Anyone who knows me at all knows that I'm a perpetual planner. I live and breathe by my calendar and to do lists and without them, I feel like a lost puppy roaming the woods. While I know my tendencies are to lean more toward 'over planning', I do think a little bit of organization is something all of our diets could benefit from.
As much as I love to cook, during the week, it's a challenge to assemble the next day's lunch and snacks along with that night's dinner after a long workday and gym sessions. Over time, I've learned that the key to our family eating well throughout the week, is to set us up for success before the week begins. While there are varying levels of preparation and our weekend schedule usually dictates the amount of time that gets devoted to meal prep - ranging from a whole-Sunday affair to utilizing our many crockpots and letting them do the majority of the work. No matter how much time you have to devote to your meal planning, I wanted to share a few tips that I find have been helpful in keeping our household on track.
Knowing how much time you have to commit to meal prep is a great start to figuring out your menu. As afore mentioned, I'm a bit of an over planner - right down to our snacks and pre/post workout supplements, but I find creating charts for each member of our household is helpful in laying out a plan.
Having a definitive shopping list when I go into a store has become a huge money saver for our household. Knowing what our plan is for the week, how much of each menu item I need to make and what meals are already accounted for (lunch meetings at work, prior engagements, etc...) has helped us stop over shopping. We limit ourselves to only what's on the list and it helps keeps us in check. Additionally, I like to "shop" in our pantry and freezer prior to planning out our menu to make sure we're utilizing items we already have on hand. We buy a lot of our meats in bulk from a farm share and often, we'll forget exactly what we have in the freezer.
Setting aside a dedicated time to cook is something I usually look forward to, but that's also keeping in mind that I enjoy the cooking process. I look at it as a chance to create something wonderful and nourishing that I can share with the people I care about. I understand that not everyone takes the same pleasure in their time in the kitchen, so try to find ways to make the process more enjoyable for you. I'll often listen to a favorite Pandora station or a podcast about a topic that interests me. If you have children, involve them in the cooking process and let them be a part of creating their meals for the week.
Portioning & Packing
Portioning is another step that I'm fully aware I take to an extreme. I weigh out our food to ensure that we're balancing our macro nutrients and keeping our calories in check, but this might be overkill for some people. I do find that when I set things up to be more or less, grab and go, we tend to stick to the plan better. This can be as basic as keeping a stew you made in individual sized containers as opposed to one larger one. Let's face it, we all like convenience and putting in a little extra time to ensure you'll stick to the plan throughout the week can be well worth the investment.
Avoid Over Prepping
This is something I've been guilty of on a few occasions. There have been weeks where I just get a bit overzealous and take meal prep to the extreme, preparing so much food that there is no way two of us could possibly finish it all. Be aware of the quantities your making as to avoid waste. One tactic is to build a "leftover" meal into your plan to help clean out your fridge before setting up the next week.
You also want to be aware of the shelf life of items your prepping. Last week, I made enough tuna and avocado salad to last me the whole week, without taking into account that by Wednesday, the avocados had taken on a lovely brown oxidized color - not the most appetizing.
I'm hoping my meal planning tips are of some help on getting you off on the right track. Also consider taking small steps - just plan out your lunches or dinners for a week and see how it works for your household. Full blown meal planning can be a big step for some people and easing into it may be the best option.