Pre-schooler Mum, Preschooler's Mamma Blogs

The Why’s and How’s of Meal Planning (Plus a Free Printable)

As the Chief Food Organizer for our family, I’m constantly making mental notes. What groceries are left in the pantry? Which vegetables are in the fridge? Which need to be used up immediately? What should I make for lunch? Dinner? Breakfast? Snacks? When do I shop next? What goes on the shopping list? Sometimes it feels like all I do is eat food, or think about it.

It’s a massive amount of mind space for something to take up! So when I take all those thoughts from my head and put them down somewhere, I can feel my head letting out a huge whoooooosh of relief. Sometimes, I fill an Excel sheet with notes or send an email to myself. At other times, I grab a post-it and scribble on it. When I’m feeling ultra-organized, I head to the laminated list on our fridge and fill it in. No matter how I put down the information, seeing it in front of me helps me figure out what’s going on more easily than if I let it go around my head in circles.

Fridge groceries.jpg

Over time, I’ve figured out that the easiest place for me to start is by listing what’s in the house. I take a stock inventory of the fridge, freezer and pantry, noting what needs to be consumed asap. Then, I list out all the meals we’ll be eating at home till my next visit to the grocery shop. Finally, I jot down what I could make for each meal based on what we have at home.

Being an enthu cutlet, if I see that we have, say, chickpeas at home and write down ‘Chole’ for one meal, I immediately think, ‘Oooh, or how about hummus? Or falafel? Or roasted channa? Or a salad? Or…’ I go ahead and list all the ideas. Ultimately, what I end up making on the day boils down to only one thing: how much time I have, and what my mood’s like. Which brings me to the nice thing about making these lists, which the internet calls ‘Meal Planning’. It’s a plan, but it’s not set in stone. Do whatever works best for you and your family!

HOW DO YOU START?

If you Google meal planning, you’ll see plenty of pretty planners and all kinds of alluring recipes. Before you know it, hours have passed and you’re still browsing. Even if you come up with a fancy-pants list of all the awesome things you’re going to make based on all of that research, guess what? Reality will hit at some point. Your baby will skip a nap, you will have unexpected guests, a ‘foolproof’ recipe will turn out to be false advertising. Basically, you don’t want to rely too much on someone else’s planner. If you want a meal plan to work, it has to be mostly your own.

MealPlanningTake the leap; use the first template you see that lets you customize everything to your requirements. (Psst: I have a free printable that works perfectly for this! Details at the end of this post). You can pick out the best looking template later, once you get into the groove of meal planning itself. Ditto, trying out all the amazing recipes you find online!

WHAT DO YOU PUT IN YOUR PLAN?

Again, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The dosas you typically make for breakfast don’t need to be changed to ‘crepe suzettes’ just because they’re now being noted down in a planner 🙂 Instead, include the familiar recipes which are household hits. If it helps, you could use a master list of all your recipes as a starting point, like Nikita from Being Mamma Bear has, below.

Nikita meal.png

Save easy, quick recipes for weekdays – in our house, that’s flavoured rice varieties, like tomato rice, curry leaf rice, etc; which come together in under half an hour. I always have a bunch of ‘cheats’ handy for snacks too; like makhana, dry fruits, or vegetables I can quickly steam. Finally, remember to cut yourself some slack. Choose a day when you know you’ll have a lot going on, and make a note to order in food, or go out for a meal. That’s a plan too! And then, for variety, choose a weekend meal when you’ve more free time to try out new recipes and experiment at leisure.

ARE THERE ANY RULES?

There really are no hard and fast rules to this. Your plans will vary depending on your household’s tastes, the age of your child(ren), which ingredients are locally available, and more. For instance, I plan 5.5 meals daily because I have a 3 year old at home who eats short meals at regular intervals. (She eats eggs while I don’t, hence the additional .5 meal!)
Meal Planner.png

I keep track of what’s seasonal, and use it as inspiration for what to eat that week. There’s only one rule I have at the back of my head: I make sure I’ve penciled in at least one protein, veg, fruit and fat-source daily, along with the obligatory carbs. I also put down iron-rich food in the first half of the day along with a citrus source, followed by something high in calcium in the second half. This way, our bodies get a better chance to absorb both.

LET’S GET STARTED!

At the end of the day, a meal plan serves its purpose if you say ‘Yes’ to these questions:

  • Did it make you feel less stressed?
  • Did it save you time and money when you were shopping for groceries?
  • Did it help cut down last minute shopping trips and/or eating out?
  • Did it reduce food wastage?

If you’d like to experience these benefits for yourself, here are the free Meal Planning resources I promised you! These printables were designed for the We Are Real Moms Challenge in December 2017 – Reflect, Reset, Recharge.

Click below to download the high resolution, watermark-free printables. These can be printed on A4 sized paper.

Weekly Grocery List Printable

Weekly Menu Printable

If you found this helpful, you may want to read The Lazy Parent’s Tips on Decluttering. There’s a free printable there as well 🙂

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I’m writing a separate piece on how I plan Gulabo’s snackboxes. If you have any questions about meal planning or her snackboxes, leave me a comment or drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

20 thoughts on “The Why’s and How’s of Meal Planning (Plus a Free Printable)”

  1. Very helpful post!! I am generally confused about what to cook in the next meal. These tips and meal planning can get me sorted. Would also like to get the other pantry checklist format that you have shared as a picture.🙈

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    1. Haha, sure. I’ll make one with fonts that are free to use commercially and add it to the next post. This version was for my personal use so it didn’t matter 🙂

      Like

  2. I never tried any planner as my day mostly goes in my work-related activities. Everything just stays in my mind as a plan. But with your post, I feel planners really help. Thank you for sharing about it.

    Like

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