Here are five mistakes to avoid when meal planning–and what do to instead to have success!
This post was written in partnership with Healthy Family Project.
Is meal planning something that sounds good in theory? Something you’ve dabbled with but always ditched? Something you figure is better suited to other, more organized moms–the kind with color-coded calendars and label makers?
I get it. Before I found a system that clicked, I tried and failed at meal planning many times. Looking back, I realize I made a few key errors that sabotaged my good intentions.
5 Meal Planning Mistakes
Mistake #1: Ignoring your calendar.
Ever wondered why you slated a complicated, time-intensive recipe on the same evening as the hours-long elementary school talent show? I have! So I always start with the calendar now. Any meal plan can look good on paper, but it only works if it fits your family’s day-to-day life.
Instead: Have your calendar front and center when sketching out the week. Knowing what each day holds tells you what kind of meals are possible. Leisurely Sunday? That’s a good time for a big breakfast and a low-and-slow pot roast for dinner. Late work meeting + piano lessons? Sounds like a good night for take-out or reheating leftovers.
Mistake #2: Not using what you have already.
Once you know what type of meals works for each day, turn at what you have on hand first to build them. Cramming new groceries into an already over-full pantry and discovering (expensive) forgotten items in the depths of the fridge can make you feel like disorganized and wasteful–and as a source of greenhouse gas, food waste is bad for the planet too.
Instead: As you’re building your meal plan, center your meals around the items you have in stock first, then fill in your grocery list with supporting ingredients. And if you’re got a random assortment of odds and ends, plan a Snack Plate Dinner to clear out your fridge.
Mistake #3: Trying to do it all.
No need to be an overachiever here. Nobody earns a medal for planning out every meal or cooking seven nights a week. And remember that meal plans get derailed by sick kids, last-minute invitations, and bad days. That’s just life.
Instead: Where’s your pain point? If it’s dinner, let breakfast and lunch go and only sketch out your dinners each week. If lunches have you stumped, focus on those instead. And feel free to start by planning just a couple each week and build on that success. When your meal plan goes off the rails, roll with it, knowing you can pick it back up tomorrow.
Mistake #4: Following someone else’s plan.
We’ve all seen meal plans with seven nutritionally-balanced, gastronomically-inspired dinners, and it sounds like a dream come true. Yes, recipe inspiration is great. But don’t expect that someone else’s detailed plan is going to work for your life–or that your family will actually like all the recipes on it.
Instead: Gather recipe ideas (who doesn’t need something new in the rotation?) but don’t forget about the meals your family loves already. There’s no shame in putting familiar favorites on weekly repeat.
Mistake #5: Starting from scratch every week.
Staring at a blank page, trying to conjure up seven days of meals can feel overwhelming. So you’re more likely to skip the whole thing in favor of winging it.
Instead: Start your meal plan by dropping a few “Dinner Anchors” into your week. Those are no-brainer, easy-peasy meals like “Leftovers”, “Take-Out”, “Breakfast For Dinner”, or my personal favorite “Scrounge Night”, which is when we pull things out of the fridge and everyone eats something a little different. Nearly every Friday night is Scrounge Night around here!
Take My Free Dinner Planning Challenge
If figuring out dinner is your least favorite part of the day, you’re invited to take my free 5-day Dinner Planning Challenge. We’ll focus on building some core skills that help to crack the code of dinner planning. You’ll finish with a one-week dinner plan and a strategy to keep going! SIGN UP HERE.
About my partner: Healthy Family Project
I currently serve as the official dietitian for Healthy Family Project, a cause marketing organization dedicated to creating a healthier generation. Since their start in 2002 by Shuman Farms, they’ve raised more than $7 million to benefit children and families. They work closely with Feeding America and other charities that benefit children and families nationwide.
I wrote this post as part of their annual Mission for Nutrition campaign, which was created to help families eat healthier and understand the power of meal planning. You can get their free meal planning e-cookbook here, with 6 easy meal prep recipes and a shopping list. You can also sign up for free virtual cooking classes with registered dietitians around the country.