Simple meal planning is totally achievable if you know what to look for. These tips will help you simplify your whole meal planning process, allowing you to get it done more quickly and with less stress!
This will help guide your decisions as well as simplify things so that it doesn’t take up too much time or effort on your end. One way to do this is by creating meal plans ahead of time which will give you a good idea of what ingredients you need (and any other supplies
If you’re new to meal planning it can seem like a daunting task! I think that’s because most of the people who teach meal planning are natural planners. They thrive off planning and love to know every detail. But for those of us who aren’t naturally like that, this is extremely daunting!
But if you cut through all the unnecessary details and get to the core of meal planning, it’s actually quite simple! All you need to do is select a few meals to make for the week and make sure you have the groceries on hand to make them!
Here are some tips for simplifying your meal plan.
Simple Meal Planning Tips
Don’t Plan Every Meal in Detail
I don’t find it that useful to plan specific meals for specific days of the week. I prefer to think of my meals in terms of categories like breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks instead.
Don’t be afraid to include undefined variables like “takeout night” or “freezer meal night”.
Don’t bother planning breakfasts, snacks, or lunches. Just make sure you have a few options on hand at any time of day because eating what feels right in the moment is key!
For lunch, just eat leftovers, or one of a few different lunch options that are always on hand.
Don’t worry about assigning specific meals to specific days of the week (unless you want to!). Just stick with a simple weekly meal plan.
Busy vs Quiet Days
Be aware of what activities you have planned throughout the week. If you have soccer practice on Thursdays and need a quick meal, make sure there is something quick or premade on your simple weekly meal plan.
It’s tough juggling work life and family responsibilities sometimes especially when we feel spread thin all week long! There may come times where cooking feels almost impossible. Maybe you just need to plan for takeout on that night. It’s totally ok to include takeout on your meal plan if you already know in advance that there isn’t time to cook.
If you’re struggling with meal time most nights of the week because of how full your schedule is, consider making some changes so that you can still take care of yourself and cook healthy meals more often than not.
Create a Master List of Meal Ideas
Start by creating a list of simple meal ideas to inspire your meal plan. You don’t need to have a lot of ideas to start with, but make sure there are at least 10 meal ideas you know your family likes.
Then when you sit down to create your simple meal plan, refer to the list of meal ideas and choose what you’re going to make!
This saves SOO much time and mental energy compared to trying to think of meal ideas from memory or scanning Pinterest every week! Plus it saves a ton of time when you’re cooking too, because you are making meals you’re already familiar with rather than having to constantly read and reread a new recipe to make sure you’re doing it right.
If you want to start from a list of simple meals instead of starting from scratch, I highly recommend you check out the Minimalist Meal Planning Workbook.
It has a pre-made list of meal ideas with space to fill in your own so you’re not starting from scratch staring at a blank page. The workbook actually walks you through a simple step-by-step process to learn how to completely simplify meal planning so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming!
The Minimalist Meal Planning Workbook completely simplifies meal planning and takes you step-by-step through the process so you can stick with it once and for all!
Limit the Number of New Recipes
Incorporate new recipes you want to try by simply adding the recipe to your meal plan for the week. Keep it simple and include no more than one or two new recipes a week to avoid overwhelming yourself without getting bored of eating the same things week after week.
If you like a new recipe, add it to your list of meal ideas so that you’ll remember it for future meal plans!
Also try to only use a max of one recipe per meal. That means making simple side dishes and garnishes that don’t require recipes, like steamed carrots with fresh dill or parsley.
Choose Simple Recipes
When you do plan to use a recipe, use ones you already know well, or that are simple.
Some examples of simple recipes would be recipes with 10 ingredients or less, are no more than about 5 steps, and don’t take very long to cook.
Search for recipes online using keywords like “simple”, “1-pot”, “easy”, “10 ingredients or less”, “sheet pan”, “30 minute” to find recipes that won’t be complicated!
Cook Meals That Don’t Need Recipes
Make sure to include some meals that are so simple you don’t even actually need a recipe for it!
