How Can I Decrease Stress Around Meal Planning?
Meals can create a lot of stress. What are you having? Is it healthy? Do you have time to prepare it? If you are not sure about any of these questions, meal planning and prep can be a lifesaver.
The key is to plan meals that fit your lifestyle. There is a way to make it work for you. Spending some time planning out meals and doing some light prep will provide unimaginable benefits in so many areas of your life.
First, figure out where you are starting. It’s hard to know what to change if you don’t have a good analysis of your current situation.
MEAL PLANNING AND PREP QUESTIONS
Take a moment to take inventory of your current situation. What are your biggest obstacles or challenges? Identify where you need more improvement and start there. Is dinner the most stressful? If so, start mapping out some choices. Conquering this area will provide stress reduction and improve meal choices.
Here are some questions to help you assess what areas need the most work:
- Are you planning your meals? Do you have a system down?
- Do you feel grocery shopping is going well?
- Are you doing meal prep? Is this area you might want to add in?
- Is the food you are eating making you feel fueled and healthy?
- Do you feel the food you are eating is tasty? Do you look forward to eating your meals?
- Do you have a system down? Do you have a few recipes? Feeling fueled or hungry or crashed?
- Do you look forward to it? Is it something you want to eat?
- What do you like about them?
- What don’t you like about them?
- Are you snacking?
- When do you snack?
- What are you reaching for?
GET THE MEAL PLAN HABIT TO STICK
Once you have to figure out what area you will start working on, here are some ways to get started with meal planning:
Build a repertoire of go-to, fail-safe recipes. This won’t happen immediately, but you can start by listing some of your family’s favorite dishes as a base for a rotating list of recipes to plug into the meal plan. Some of my favorites to use are sheet pan dinners. They are perfect to feed a crowd or have leftovers. Everything goes on the same pan and you can customize it to everyone’s tastes.
Start a Pinterest account. Add recipes you’d like to try to onboard. Once you have tried them and they work for your family, move them to the meal category – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, etc. Now you don’t have to ask every night what is for dinner.
You have your list of recipes that work and you can include them in your weekly meal plans. This works well if you use an excel sheet as well and title each column with the meal occasion. As recipes/meal ideas work, add them to your list.
Budget for a couple of takeout nights throughout the month. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant dinner every week, but make sure you’re building in a reward system for your work. Or if you love using a meal kit service like Hello Fresh, incorporate it into your plan a few nights a week.
Make the meal plan an actual family affair. You don’t have to do it alone unless you really want to. Have a partner or older child cook at least one meal a week.
Here are some ways you can include the whole family in meal planning:
- At dinner, discuss what you’d like to have next week.
- As you continue to find meals that you like, keep a list. I have an excel spreadsheet with links to recipes so if I need meal planning ideas, I already have a list to choose from.
- Get everyone involved. They can help with the shopping list or meal prep.
- Do an inventory before you shop. Check your cabinets, fridge, and freezers for items you have on hand.
- Post the menu for everyone to see.
- If you have kids and they don’t like something you cook, have one option and only one that is always the standard go-to. For example, if they refuse the meal the option might be a peanut butter sandwich. No extra meal prep and items are on hand.
Here are more tips on dealing with picky eaters:
Be consistent with family meals – time, the place you eat. Model the behavior you’d like your kids to pick up on. Make sure you involve kids in meal prep. If you have a meal prep time set aside, it’s a perfect time to have them do a task. Find age-appropriate tasks like washing produce, mixing something together, getting foods out of the refrigerator, and setting them up on the counter.
Cooking will engage your kids more in the process. A meal a child is involved in making tends to make them be more apt to like the food. It can be hard for them to say they don’t like something they made! You can also take them grocery shopping and let them pick something out. Give guidelines. Instead of saying pick anything out, you might want to direct them to produce
Your responsibility would be to provide the food for the child and then let them work with portions. This allows them to learn to stop eating when they have had enough or if they are hungry to eat a bit more. This will help so they can be an intuitive eater.
Think of your meal planning skill as a skill you are trying to improve. Don’t be discouraged. It takes some time to get into a good pattern but a bit of work upfront will save you a lot of headaches in the long run. Plus, if you are planning healthful meals and snacks it will benefit your health.
What are you waiting for?
Quite simply, once you have established a meal plan routine, you’ll be saving both money and sanity. Meal planning is a constant work in progress, and not every week’s lineup will be a winner.
Check out our recipes that can help get you started and give you some healthy ideas.