I've been meal planning pretty regularly now for about fifteen years. After the initial part of my career which consisted of a lot of coffee, eating out frequently and late night snacking, I started to settle into a routine when I got into management around 2007.
Over the years, as I have taken more steps to improve my healthy eating. As I have gotten into my later 30's, I find it that much more important to eat well. It helps me focus, it allows me an outlet for creativity, and ultimately, it dictates how I look and feel on a regular basis.
For the past year, I cannot call anywhere home, so planning my meals has been brought to an entirely new level. I apply many of my learning lessons here to help others in their daily struggles of meal planning.
Tip #1 - Review Your Current Regime
Whether you are changing the foods that you eat, diversifying your meals, or simply wanting to plan them out more often, you need to first and foremost take stock in what you do right now. This means writing out a list of what you typically eat for your meals, and how often you grocery shop. This allows you to take a bird’s eye view of your current food regime. Are you looking to just change how you eat breakfast? Are you wanting to make better decisions at lunch, or are you looking to expand what you make for dinner? Just like starting a new workout routine or new habit, you can’t go from 0 to 100. Use this time to plan on what meals you want to change, and also what meals you are interested in cooking.
Tip #2 - Build Your Shopping List
This tip probably seems pretty simple. We are going to take it a step further and help you create a template for future trips to the grocery store. Open up your phone, and go to your Notes app for iPhone, this app for Android. Create a note that is for GROCERIES. Then create subtitles: produce, proteins, grains, fats and oils, seasonings, condiments, and extras. From there, add to each part of the list what you need in order to make the new meals that you want. I find this is super helpful in the grocery store to make it easier to find things and not leave you running in circles! It also allows you to get in the habit of using this notes page every time you grocery shop AND for making future lists of meal ideas.
"Create a list of three to four go to meals that can be made any time from your pantry and fridge "
Tip #3 - Book Cooking Times On Your Calendar
So you have gotten all of this delicious food. And yes, NOW it’s time to meal prep! Carve out time the day of or after you shop, and then around 2-3 days later depending on your schedule. Essentially, you want to ensure that you are not only making time for when to create these meals, but also use up the groceries so that nothing (or not as much) goes to waste. How many times in the last have you bought food but never actually cooked it? Be cognizant of that. A few rules of thumb with meat specifically: if you cannot cook within 3 days, simple put it in the freezer. And plan to thaw overnight before you cook it.
Tip #4 - Stock Your Pantry and Fridge With "Go To " Meals
Now that you have been grocery shopping like a pro AND carving out time to make these meals, we are going to take it to another level. There will be days you simply don’t have time to cook, or you don’t make enough for leftovers, etc. Create a list of three to four “go to" meals that can be made any time from your pantry and fridge. For example, on the road our go to meals are ramen that we add bacon bits and an egg to since we always have eggs, along with pasta with butter, capers, lemon juice and canned peas. These are things we always have on hand, and with ingredients that are either from your pantry or things that can be in the fridge for a long time. This allows you the opportunity to plan for when things don’t go correctly. Also keep in mind to make these meals easy to prepare so less than 20 minutes.
Tip #5 - Be Realistic
Meal planning is HARD! Even the most disciplined meal planners I know typically meal prep around 80% of the time. Don’t feel like you have to go to 100%. It will more than likely lead to stress, irritation and a lot of food gone to waste. As outlined above, you can start with just making changes to one meal a day, and go from there.
I hope you found this article helpful! I post meals that I have created on the road several times per week on my Instagram account, so give it a follow if you are looking for meal ideas that are simple, flavorful and made while camping, which means they are definitely transferrable to whatever type of kitchen you may have.