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Baby Steps: Start Meal Planning

This step is both easy and hard.  Starting to meal plan is easy- just set aside an hour each week and bang it out.  Sticking to it (and sticking with it) is hard, though.  It takes planning and follow through.  But you can do it- I have faith!  And even if you try and fail the first few times, you're still better off than if you don't try at all.

It can be as simple or as complicated as you like (although I don't see why you'd like to make it complicated...).  Just write them on a blank piece of paper.  Make a dry erase grid by laminating a piece of paper (laminating sheets that don't require a machine can be found at most big box stores with the paper and other office supplies).  Make yourself a template on the computer and print out several copies.  Or just "compose" your meal plan each week directly onto a dry erase board in your kitchen, although I like to first write my plan on paper before transferring to the marker board.  It seems like more work, yes, but it allows me to sit and think about my meal plan vs doing it standing in the kitchen, and to work on the next week's meals while the current week's are still on the board.  Lately I've been doing it as an ongoing thing instead of during a set period- since we've been following a rotation diet (more on that later) when I think of something I'd like to make I simply find the next time it fits into the rotation, then fill it in.  It makes the planning process much easier, but it has taken time to get into the habit of doing it this way.  Here are some tips for you to get started:
  • Start with only planning dinner.  Planning breakfast and lunch (and snack!) for each day can be way too much for someone adjusting to meal planning.  Wait until you really start to appreciate the benefits of planning before you branch out to other meals.
  • Set aside a specific time each week to do it.  Put it on your chore list for the day, write it in your planner, put a reminder in your phone or computer's calender...  whatever you see being the most effective way to remember each week. 
  • Ask your family to help out.  If each of your children and your husband picks a meal that sounds good each week, that's a few meals you don't have to come up with yourself (bonus points if you can get them to cook once a week, too!).
  • Set yourself up for success.  A pile of printed out, unorganized recipes is NOT the key to meal planning success.  I have a recipe app I absolutely love, and pretty much every recipe I love and use regularly is in it.  I have the app on my computer, my phone, and my ipad (all three is probably overkill, but I REALLY love this app!).  That way no matter where I am I can look up a recipe.  If I'm at the store and need to check an ingredient list, I can.  If I've just sat down on the couch to meal plan my recipes are all right at hand.  And when I find a recipe online or in a magazine I want to try, I just have to click "save recipe!"  Even recipes from blogs can be saved simply by just a few clicks.  I can't recommend this app enough, but it is pricey (for an app, anyway).
  • Get into the habit of quickly glancing at the meal plan every morning and every evening.  This is the primary reason I keep both a paper copy and a copy on the marker board in the kitchen- the kitchen version is right there, and I would have to try to miss it (although it still happens)  That way you can easily see if you need to thaw meat, soak beans, or make any other preparations.
My current system- meal plan on the right, grocery list printed on the back of last week's meal plan, to the left.  Pretty handy system.
Besides simply making life simpler, there's another important reason to meal plan- if you plan your meals ahead, you're far less likely to rely on quick convenience foods or, worse, take out to feed your family, AND you'll save money because you won't run to the store as often or buy things you don't need.

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