As a dietitian, I find people commonly ask me for meal plans or menus. Often the assumption is that to eat well, one must sit down every week or month and plan out all their meals. I disagree. If you find it’s helpful to have an idea of what you are making for dinner most nights, try this method of meal planning that is a little more flexible and perhaps more realistic:
- Start with a chalk board or large sheet of paper on your fridge broken down into a few categories, based on what you need to plan. Ex. starch ideas, protein foods, vegetable ideas, fruit/dessert ideas, snacks, bagged lunches, breakfast ideas, etc….
- Prioritize – only focus on planning the meals (or food groups) you struggle with the most. Bagged lunches might be tougher than breakfast, vegetable ideas might stump you more than starch ideas. Don’t plan everything you’ll eat.
- Start with a family brainstorming session if you are cooking for more than one. Ask family members to contribute ideas so you don’t feel so pressured to come up with 21 fabulous ideas/week.
- Use grocery store sales to force variety in your planning. Identify a sale item to purchase and search online for a new recipe that includes that ingredient. If it goes over with flying colors, add that to your list of meal ideas.
- Plan on the fly – especially when you are hungry. When we are hungry, it’s easy to think of things we’d like to eat. Perhaps on the drive home from work, reflect on what you’d love to eat for dinner. You probably won’t be able to make that food that evening but the ideas you generate on the drive home should all be included on your list of meals/recipes to make.
- Before grocery shopping, check your chalkboard/list on the fridge and pick 2 or 3 things you’ll prepare that week. Make a few servings so you can get multiple meals out of that item (or freeze some) and yes, it’s OK to eat the same thing a few days in a row.
What methods do you use for generating meal ideas?