• How to Stick to Your Meal Plan

    March 25, 2013

    Hi, guys!

    I totally slacked on publishing my meal plan post this week. Sorry about that! I started this post yesterday morning, but never ended up finishing it. Oops. Anyway, without further ado, here’s what’s on the menu for this week:

    grocery-shopping-for-the-week

    A bunch of you guys have asked me whether Mal and I stick to our meal plan after I post in on Sundays. The short answer is “yes,” but we occasionally veer off course if we’re not in the mood to cook or eat something we planned or if different dinner plans pop up.

    Meal planning is great because it helps us save money and prevents food from going to waste, but we’re not super strict with it either. Our weekly meal is a good framework for the week, but it’s not the end all be all either. With that said, here are some things that help us stick to our meal plan.

    Prioritize meals

    When I plan my weekly menu on Sunday mornings, I take note of the ingredients I already have on hand (leftover food from the previous week) and start with those recipes. Often times, these foods are perishable, so I want to make sure I use them up first, so they don’t spoil and go to waste. I guess you could say these meals are “non-negotiable,” which makes us stick to our meal plan.

    Cook the “hardest” meals first

    When I’m preparing my meal plan for the week, I almost always schedule the recipes that require the most time and effort at the beginning of the week (i.e. roast chicken). I know as the week progresses, I’m less motivated to cook a meal that requires a lot of work, so I front-load the week and finish with the easy stuff (i.e. tuna melts) or leftovers. Typically, these meals produce leftovers, so I incorporate them into the following night’s meal. For example, I roasted a chicken last night, and I’ll use the leftovers for Chicken Bacon Alfredo tonight.

    Cook (easy) meals with leftovers later in the week

    I also like to cook meals that produce a lot of leftovers later in the week, such as crock pot meals or casseroles. By Thursday or Friday night, I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so we often eat leftovers (or super easy meals) on these nights.

    Take full advantage of a “Sunday Cook-up”

    On Sunday afternoons, I typically spend about an hour preparing food for the upcoming week. I typically make more involved (aka “the hardest”) meals on Sunday nights, so while I am preparing, I cook other foods for the week, including Sweet Potato Wedges, baked squash, roasted veggies, hard-boiled eggs, rice, and chicken, and then store them in Tupperware containers to be reheated. A Sunday Cook-up might seem like a lot of work, but it’s so worth it when you are starving and just not in the mood to cook. Plus, once you start prepping everything, it actually comes together quite easily.

    Prep and cook for future meals

    Similarly to the “Sunday Cook-up,” I prep and cook food throughout the week for future meals—almost like a domino effect. [Check out this post for an example.] When I’m cooking dinner, I’m always thinking about how I can multitask to make the next night’s dinner easier. For example, I’ll cut up extra veggies and roast them for the next night while I already have the oven on cooking something else. Pretty much any time I turn on my oven, I think about what else I can throw in there to cook for a later. I love rice, roasted veggies, and various potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squashes, which typically take some time to cook, so I often make them ahead of time, so all I have to do is reheat them later. Having these healthy options on-hand also encourages me to eat better (i.e. I will snack on some Sweet Potato Wedges instead of chips or cookies).

    Defrost meat in the refrigerator

    On Sundays before the start of the week, I take the various meats and fish planned for the week’s meals out of the freezer and put them on one of the shelves in my refrigerator to let them defrost. That way, the meat/fish is ready to go when I want to cook it, and I don’t have to wait for it to defrost.

    “Re-purpose” meals

    Sometimes, I plan out a whole week of meals, but then Mal and I don’t feel like cooking or eating what we have planned. No big deal. We switch it up! If there’s a piece of meat or fish that needs to be cooked before it spoils, we’ll toss it in the freezer for later or “ re-purpose” it into a new meal that we want to cook and eat (usually, it’s something simple). For example, if we have a chicken dish on the menu, but we’re not in the mood for it, we’ll cook the chicken and then turn it into chicken salad sandwiches or another dish that we feel like eating on that night. We don’t stick to the meal plan exactly, but we also don’t let food go to waste either.

    Plan some “back-up” meals

    Along the same lines as “ re-purposing” meals, I also make sure we always have a couple of “back-up” meals on deck if we’re not in the mood for cooking or eating something specific on our meal plan. These meals are ones that we really like, and they’re quick and usually mostly non-perishable, so they’re always ready to go when we’re in need of a meal. Some of our favorites: tuna melts, shrimp stir fry (from the freezer), egg sandwiches, avocado egg salad, and quesadillas. Basically, we keep go-to meals on-hand so we always have a decent dinner option, so we don’t end up ordering take-out.

    Bump meals to the next week

    On the weeks that we get off schedule with our meal plan, I make sure to “bump” the meals we didn’t eat to the following week’s menu. I make sure to prioritize and cook them first, so the foods we purchased don’t go to waste. This actually makes meal planning a little bit easier because I don’t have to think about what to cook or buy for the beginning of the week.

    Question of the Day

    What are your tips for sticking to your meal plan and making dinnertime easier?

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    { 69 comments… read them below or add one }

    Sam March 25, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I have 2 tactics I have to use if I am to stick with my meal plan and/or diet. The first is to snack in the late afternoon at work. It has to be healthy and it has to be filling. I try for some fiber and some protein, like peanut butter on celery or greek yogurt with almonds. The second tactic is to be sure that I have planned dinner and am ready to make it when I get home. That means that I’ve thawed ingredients if necessary and maybe even started it in the crockpot. By knowing what I’m making and thinking about it the night before, I know I’ll be ready to get to cooking as soon as I get home. I know what we’ll be eating and it keeps my diet on track, too.

