Every day, we are faced with the important task to provide meals for our families but without good meal planning principles we are just reacting, as if we were experiencing this daily chore for the first time.
People who are good at meal preparation operate by principles.
Meal planning principles are the fundamentals of meal planning that get you what you need, a set of ideas on how you can get better at planning your meals - they act as guidelines but you can also use them as inspiration or as a way to focus.
So, what are those meal planning principles?
It’s up to you to decide which are the most valuable and applicable.
Let’s see more in details each of them with some practical examples you can follow.
A good meal planning should be oriented towards goals, this is one of the foundations of meal planning.
Goals are the results you want to get out of your planning.
Are you trying to simplify meal preparation? Avoid meal repetition? Improve cooking skills? Or is your goal oriented towards cost savings and reducing waste?
Goals, as a principle of meal planning, answers to the question “why are you planning your meals for?”
For a meal plan to be practical and work for you it has to help you achieve your goals, this obvious but basic idea will help you as a guide when planning your meals.
Goals can change, you can introduce new goals as you need.
For example, if you have the goals of getting better at cooking and having a broader repertoire of meals you can plan a new recipe every month, this planning allows you set the best time when you can try and learn those new recipes.
One more example, if your goal is being more efficient, then you can achieve this by having organised grocery lists, simple to follow recipes and a list of easy-to-make but healthy food.
Overtime you will get so used to plan your meals with a goal in mind that it won’t take much time at all, and you will adopt this goal oriented principle in your meal planning.
This is one of our favourite meal planning principles, because it involves members of our families.
This principle is the basis for creating a meal plan that our family will be satisfied with. It helps us gather our family preferences and include these preferences in our meal plans.
If you were to use co-creation as one of your meal planning principles, it’s important that your family members understand what your goals are (the first principle above) so they can all come up with options in alignment with those goals.
Co-creation does not mean that our family members dictate what they want to eat, co-creating the meal plan means that family members provide inputs and contribute, so you can choose the best options and contributions and incorporate them in your meal plan.
An example on how you can adopt co-creation as your meal planning principle could be that every week you can suggest a range of meal options your family can choose from.
Another example can be as simple as letting them decide when in the week they want to have a specific meal.
Those simple practices helps you engage your family in meal planning and reduce the risk of preparing a meal they may not like.
Simplicity can mean a lot of different things to different people, but in the context of meal planning simplicity is an essential part.
By simplicity we mean choosing a method that makes all the intricates and time consuming aspects of meal preparation simple for you.
It is not about mastering all the cooking and shopping techniques, it is about the ease of following proven meal planning practices, like a quick way to discover new meals, a simple way to select meals based on your preference and level of cooking skills, a fast way to create grocery list based on number of serving and household size.
The interesting thing about this principle is that simplicity is not easy to achieve, needless to say widely adopted.
How many of us have been guilty of collecting pages and pages of recipes or recipes books we hardly use, or browsing through endless pages online scrambling for recipes ideas.
All that is widely available but it does not mean it make things simpler for us.
Simplicity is much about getting rid out of practices that do not work or in other words reducing complexity when planning meals.
An example of simplicity is, creating a list of favourites or getting suggestions of meals you can prepare based on ingredients you like.
Nowadays, you can use a simple online planning service that does all this for you.
Meal planning is not rigid, for the contrary it has its foundations in alternatives.
Are you cooking this week the same meal that you cook one or two weeks ago? If you answered yes, you are not alone.
Most parents have an average of 9 meals they rely on to feed their families, this is normal, but if you want to enjoy the benefit of having food variety you need to start embracing alternatives as a principle in your meal plans.
Parents who practice meal planning have learned to incorporate alternatives in their meals, allowing themselves to intentionally choose the meals that are best for their family even though in the short term this would mean having to learn a new recipe now and then.
But the small effort you could put in learning a new recipe is worth it.
So, how do we do this?
Start simple, for example, use an ingredient your family likes and see what other meals you can create with that ingredient as the main ingredient.
Let’s say your family likes broccoli, you can use broccoli as main ingredient in meals like broccoli cream soup, meat and broccoli stir fry, broccoli and feta cheese salad.
Each family is unique, so you choose what you think your family will like but also if it is a recipe you can try without investing too much time.
As you can see, introducing the principle of alternative in your meal planning will give you the benefits of having a variety of well-balanced food but also avoid boredom.
A plan is useless without execution. There is no point in planning something if we are not going to execute on it.
Execution and consistency are key to be successful in planning your meals, it may take you few weeks to gain consistency, but do not postpone it. Start small, see what works and what doesn’t, find a simple meal planning method that works for you, but do not stop.
Ok, our own experience tell us this is why most parents do not fully experience the benefits of meal planning. They stopped too early, but if they would have tried for at least few weeks, the results would have been positive.
So, what do you do to ensure you stick to meal planning.
Few tips here:
Small, few and simple steps will make it easier for you to make it happen, you will soon notice that some of those steps will be on autopilot.
Learning is fundamental to be successful in meal planning.
Allow for flexibility to try different aspects of meal planning that did not go well at the first or second time. Learning start with a mindset where you give you permission to “fail” few times.
When you adopt learning as a principle of meal planning you basically are adopting a mindset to see retrospectively how your meal plan went for the week and adjust aspects that did not work as you expected and keep repeating the things that work well for you.
Experiment to find out what is the best approach of planning that works for you.
For example you can plan once a week for just three days in the week, see how does that compare to weeks where you did not have any plan at all, then move to plan five days a week, see how you adapt to this, let your learning be self-paced.