While there is definitely a time and place for trying new things and experimenting in the kitchen, keep the majority of your everyday meals simple to avoid overwhelm and burnout.
For example, most people can easily make sandwiches, soups, salads, stir frys, ‘meat and potatoes’ type meals, or breakfast meals without a recipe! As your cooking skills get better over time, you’ll be able to create even more meals without a recipe.
Plan for Leftovers
Make your life easier by making a bigger batch of dinner once or twice per week. Eat some that night and the next day, then freeze extra portions for another night later in the month.
When you’re creating your simple meal plan, just write ‘leftovers’ or ‘freezer meal’. Having leftovers is a great option for lunches or busy weeknights! Reheat on busy nights to enjoy in minutes rather than hours.
Plus planning for leftovers reduces the number of times you need to cook and clean each week. Cook once, eat twice (or more!).
Many meals even taste better as leftovers because the flavors have had more time to blend. I like soups, chili, curry, & tomato sauce better as leftovers for this reason!
Planned leftovers is actually a form of meal prepping which is next on the list of my simple meal planning tips.
Meal & Food Prep
Meal prep is cooking complete meals in advance while food prep is like preparing individual ingredients so that they’re ready to eat or cook.
If you’re not a huge fan of leftovers, food prep might be the best option for you. Otherwise, I say incorporate both! Some examples of meal prep and food prep
- planned leftovers
- marinating meat, then freezing it
- making freezer meals like “slow cooker dump meals”
- chopping vegetables & fruit
- soaking dried beans
Prep some foods when you get home from the grocery store. I like to take a package of chicken pieces and divide it into bags. Each one gets a different marinade, then is frozen. Take it out of the freezer and leave in the fridge overnight and it should be thawed by the time supper is ready to be cooked the next day.
Choose Simple Foods
When you’re trying to simplify meal planning, simplifying your eating is also a good choice. Simplifying your diet can be as easy as choosing to include more foods and recipes with just a few ingredients.
Trying out the latest fad in food seems like it might make cooking easier, but often times these recipes have several difficult-to-find or expensive items that you’ll end up wasting your energy on if they don’t turn out.
Sticking to simple meals and using common pantry staples means there’s less chance of going from dinnertime hero one night to mealtime zero the next due to missing a key ingredient or having a recipe flop!
Pantry & Freezer Meals
With a well stocked pantry and freezer, it’s never too hard to throw together an easy meal because you’ll always have the ingredients for multiple meals on hand.
Make a variety of freezer meals, you can choose which one to reheat the night of.
Plan to Use Up Special Ingredients
Plan meals that contain some similar ingredients within the same week to prevent special ingredients (like fresh herbs) from going bad because they were only used in one meal.
The best way to cook is by making sure all the ingredients are used in at least two of the meals within a given week. Now that might sound a little complicated, but if most of your meals are made up of pantry and freezer ingredients plus versatile fresh foods, there won’t be a lot of thought needed to incorporate the one or two perishable special ingredients throughout the week.
If you know something needs to get used up soon, simply add it to your meal plan for the week combined with ingredients from the pantry or freezer!
Practice Self Compassion
Don’t beat yourself up if your attempt at creating a simple meal plan doesn’t go as planned.
It’s okay to have a few slip-ups when you’re trying something new! You are not a robot and your life doesn’t revolve around food, so don’t put extra pressure on yourself to stick with the meal plan you created. Be flexible!
Being able to recognize when something isn’t worth stressing about is key in maintaining balance between eating healthy without having it take over all aspects of our lives- this means being realistic about what we need from ourselves as well as allowing some flexibility while avoiding rigid planning and expectations which will end up just making us feel worse.
This is one of the main reasons why I’m not a fan of traditional meal planning and why simple meal planning is so much more sustainable!
If this happens to you, don’t fall into the trap of labelling yourself as a failure and using it as an excuse not try again next week (or month!)
If you’d like to follow a step-by-step approach to creating your own simple meal plan, I highly recommend you get the Minimalist Meal Planning Workbook!