Meal Planning: Lessons Learned

Meal Planning: Lessons Learned

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Meal Planning - Lessons LearnedHappy 2015! By this time, I hope everyone is well on their way to creating habits originated by New Year’s resolutions. Spoiler alert: I generally do not like these annual promises to ourselves that often fail. I think any time is a good time to make a positive change, not just January first. But this year, after a talk with friends, I decided that this year I would make a resolution and it would be that the Sayre household would meal plan.

You may have thought this was something that I already do and it is, but not regularly. I preach the benefits of planning meals almost on a daily basis. Generally, when we think ahead we tend to eat healthier and save money, but planning a week’s meals has never been my forte. Just like I encourage my clients to do, I made a SMART goal (specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, time-bound). From the first week of January, I am going to make an effort to plan 3 dinners per week, with one of the options being vegetarian. I’m two weeks into my goal, and here is what I’ve learned.

  1. Sundays are the worst days to go to the grocery store, unless you go very early or very late. Because I’m picky, I go to an average of 3 grocery stores per week so I plan to go on off-hours to save time and my sanity.
  2. Some recipes will be awesome and others will be duds. Find an empty 3 ring binder and save those recipes that your family really likes and ditch the ones that didn’t turn out so well.
  3. Take notes! We learn many things from executing recipes, so jot down things that will help next time. Example: The tofu pad Thai that I made on a Monday night is not a weeknight recipe. It required a lot of chopping (aka time)!
  4. Be flexible. In the past I’ve tried to plan each day out but life gets crazy and if one day is thrown off, the whole week was then a mess. I’m the kind of lady who will absolutely take the free Carolina tickets if they’re offered, so I need to be flexible. This is why I like to say that I’ll plan three meals a week and that they can be interchangeable.
  5. Repeat ingredients. Imagine your recipe lists are Venn diagrams. Try to have an overlapping section to save on grocery bills and use up items. For example, over the weekend we had chickpea burritos with spinach and then the beginning of the next week we had pasta with spinach and chicken. Voila, spinach all used up!
  6. Enlist help.  For one of our planned meals, my husband was in charge of cooking the fish that night. That freed me up to make the salad and dinner was on the table sooner.

Are you a meal-planning master? If so, please comment below on what works well for you!

Kate Sayre is a Registered Dietitian at Student Health at Duke University. On the 1st and 15th of every month, she guest blogs here.

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Kate Sayre is a Registered Dietitian who counsels clients through her private practice and works in the Department of Nutrition at UNC. On the 1st and 15th of every month, she guest blogs here.