How to Make a Meal Plan and Actually Stick to It
Meal planning is a brilliant way to save money, but it only works if you can actually stick to it. If you’re brand new to the whole concept and need a little help with follow through, read on for tips that will really help. Don’t forget to grab my free meal planning printable before you leave! It will help you with tip #3.
Your meal plan doesn’t start with a calendar, but rather with a list. Three, actually. On the first list, write down everything you can think of that your family enjoys eating. Add it all, from pancakes to lasagna. It will really help you when you start the second step.
On the second list, jot down individual likes & dislikes. For example, if your son despises broccoli or garlic, jot them down under his name. If, on the other hand, you adore these things, write them down under your name.
The final list should be full of your healthy meal planning goals. Want to eat more fiber? Add that to the list? Trying to lose weight? Add it to the list. Thinking about adding in some vegan meals? You know what to do: add it to that list.
Set reasonable meal expectations
Many meal plans fail right out of the starting gate because of the “Pinterest effect.” Anyone who has ever browsed Pinterest knows how easy it is to load up their food boards with gorgeous yet complicated recipe ideas. If you’re an advanced chef with hours of extra time on your hands every day, by all means, go for the complex. On the other hand, if you’re a busy mom with so-so cooking skills, filling your calendar with complicated dinner ideas will make it much harder to stick to a meal plan.
Use those lists you made in the first step to find some easy starter recipes. Make sure you’re paying attention to the ingredients. You don’t want to choose the ultimate lasagna recipe only to find that it’s loaded with ingredients that half your family won’t eat. Bookmark the recipes you’d like to try or create a new meal planning board on Pinterest. You’ll need them for the next step.
Fill in every single day of your meal planning calendar
Grab your free meal planning printable and start loading in all of those ideas you came up with in the first two steps. Make sure you add something to every single day of the month, even if you know you’ll be eating leftovers or going out for pizza once a week.
Planning something for every day allows you to ditch a recipe that you’re just not feeling and fill in the blank with one from pizza or leftover night. It also gives you a little wiggle room for those times when you discover you’re missing a key ingredient for the recipe on the evening’s agenda. The last thing you want to do is run to the store while you’re hungry to grab that ingredient. That path just leads to madness and impulse shopping.
Give yourself permission to veer from the plan, but not too far
Remind yourself that a meal plan is just that: a plan. It’s not written in stone. If you have grilled chicken written down for Monday but your family is really in the mood for soup, go ahead and have the soup. The goal is to eat healthier and save money, not to feel trapped by a calendar. The moment a meal plan starts to feel like a demand rather than a helpful guideline is the moment that it starts to fall apart.
At the same time, you don’t want to veer so far off the path that you’re throwing out the entire plan. Decide how many nights you can feasibly afford to eat out or grab convenience food and make a note of it on your plan. If you know your budget allows for three take-out nights a month, write down “take out” three times at the top of your meal planning calendar. When you order take out, cross one off the list. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
Reward-based training isn’t just for toddlers and dogs, it’s perfect for adults, too. Turning meal planning into a game or a challenge gives you more incentive to make it work. If your goal is to save money, set your budget then try to beat it. Add the extra savings into a jar and use it for something awesome that your whole family will love. Give yourself a monthly reward or roll the money over each month to save up for a big purchase.
Sticking to a meal plan can be a challenge at first, but soon it will become second nature. Just make sure you update your plan each month as you discover new favorites. Within a few months, you’ll have that calendar loaded with delicious meals that your whole family adores.
Enjoy my FREE Meal Plan Printable! Download PDF HERE