It is possible to get all of the benefits of meal planning without having to decide a week ahead of time what you’re going to eat each day. The secret is the Meal Plan Alternative. And if meal planning hasn’t worked for you, the Meal Plan Alternative might be exactly what you need.
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For years, I’ve wanted to be a great meal planner. I wanted all the benefits of meal planning for my family. I’ve written so many meal plans over the years. I’ve used fancy notebooks and pretty printables. I’ve made my shopping list and bought all the groceries I’d need for my plan. But I just can’t make it through a full week of a meal plan.
Actually, a few times I unhappily did make it through one week. But I’ve never completed a meal plan two weeks in a row. Meal planning just isn’t sustainable for me.
I don’t like having to decide on Sunday morning what I’m going to eat for dinner on Friday night. Instead, I like to be able to choose a meal that I feel like eating on whichever day I feel like eating it.
The Benefits of Meal Planning
There are many benefits of meal planning. This is why I kept trying to do it despite my failures.
Some of the possible benefits of meal planning are:
- Saving money – because you’re only buying what you need
- Less waste – because you’re using all the food you buy
- Less stress – because you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to make or getting what you need
- Eating healthy – making meals at home is much healthier than eating out or convenience meals
- It’s ridgid
- You have to decide a week ahead of time what you’re going to eat
- It’s hard to stick to
The Alternative Meal Plan
So, how can we get all those benefits of meal planning without having to meal plan? The answer is the Meal Plan Alternative.
I tend to “plan” this way mostly just by thinking about it, without writing anything down. In the beginning, I did jot a few notes on post-its. If it helps you, make a few notes as you think. It’s not necessary but if it helps you, that’s great.
Instead of planning exactly what I’ll eat at which meal each day, I think about the week as a whole. I decide that sometime during the week I’d like to eat a meal. I keep it very simple and repeat the same meal a few times.
Repeating meals is smart! It ensures that leftovers will be eaten and all ingredients will be used. It also means that you can have leftovers for dinner one or two nights a week and that will save you a ton of cooking and clean-up time.
I also create my shopping list as I’m thinking about what I want for the week.
This is how it looks in action:
I start with 2-3 simple (but healthy) breakfast ideas.
Here are some examples of breakfasts I like to choose:
- Scrambled eggs and toast
You can choose anything that you like. I strongly recommend that you keep it simple, unless you find yourself with lots of time in the morning.
I come up with 2-3 ideas for lunches as well. Almost every week, I have the same two choices for lunch: leftovers (dinner, or even breakfast) or salad. This keeps things super easy for me and keeps prep time to a minimum.
I’m not saying that those need to me the ideas you choose for your lunches, Choose things you like and keep those ideas simple.
I do recommend that you incorporate using leftovers. I love leftover lunches! They are the easiest and often the most delicious.
Tip: After I actually cook the meals, I put my leftovers right into several small Pyrex containers so they are easy to grab for lunch.
I come up with 3-4 dinner ideas for a 7-day week. I try to just think of ideas that sound good to me that week. Or if hubby has mentioned something he’s been wanting, I’ll incorporate that. I try to come up with ideas that have overlapping ingredients, so again nothing gets wasted.
Because I’m only planning 3-4 dinners for 7 days, that also means that some nights will be “easy dinners”, for example leftovers. Have you noticed I love leftovers?! Also, super simple dinners like scrambled eggs, grilled cheese or soup can fill in those unplanned days.
This works really well for me because although I do like to cook, I don’t like doing it every single day. I think that for most of us life is busy and we need to find a middle ground. For me, that’s what this meal plan alternative provides.
Make your shopping list as you decide on your meals. After you make your list, I recommend that look around your kitchen and see if you already have any of the ingredients you listed. Cross it off your list if you already have it.
Here’s the key
I never assign a specific meal to a specific day of the week. I never force myself to eat something I don’t feel like eating just because I planned to eat it that day. I do try to eat fish shortly after I buy it. But if I really don’t feel like it, it goes in the freezer.
I like this alternative to meal planning because it gives me the right amount of structure and the right amount of flexibility. Also, I like being able to decide in the morning what I’m going to eat that day instead of deciding a week ahead of time.
If meal planning hasn’t worked for you, give this meal plan alternative a try!
How to do you plan your meals? Let us know in the comments below!
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