If meal planning is new to you, it can sound daunting. Let me help you create a plan that works for you, your family, your dietary requirements and preferences. Creating a meal plan that really works is not as simple as do A and B and “ta da”, you have a plan. No, creating a meal plan that works for YOU will take some time and effort on your part.
For me personally, food prep is the biggest, most daunting task I have in all my many rolls as a wife, business owner and homeschooling mama to four kiddos. It’s a full-time job just by itself! Even when it was just the hubs and I, I found it slightly overwhelming. I know that part of it was the high expectations I had for myself and what I should be serving each night. I also didn’t know to work smarter instead of harder.
Meal Planning. Freezer Meals. Food Prep.
Those words can strike fear in even the bravest of women! Ok, so maybe not to that extreme, but usually people tend to have an opinion and strong feelings about this. I go from one extreme to the other. I would label it a "love/hate relationship" with food/meal prep and my kitchen.
I LOVE to feed my family healthy meals, and I love the planning of it, but... It. Never. Ends!!
Plan, shop, prep, cook, clean, repeat…
We enjoy many different flavours and a variety of foods, but I really don’t like spending so much of my day in the kitchen. And really, who has the TIME to spend the whole day in the kitchen? At one point I even tried convincing my family that an occasional fast day would be great for us, but that was a no go ;)
Starting a Routine that Worked for Us
It was around kid number two that I decided I needed a routine that worked for me and our family. A routine that would help me get healthy meals on the table in time for dinner each night…or at least most nights. Of course it’s changed over the years and the portion sizes I cook have grown, but the habits are the same.
Previously I tried following someone else’s meal plan, but usually it didn't include the type of meals we eat or ingredients that I normally buy. I felt like a failure for not following their plan. I had to find a routine that worked for us.
We don’t eat perfect and everyone has an opinion of what that looks like (and believe me, that can be a “hot” topic!). We eat a fairly well-rounded diet. Most of our meals are home cooked. Some items I buy organic and some I don’t, it really depends. We eat dairy, wheat, grains, beans, protein and lots of vegetables and some fruit…oh and chocolate!! That’s a food group, right!? I love my chocolate…sometimes I even share ;)
Thankfully we don’t have allergies. We don’t eat strictly vegetarian or paleo etc. I do make vegetarian meals, or paleo meals and paleo baking when I feel like it. We eat/drink dairy, but we also use almond milk, coconut milk or coconut water. As you can see we don’t fit in any “box”.
Over the years that I have been meal planning I have made some mistakes, learned a lot and streamlined the process for myself. The process that I have implemented isn’t even really a process, but 4 habits that I have developed to help with the process of feeding my family.
The 4 Habits
These 4 habits are occasionally confused with each other, so I thought I would start by defining what each one means to me:
1 - Meal Planning
Meal planning is the planning of meals that will be served for a day, a week, the month, etc. Get your free printables here.
2 - Freezer Cooking/Freezer Meals
Freezer meals is assembling meals and then freezing them to have multiple meals ready and available to save you time later.
3 - Bulk Cooking (and baking)
Bulk cooking is doubling or tripling the amount of a meal you are making, with the intention of freezing the extra for another day.
4 - Efficient Food Prep
Here’s the definition of Efficient:
- (especially of a system or machine) achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. YES PLEASE!!
- (of a person) working in a well-organized and competent way.
-preventing the wasteful use of a particular resource (our TIME!!)
I like love to do efficient food prep. Not so much the process, but the satisfaction of having it done!
Efficient food prep for me is getting food items/ingredients ready at the beginning of the week for the week ahead. Usually that’s peeling, chopping and cutting up veggies as well as occasionally pre-cooking proteins and starches. I love that I can save time prepping my veggies for the entire week in a short amount of time, and then clean up all at once too.
I find veggie prep is the most time consuming when it comes to putting a meal together. So instead of prepping 4 carrots for a meal, I will prep a whole big bag of carrots. They are great to have ready for snacking on or throwing into soups, stews, salads or for roasting. I’ll do that with all my veggies so they’re ready to grab and go.
Developing These Habits
Once I got the hang of meal planning, I started doing freezer meals, bulk cooking and efficient food prep. I’m not going to lie...all of these 4 habits are work, but it’s working smarter not harder and so worth it! The more you do them the easier it gets.
With the difference between meal planning, freezer meals, bulk cooking and efficient food prep defined, now let’s talk about the specifics of the Meal Planning Process.
Read part 2 here-Master Meal Planning