The Ultimate List Of Meal Planning FAQ's

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Meal planning is the road map to success when you're trying to cook more at home whether it be for health reasons, or to save time and money.  By planning out the next week's meals, you reduce the stress surrounding the daily "what's for dinner" questions, can plan healthier meal options, shop for only the items you need as well as ensure a reduction of food being thrown away.

There remains a bit of confusion regarding this simple yet effective system.  Let's just get one thing out of the way that may be a relief to you - there is no perfect system.  There really isn't!  If you've put off starting meal planning because you're waiting for the perfect system, I highly encourage you to instead jump right in and let your system evolve.

related post: 6 Reasons Why You Should Be Meal Planning (or, How We Paid Off Our Debt Using Meal Planning)

Here are a list of questions I've been asked about meal planning:

Wait, what exactly is meal planning?
Meal planning is simply a system of creating a meal plan for an entire week (as opposed to figuring it out each day).  You can meal plan dinners only, or, even more helpful, all 3 meals for the week.

How does that differ from meal prepping?
Meal planning is the actual planning of the weekly meals.  Meal prepping is the act of "prepping" bits of your meals in an effort to save you time during the week.  Think of things like washing and chopping veggies for dinners throughout the week, making salad, making bread dough, mixing up meat marinades, etc.  We aren't talking about hours of time devoted, just 30-60 minutes (more if you have the time and need to do so).  I find it easiest to do this on Sunday evening after dinner and before I've done dishes.  This way, I can wash all of the dishes I've used to prep as well.

Do you need to have a large amount of recipes in order to meal plan?
Nope.  Whatever you normally cook is what you will work with.  Most people recycle the same base recipes every 2-3 weeks.

Do I need to make everything from scratch?
Nope.  Again, whatever you normally cook is what you will work with.  Whether everything is from scratch, some of it is, or none of it is.

My family likes to do take-out sometimes as well as going out to dinner.  Is that a no-no with meal planning?
Absolutely not!  The idea is to plan those outings/ordering rather than default to them when you can't think of anything to make.

If you're trying to save money, not just time, planning will also allow you to adjust the remainder of your weekly meals to lower cost meals in order to balance out the money you'll spend.  For example: think about ways to stretch meat, since meat is expensive (casseroles, pizza, tacos, etc.).  Think about using lower priced and/or in-season veggies and fruit (bananas, carrots, broccoli, etc.).

Do I use meal planning instead of couponing in order to save money?
You certainly can.  But you can also partner them together.  When you plan your weekly meals for your family, you can save money a number of ways:
  • by planning lower cost meals (using lower cost ingredients)
  • by planning to use your leftovers as well all perishable ingredients in your home, before they go bad
  • by planning around what you currently have in your pantry/fridge/freezer
  • by having a grocery list of only items you'll need for the next week
  • by first reviewing your grocery store's sales flyers when planning for the week
  • by creating your week's meals around what you have coupons for
Do I need to batch cook or create freezer meals?
Nope.  Not unless you would like to.  Both of those cooking methods do save time, but it's not a necessity.

What do I do about leftovers?
Part of the beauty of planning is that you can "plan" to use your leftovers either for another dinner or even for lunches.  If your kids aren't thrilled with leftovers, think about ways you can re-serve them so it's not an exact replica.

i.e. serve leftover meat in tortilla shells, make veggies and/or meat/beans into a casserole, serve leftovers as a "party platter", or a buffet where everyone gets to pick things they want from the array.

What's also nice is you can plan a new recipe from time-to-time.  You know all of those recipes you have pinned but never take the time to make?  Now you can do that!  I suggest one new meal every 2 weeks, and it should be on a night where you have a bit more time since you aren't familiar with it.

What if my family likes different things?  My kids like mac & cheese and chicken, but my husband prefers beef & potatoes?
You will still create the same meals you've been creating, unless there's something you're wanting to change.  What meal planning will do is to help you actually plan it, and if you're creating multiple meals, it's even more important to have this system of organization.

What happens if I forget to take out what I was supposed to prepare, or, what if my family doesn't want what I have planned?
This isn't a strict system, it really is best if you can remain flexible.  If you don't, it can become stressful when either of these things happen.  And they will.

You can (and should) pre-plan.  I've done so by creating a "quick meal" list in my list of recipes that I select from.  The key is that the recipes on the quick meal list must be quick to make, and use ingredients I usually have on hand.  (i.e. tacos, breakfast for dinner, spaghetti, fajitas, etc.)

If your family is regularly pushing back against what you've planned, maybe you could incorporate them into the planning?  If you create your meal plans on Friday, for example, give your family a cut off of that morning to make suggestions.

I hope this helps answer some of the questions you may have regarding meal planning.  If not, I would love for you to leave questions here so that I can answer them.  If you currently meal plan, do you have any ideas or tips you can share that may help those just starting out?

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