ve been her. But, keeping a chart with what’s in season on hand will help you to plan meals that are more fiscally responsible because your strawberries are no longing coming in on a plane rather than a local truck.
- Shop at the farmers market: It may take some trial and error in finding the right one, but having a farmers market that is your standard go to can be more of a help than you know. If you get to know the sellers, they will often give you discounts for buying so much or even help you find a specific thing you’re looking for but isn’t often carried. Plus you’ll have a much better idea of what you are putting in your body because you know where it’s coming from.
- Join a co-op: Depending on where you live, you can join a co-op. It’s essentially a group of people who purchase produce together making the prices lower for individuals. The produce is typically locally sourced and seasonal. You pay a per basket price making it easier to have a standard budget for groceries with produce.
- Shop the sales: If you are shopping a place with a sale ad, use it to guide your recipe choices. For example, Sprouts doubles their sale ads on Wednesdays meaning you get the ad for the new week and last week crossing on the same day. Plan your recipes around what you can get the best bargain on. Knowledge is power.
- Don’t be afraid of the leftovers: Making meals that will cover more than one meal can help save time and money. Plus, if you know how awesome that dinner you had the night before was aren’t you more likely to eat it for lunch rather than reaching for take-out?
- Be realistic: Check the serving size for the recipe you are making. If you are feeding 1 person, a meal for 4 will get really old quickly. Maybe instead, do a two week meal rotation and freeze half. Then, when it comes time to meal plan again, you’ll save time and money by reheating what you’ve already made!
- Plan with a friend: Maybe you know that you’ll get a great deal on something if you buy it in bulk but you don’t need it all. Link up with a friend and grocery shop together. This way you’re not only saving yourself money but your friend can save too. Now who doesn’t love a friend who helps them save money?
Remember, meal planning is a tweaking process and what you learn this week will help you to better plan for next week. If you don’t like a recipe you made this week, don’t make it again. Or if you do, adapt it. The more you work at it the easiest it will get. Before it, you’ll be a meal planning pro.