Updated: Aug 1, 2018
By now, most of us have heard about the benefits of meal planning. If you live a busy life where you are often going-going-going, want to provide healthy meals for you and your family, AND don’t want to spend your life savings doing it, meal planning is for you.
Seriously, when I finally started really meal planning every week, it changed my life. (Sounds extreme, but it is true.)
The amount of stress that was lifted from my shoulders knowing that no matter how crazy the day got, we would have a healthy meal planned (and prepped - more on that HERE) when we got home.
I think the thing that keeps most people from consistently meal planning and prepping is the belief that it will take up too much time. We are already spending time writing a grocery list, going to the store to get the groceries, and then organizing all of it when we get home. Plus, it can be overwhelming to keep track of all of the items in your kitchen, figure out what meals you want to eat for AN ENTIRE WEEK, and then list the rest of the items you will need to make said meals.
When we first started consistently meal planning, it was a slow burn. Like many things in life, however, once we got into the habit and developed a few tricks here and there, meal planning became just a part of the regular weekly routine and was no longer overwhelming or super time consuming. Plus, we save a ton of money. (But really, like, a TON.)
And let’s face it - we teachers are already spread thin enough, and after a day of teaching, collaborating, communicating, managing, supervising, and all the other -ing’s we do in a day, who wants to stare into their fridge and try to figure out what you’re going to have for dinner?
<<Teacher scans the room as nobody raises their hand…>>
Here are 4 tricks to take the pain out of meal planning…
1. Theme Your Dinners
Just like planning a unit of study or creating a weekly bellwork schedule, themes help us break down the daunting task of creating a calendar.
You know your goal - to plan healthy meals for you and your family.
Staring at a blank calendar for the week can be a bit intimidating, though. (How do I know what to put on each day? What if my plans change during the week? Won’t I get bored making the same recipes over and over?)
Erase your anxiety and put a system in place where you know what to expect without making the exact same meals week after week by theming each night of the week.
Take into account what a normal week looks like in your home and start from there. Here’s what we use in our house:
Monday - Make-Ahead Meals
We are normally pretty pooped on Monday nights and there is just a lot going on at the beginning of the week, so we like to have a meal that has been prepared ahead of time (often a casserole or crockpot) that we just heat up and serve. Plus, the large quantities these meals usually make will be good for later in the week.
Tuesday - Salads/Bowls
In our attempt to eat a clean diet (within reason because tortilla chips are delicious), we like to make a lot of salads and grain bowls. Every week they look similar (base of greens/grains, more veggies, a protein, a dressing, and a few more fun toppings), but we change up the ingredients to keep the spark alive.
Wednesday - Kids’ Choice
Any teacher can tell you that the best way to get students to engage with material is to give them some sort of a buy-in - a reason that it matters to them. In my attempt to engage my kids, get them to actually eat the meals we make (yay picky eaters), and teach them the importance of meal planning and learning to cook, they get a weeknight where they plan the meal. At this current moment in our lives, my son is 5 and my daughter is 2, so really only one kid is participating, but you get the point...
Have we eaten PB&J for dinner a time or two? Yes, yes we have. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it.
Thursday - Leftovers
The beauty of making big batches of food for Monday and Tuesday? Lazy leftovers for Thursday.
Friday - Pizza or Takeout
I LOVE pizza. Like, it’s kind of a problem…
I will say, though, that not all pizzas are made equal, and I greatly prefer homemade pizza to delivery. Trader Joe’s has some great pre-made pizza doughs in their refrigerated aisle for the nights that I don’t see myself making my own dough.
And for those Fridays when we are so tired that we are muscling through until our kids are asleep (7:15 pm) so we can just get into bed already, there’s always takeout. Ain’t no shame.
2. Plan ALL Your Meals
Yes, dinner is a big one, but if I’m honest, breakfast and lunch are waaaaayyyyy more important when it comes to the ease and flow of my week. Scrambling around my kitchen in the morning to feed myself and my kids, all the while trying to pack lunches is my own special brand of torture and it makes me frazzled and mean for the start of my day.
Planning and prepping my breakfasts and lunches is PARAMOUNT to giving myself weekday mornings that don’t make me spontaneously cry or sweat profusely before the hour of 6:30 am.
Breakfasts are usually prepared on Saturday or Sunday and then stored in the fridge or freezer.
Lunches are generally leftovers from the night before or salads/sandwiches that we made ahead of time.
3. Use a Pad/Template That Works for You
We use THIS PAD for our meal planning. I like it because it gives me enough space to actually write (my handwriting is giant) and it just sticks on our fridge with a magnet.
4. Don’t Forget Snacks!
Ok, so you’ve planned breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all five days of the week. You’re done, right?
Don’t forget about the hours between those meals. Teachers often eat breakfast super stinking early in the morning because we have to be in our classrooms well before students arrive, and those are some looooooong hours until the bell rings for lunch.
Instead of just grabbing a few extra things to have for snacks during the day, I like to plan out a few healthy snack options for the week - this way I’m less likely to be trolling the admin office for leftover Halloween candy, and I won’t get sick of having the same bag of crackers every day.
There you have it - my Teacher’s Guide to Meal Planning!
I know this is going to change your lives as much as it changed mine, and I can’t wait to hear about the tricks and tips all of you come up with along the way! Please share them in the comments below so we can all work smarter, not harder!