My Meal Plan Alternative was originally posted in January 2017. Since then, I’ve had many questions about how exactly to fit this into everyday life. (Spoiler alert: It’s super easy!) So I decided to update the original post with more details and answer all of your questions here. If meal planning hasn’t worked for you in the past, the meal plan alternative is exactly what you need.
THE MEAL PLAN ALTERNATIVE
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Do you really like the idea of meal planning, but struggle to actually implement it in your everyday life?
Do you want to stop deciding at the last minute what you’re going to feed your family tonight? Would you like to be able to go shopping once a week and get everything that you need?
That’s exactly how I felt, too. I wanted less stressful meals and easier shopping.
I tried traditional meal planning more times than I can even tell you and it just did not work for me.
I didn’t want to decide on Sunday what we’d be eating for dinner on Friday night. How could possibly want to know what I’d want to eat 6 days ahead of time?!
Everyone was raving about how they were simplifying their lives and saving tons of money by implementing a simple meal plan. I wanted that. I wanted to save money. I wanted to simplify meal times. Who doesn’t want those things?
So I’d try meal planning again, make it a week or two, and then fail and scrap the whole thing out of frustration.
Until I finally realized that for me, meal planning is totally overcomplicated.
So, I figured out a way to meal plan that totally works for me 100% of the time. And that’s how the meal plan alternative was born.
My alternative meal planning method works perfectly for my personality. It has all the benefits of meal planning but it also gives me the flexibility I need to actually make it work.
HOW IT WORKS
I spend about 15 minutes on Saturday, Sunday or Monday thinking about meals.
I think about what I’m going to be doing in the coming week. I think about what I have scheduled, if I’ll be having anyone over, or if I’ll have some crazy nights where I won’t be able to cook.
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 certain meal. I keep it very simple and usually 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.
Sidenote: I used to be able to do the thinking of meals part in my head and I’d jot down a shopping list in a note on my phone while simultaneously deciding on meals. Then, I had my son and lost my ability to remember things. (Has this happened to anyone else?) I can’t plan meals in my head anymore. I started needing to write a few things down. So I created these Meal Plan Alternative Printables to keep my ideas organized. They’re super straightforward, easy to use, and pretty – because we’re so much more likely to actually use something if it’s pretty!
This is how it looks in action:
I start with 2-3 simple (but usually 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.
Leftover tip: Plan to use your leftovers to make a new meal. For example, if I make
a pork roast in the crockpot for dinner one night, I can use the leftovers to make pork fried rice the following night. It’s easy to make because the pork is already made. And it has a completely different taste so it’s not boring.
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. If you do, just cross it off your list.
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.
START YOUR SIMPLE MEAL PLAN
The meal plan alternative is a flexible solution for your meal planning struggles. It allows you the freedom to eat what you are in the mood for and change your mind about when you’d like to eat each meal. If meal planning hasn’t worked for you, give this meal plan alternative a try!
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