6 Common Mistakes When Meal Planning (and how you can avoid them)


You know my love of meal planning.  It has saved us loads of time and money (we paid off our debt thanks to it!) and helps me keep my sanity on busy weeknights.  It's a tool I rely on heavily so I don't have to give a lot of thought to what I'm cooking and prepping for each meal.  I create it on Thursday, shop on Friday or Saturday, and then hang it on the fridge for guidance throughout the next week.

There are 6 mistakes, however, that are quite common for those just starting out.  Mistakes that can be frustrating and often lead to giving up.  I wanted to share those with you today so that you can avoid them.

1. Being Too Ambitious
     Yes, making new recipes is a great way to discover additional family favorites, however, be careful when scheduling how many new recipes to try.  Busy evenings make it difficult to take the time to whip up something new.

     When I first sat down with my "recipes to try" folder I plugged them into 3 days of the week.  And when the first new recipe day came it went ok.  It ended up being a super busy evening, slightly hard to concentrate on an unfamiliar recipe, but it turned out semi-successfully (we didn't care as much for the recipe as we thought we would so it didn't make it to the repeat folder).

     The second new recipe was scheduled for the next evening and before the evening even came I knew it wasn't going to happen.  I fell back onto a quick & easy pantry meal.  I did end up making the third new recipe and learned right then and there to resist scheduling more than one new recipe per week.  In fact I now usually only schedule two per month.

2. Forgetting To Check Your Calendar
     One of the benefits to meal planning is the ability to plan super easy meals on days you know you have very little time.  If you forget to check your family calendar when meal planning, well then, that likely won't happen.  The next thing you know you have a meal that takes 45 minutes to make and you only have 20 minutes to make it in.  Check your calendar when you sit down to plan the week's meals and schedule accordingly.


3. Not Planning For Leftovers
     Whether you love leftovers or hate them, you've got to have a plan for them because tossing them out is just plain wasteful.  Will you take them for lunch?  Will you freeze them for a later meal?  Will you be able to repurpose them? (i.e. cooked chicken breast shredded up and thrown into fajitas or salad or soup) Or will you have an official "leftover night" where everyone gets to select their favorite from the week?

4. Forgetting To Stay Flexible
     You may be saying, but flexibility and meal planning don't go together!  And I would say, oh in fact they do!  There has to be a certain amount of flexibility allowed, otherwise, you'll end up throwing up your hands the first time your family doesn't want what's scheduled.  Or the first time you forget to thaw the chicken.  Or the first time you don't have time (or energy) to cook what's scheduled.
     Flexibility will not only save you from walking away from meal planning altogether, but it can also save you from the dreaded take out or fast food compromise.  In The Ultimate Step-by-Step Beginner's Guide To Meal Planning I suggest making a list of "quick meals" that your family likes.  In order to qualify for this, a meal would need to be quick to make and be comprised of items you almost always have in your pantry/fridge/freezer.  You could also swap meals within the week.  Another plan is to use a freezer meal you have on hand (I suggest having 2 of these in the freezer at all times) or, what saves so many, frozen pizza.  Keeping a couple of frozen pizza or frozen veggie burgers or frozen whatever your family enjoys on hand in the freezer is a perfect solution to an evening when you have absolutely no time or energy or when your family really doesn't want what's planned.

5. Not Scheduling Soon-To-Expire Food
     Food waste is awful and it happens far too often.  Whether you overbought fruit or veggies, or did not end up making a recipe, make sure you plan to use up the perishable portion in the next week's plan.  Also check your pantry for soon-to-expire items from time to time in order to factor those into the next week's meal plan too.

6. Tossing Out Your Weekly Meal Plans
     Repurpose them!  If you begin reusing your meal plans you won't have much to do for meal planning each week.  You can certainly change out a meal or two (you need a quick meal, or want to try a new recipe), but changing out is better than recreating the entire plan.  I reuse mine seasonally.  Summer is the only season I usually don't reuse the plans because our meals change depending on what's ready in the garden.  It actually helps me in a couple ways - I don't have to recreate entire meal plans, and I can figure out (for the most part) how much fruit and veggies to put up from the summer growing season to get us through fall and winter.




I would love to hear from you!
Have you run into any of these roadblocks?  
If so, I would love to hear how you adjusted your plan. 


5 comments

Lindsay @ Wineinger Farms said...

Great post! Meal planning is new to me in 2019, but I'm going strong & I think we are doing well! My biggest issue/solution: I was planning a meal a night according to our plans, but our schedule changes SOO much. Solution- I switched to planning 3 meals a week...no set night, but as long as I have the food for them, it's a success! Then, I just make sure we always have leftovers. Meal Planning=Game Changer for the Wineinger Farm!

Lindsay @ Wineinger Farms said...

Great post! Meal planning is new to me in 2019, but I'm going strong & I think we are doing well! My biggest issue/solution: I was planning a meal a night according to our plans, but our schedule changes SOO much. Solution- I switched to planning 3 meals a week...no set night, but as long as I have the food for them, it's a success! Then, I just make sure we always have leftovers. Meal Planning=Game Changer for the Wineinger Farm!

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Thank you so much Lindsay! Good for you on figuring out how to make meal planning work best for you. I think that's a great compromise and it's fantastic that you thought to do it!!! Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

I’ve been trying to be consistent with meal planning this year and I have to agree with Lindsay’s comment! I’ve ended up making a list on the fridge - what I’m making this week and what needs to be eaten (I.e. leftovers/expiring foods), but I don’t have defined nights for anything. I want to try your tip from the Ultimate guide about prepping a little on Sunday evenings. I can’t always cook every evening, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance having food all week without spending all day in the kitchen on Sunday. This seems like a reasonable approach. :)

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Yes, I think that will be key to helping you. Devoting up to an hour to meal prep Sunday evenings gives you a huge headstart to the week's meals. Please let me know how you do!!