I’m here to prove that meal planning does NOT have to be complicated or daunting. It might even make your life EASIER. I present to you:
The Imperfectly Balanced Meal Planning Guide.
Do you have a meal planning system you use? If not, I highly suggest implementing one. I have been meal planning for years, and I honestly can’t imagine my life without it. I feel like meal planning gets a bad rap. It seems to be a love/hate situation for most. Or a ‘completely avoid it because it’s too overwhelming to even get started’ type of situation. However, if you use my meal planning system, I can guarantee success!
When the hubby and I first got married, we literally went to the store once a month. We would just randomly buy things. This worked okay at first. BUT, then we started adding kids to the mix and surviving on only one salary. We needed a plan.
I’ve always been a tad Type A (okay, okay. A LOT Type A) so meal planning kind of comes naturally to me (and a little bit fun…I know, nerd alert). HOWEVER, in my experience, finding the system that works best for you is trial and error. I have tried about a thousand different planners and systems.
Finally, I just decided to create my own (which has also been tweaked and adapted over the years, and I am sure will continue to be tweaked as we enter different seasons of life).
In order for a meal plan to work you have to do several things:
- Take some time each week (this time changes for me every week, but I aim for Friday or Saturday) to sit down and choose meals you want for the coming week and prepare a grocery list. I try to have my calendar nearby because daily activities DEFINITELY affect what we will be eating. This does not have to take a long time. It normally takes me about 30 minutes or so.
- BE FLEXIBLE. Some weeks your plan will work perfect and others you will have leftovers or uneaten meals. Things come up, recipes don’t work out, you forgot an ingredient, the family wants to have dinner etc. It’s okay if you miss a meal you planned, just push it to another day. You might even get a head start on the following week!
- Keep it simple. I try to do easy meals during the week. Saturday is my day to try out “fancier” recipes. Mainly, because I have more time and the hubby is home to help with the kiddos.
- Oh, and online grocery shopping is a GAME CHANGER. Thanks to stores like Kroger and Walmart (I know for a fact both of these stores have promos for new customers…and no, I don’t make a commission!), I can plan AND shop all during the same time frame. So, about 30 minutes to one hour a week to plan and grocery shop. WIN. Instacart is also amazing, but the fees/tips can add up. Walmart doesn’t charge a fee (but you have to have a $30 minimum purchase), and they have an app that makes it even more convenient. Plus, from what I have seen they have really upped their organic/natural foods game. Another option is Thrive Market. I have used it several times and love it! Tons of affordable, organic and non-GMO options and it is delivered straight to your door.
**The following links are affiliate/referral links. I may make a small fee if you order through my links. See my affiliate disclosure.**
Walmart: Use this link to get $10 off your first purchase.
Thrive Market: Get an extra 25% off your first order with this link.
So, with those things in mind, here is my process for meal planning.
Make sure to sit down once a week to choose meals and make a grocery list.
It does not matter what day you do this. If you prefer shopping on Mondays, do your planning Saturday or Sunday. Friday shopper? Plan on Wednesday or Thursday. The point is to be prepared when you go to the grocery store. Your wallet will thank you and there will be much less waste during the week.
Plan for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, AND SNACKS.
I typically choose one or two different breakfast items: smoothie, overnight oats, pancakes, muffins, breakfast casseroles etc. If your mornings are hectic, choose breakfasts that can be prepared ahead so all you have to do is grab and eat. Overnight oats are perfect for this. Some other favorites include:
I typically do the same for lunches. I TRY to choose things that can be prepared ahead of time, but it doesn’t always happen. PS: I don’t normally bulk meal prep. It takes too much time, and I just don’t like it. With that being said, I do try to prep breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I just do it as needed through the week. I will say, though, if you are busy during the week (who isn’t!), meal prep really does help with staying on track and time. It’s a lot easier to eat healthy throughout the week when you have something ready to go. Less temptation to grab unhealthy convenience foods. Sometimes, I just roast some chicken, and then I have a protein option for wraps or salads throughout the week. I recently accidentally bought about a million pounds of chicken thighs (I might be exaggerating a little bit). So, I used what I needed for our dinner and then while we were eating, bathing, etc., I roasted the rest of the chicken for lunches. Easy AND didn’t take any extra time. My Ranch Chicken Salad is an awesome lunch idea. Some other favorites:
I plan for dinners Monday-Friday. Friday is easy because we always have pizza! I leave Saturday open unless I have a meal I know for sure I want to cook. Sometimes, we have uneaten meals that need to be cooked and sometimes we decide to get take out. We also really like grilling so we might go pick out fresh meat on Saturday to throw on the grill. On Sundays, we eat dinner at my parent’s house. On top of that, I look at our calendar for the week and plan dinners accordingly. For example, I have a girls’ night every other week so I typically don’t cook on those nights (unless I’m hosting!), but I do try to make sure there is something for the hubby and kids to eat. Some of our go-to dinners include:
Beef Tostados (the taco meat recipe is the best EVER and can be used any way you want: salads, tacos etc!)
Last but not least, I find it super helpful to plan ahead for snacks. I get the munchies in the afternoon so when I have snacks planned, I tend to graze less. I keep it simple here: muffins, protein bars (I love RX Bars and Tone It Up Bars), popcorn, apples, sometimes I make chia pudding. We also love:
Tips and Tricks
- Make this work for you. Really think about your lifestyle and your weekly meal needs and go from there. If your evenings are hectic, choose simple and easy meals like my One Pot Chicken Sausage and Broccoli.
- Not to beat a dead horse, BUT keep it simple and easy.
- Be specific when jotting down meals. It is easier to follow through when you have a recipe planned out. For example, plan for Tomato Soup, not just soup.
- Choose meals with similar ingredients so you have less waste. Plus, this helps save some MONEY. For example, most recipes call for a small amount of fresh herbs and there is always some leftover. So, choose a couple of meals that would use that same ingredient.
- Add ingredients to your grocery list as you run out during the week. I just tell Alexa ( LOVE my Echo Dot!!) to add it to my list! Literally, I just say, “Alexa, add (insert ingredient) to my grocery list.” OBSESSED. Or keep a notepad in the kitchen to quickly jot down ingredients. Then while meal planning, do one last inventory of things you may have run out of and add to your list.
- Salads are super easy to throw together for lunches. Layer your dressing, protein, veggies, and then lettuce in a mason jar. Assembling them in this order helps avoid sogginess. Check out my Instagram highlight reel for an example!
- Pinterest is LOADED with any meal ideas you could possibly ever want! Check out my page for some ideas. I have an entire board devoted to meal prep.
To help you get started, click the image below to get the MEAL PLANNER that I personally use every week PLUS a few more goodies. Print off the planner and grocery list each week and hang it on your fridge. I can promise you will have meal planning success if you follow this system!
**BONUS OFFER** If you just really aren’t into meal planning and you would like to outsource this chore, I offer a CUSTOM Meal Planning Service. I will do all the work for you, you just have to shop and cook! Learn more by clicking the image below.
I really hope this guide helps you have meal planning success! Tag me @imperfectlybalancedsara and use #imperfectlybalancedmealplanning if you use this guide to help you plan. What are your favorite ways to meal plan? Favorite meals? I’d love to know!