    Reply

    Melissa March 26, 2013 at 12:02 am

    We do things similarly to you. My husband is off on Sunday and Monday right now, so Mondays are crock pot days since he’s home to get it ready. It means I don’t have to get up extra early before work to do it! That will produce leftovers for 2 or 3 more nights. We try to cook something more involved on Sundays since we have time, and that gives us another dinner later on also. Fridays are always pizza nights, and we have back up meals as well (salmon patties, boca burgers, frozen chicken tenders) if we don’t have enough leftovers from earlier in the week.

    Reply

    Corrie @ Casa Beebe March 26, 2013 at 12:15 am

    Popular topic this week…popping up all over, even on Casa Beebe tomorrow! Ha! I am 100% behind meal and food prepping, for all the reasons you stated: cheaper, healthier, simpler. I have used some of your suggestions in the past to make my food prep better (using the oven for multiple things). I also bump meals and am flexible with making something different or moving meals around during the week. Mostly, I think that having a plan takes a ton of stress out of my day and I don’t have to think about “what’s for dinner” every night! Great post Tina!

    Reply

    Linda @running4two March 26, 2013 at 5:42 am

    I really try the whole meal planning thing, but my husband works nights and I am often by myself=no motivation to make meals. I try to invite my parents or friends over for dinner and if I let them know what’s on the menu, I know I have to stick with it.

    Reply

    Emily March 26, 2013 at 6:20 am

    I don’t consistently make meal plans, but I do have a general idea of a few meals that I want to make throughout the week. For the rest, I come up with something using the leftover veggies I have. I’ll usually combine the veggies with quinoa, brown rice or asian noodles in a lovely stir fry. I also always make enough for lunch the next day, and if I have even more than that left over, I ‘ll put it in the freezer to save for another day that I don’t feel like cooking.

    Reply

    Becca March 26, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Love this article! I did a lot of meal prep in college before grocery shopping but since moving to New York I’ve let it (and my healthy habits) drop for a while. This is definitely something I’d like to pick back up. If I know what’s on the menu for dinner I won’t let searching for recipes trick me into thinking I’m way more hungry than I am. I also find when I’m not sure what I’ll be eating I’m searching for things to satisfy a craving I haven’t yet identified. Great tips!

    Reply

    Sara @ sarasmiles March 26, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Thanks so much for the tips! This post is very timely as I just posted about meal planning last night (http://www.sarasmiles.com/my-attempt-at-meal-planning-turkey-meatballs/) After going to the grocery store every day last week, I decided to give it a go (after reading some of your meal plan posts!). I will be sure to refer back to this post for future reference

    Reply

    Gina March 26, 2013 at 9:49 am

    My husband and I both work and he has a long commute, but we still manage to have dinner on the table for the family (we have two young boys) at 6pm. I prep two meals on Sunday- half of one goes in the freezer, the other half is Monday’s dinner and the other meal is Sunday’s meal (usually a bit more complicated). Tuesday we eat fish (easy in the oven); Wednesday is bison pasta night (my husband’s favorite) and Thursday is “freezer” night. These are the meals that I prep on Sundays. Friday is “fun” night and I will make a mac n’cheese with winter squash or paleo pizza (Meatzza). Best of all, it is very cost effective to eat this way!

    Reply

    Victoria @ Reluctantly Skinny March 26, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Great tips! I’m so bad with sticking to my plan – and I never have an easy backup. We end up grabbing take out or something instead and it’s never as healthy as I had planned!

    Reply

    Amy @ Fun With Family and Fitness March 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I love your tips! One of the things I hate most is meal planning! I have to cook dinner ahead of time (in the morning) most days because of my schedule, so I have to plan whether I like it or not. My husband is a man that HAS to eat as soon as he gets home, so this way dinner is done and he’s a happy hubby! :)

    Reply

    Sarah @ Yogi in Action March 26, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I also always meal plan (realize I’m a little late on this comment, but figured I’d add it anyways).

    I love it because I find the hardest part of cooking is deciding what to make. As such, I make up my plan on Sunday, and then every morning check what is scheduled for that night. In the morning, anything that needs to defrost is taken out of the freezer. Then when I get home, it’s just a matter of assembling and cooking. I also like to take my iPad into the kitchen with me, and watch netflix (or make calls on skype) while I cook. Then I am entertained while cooking!

    Reply

    Christa March 26, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks for this post! I really struggle with formulating (and sticking to) a meal plan so I took your advice today and did a “cook up.” So much less stressful to have sides prepared for the week. Thanks again!

    Reply

    Katherine March 26, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    I think that meal planning saves my bum most days during the week! I dread after work grocery store stops, so I like having all the ingredients on hand. One trick that I have found is that I can prep my crockpot the night before, stick it in the fridge, and pop it into the heater part in the morning.

    I never feel constrained by the meal plan, I just am careful to put perishables in the freezer so they don’t go to waste! Most meals are easily switched around anyway.

    Reply

    Amy @ Healthy and Fit for Real March 26, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    These are great tips that I try to utilize too. I need to do more prep work on the weekends though…

    Reply

    Bruna @ morgbu.com March 27, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Our method is quite similar… I usually schedule 7 meals, 7 lunches, 7 snacks and breakfast. We don’t cook 7 meals because we eat leftovers but it’s nice to have some options instead of “this is what I have to eat tonight or there is nothing else”

    Reply

    Tim April 5, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Just found this site … great idea for meal planning. I’d really like to take this approach with my family’s meals for both the health and the money savings.

    Reply

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