Meal planning isn’t for everyone. It has a lot of drawbacks. If you don’t do meal planning, you have the following advantages:
- You’re not locked in. Since you haven’t committed in advance to making a shepherd’s pie, you are free to make a leek-and-pear strata on the spur of the moment. Go for it!
- You don’t have to eat leftovers. You probably didn’t make a meal tonight, so you won’t have to eat more of it tomorrow.
- On a busy night, you can just grab some fast food and not have to cook. Much quicker!
- You can do all the impulse grocery shopping you like. No grocery lists needed! You can load up on cookies and chocolate milk, and skip dinner.
- Your social calendar is wide open. If you get invited out to dinner, you can drop everything and just go.
- You are not belittled by your friends for being a domestic-minded frugalista.
- You don’t waste time thinking about food. Your mind is on far more important matters.
OK, forgive my sarcasm. What is actually keeping you from meal planning? The usual suspects are:
- Not enough time to plan
- Not enough time to cook
- What if you don’t feel like having that meal tonight?
- Afraid of turning into One of Those People Who Makes Meal Plans
- Enjoy eating comfort food and not ready to change
I will address these in turn.
Not Enough Time to Plan
Yes, meal planning requires an up-front time investment. If you are planning dinners for a week, you have to think of 5 dinners to cook (the other two will be leftovers) and you have to check the cupboards and make a grocery list. Unless your tastes are very sophisticated, it takes 15 minutes and could look like this:
- Monday – macaroni and cheese, roasted veg
- Tuesday – macaroni and cheese, salad
- Wednesday – pizza
- Thursday – chilli with rice
- Friday – chilli and tortillas
- Saturday – spaghetti with tomato sauce, garlic bread
- Sunday – mashed potatoes, carrots, peas and roast
And your grocery list (assuming you don’t make your own pasta, cheese, tortillas, etc.) would look like this:
- Macaroni, spaghetti
- Cheese, milk and flour (or bottled sauce)
- Oil and vinegar (or bottled dressing)
- Lettuce or spinach
- Potatoes, carrots, peas
- Peppers, mushrooms, onions, garlic
- Pizza crust
- Tomato sauce
- Beans for chilli
- Chilli powder
- Roast something
If you think this process is too strenuous, I invite you to do a practice week with meals you know best. Even if you start with Kraft Dinner or Beans on Toast, you are getting used to planning and following through! Maybe you can amp it up the next week and make a stir fry one night.
Not Enough Time to Cook
This can happen because you have young kids who can’t wait long to eat, because you can’t wait to start relaxing, or because you have commitments in the evenings. There are a few options: cook ahead of time, make quick weekday meals, or wing it (you can wait to start meal planning until your life settles down, LOL!)
Realistically, a decision is required. Either you’re going to become a person who cooks their own meals at least some of the time, or you are not. If you buy pasta and heat a jar of sauce, as opposed to stopping at KFC, congratulate yourself because you are on the way to cooking! Chances are that on a less busy day, you may sauté some vegetables for that pasta, and then you are really cooking. And if the kids just eat them raw before dinner is ready, what’s the harm?
What If You Don’t Feel Like Having Today’s Meal?
Then your meal plan is screwed and you have to give up. Just kidding! You’ve already bought a few days’ worth of groceries, right? Choose the meal from Monday or Saturday instead. Make today’s some other time. As long as ingredients aren’t being thrown out, switch it up. This happens to me all the time. Let’s say I have to stay late at work on a night when I’d planned a deluxe meal. I put it off until the weekend and make an easy one from the menu plan instead.
You’re Afraid of Turning into a Grumpy Hausfrau (of any gender)
Meal planning is for scary, super-organized control freaks and you don’t want to be one of those. But eating in the car, making hot dogs every night, or having a family of 5 fend for themselves are scary too. I would go so far as to say that meal planning is easier than deciding what to make when you get home, arguing about where to get take-out, or cleaning up after everyone’s separate microwaved concoctions. You can even ask other people in your house to choose the meals and make them, so you can avoid complete dictatorship. The easiest ways to meal plan are to make the same things each weekday (such as grilled cheese sandwiches every Monday) or to make a list of family favourites and make them in rotation (over the course of the month, we’ll have lasagna, omelettes, wraps, stew, etc.)
Fast Food, Junk Food, and Packaged Foods Work for You Right Now
If you are unconcerned about your meals, then you won’t change. But if you have twinges of guilt, or you wish you could make some improvements, or you want to be healthier, then meal planning is a tool that can help. It’s not an eating makeover. You could plan nachos, poutine, corn dogs and gravy biscuits, and call it a meal plan! But most people make meal plans to save money, stop food waste, eat more healthy meals, and to reduce stress by not having to decide what to eat at day’s end. If none of those goals are meaningful to you, then you don’t need to meal plan.
There are three legitimate reasons for not meal planning:
- You honestly don’t care what you eat (in which case, you may be reading the wrong blog)
- Food and cooking are an unbridled joy for you. You shop, cook, and enjoy luscious meals daily.
- You already have a system that works, such as the Stocked Pantry system.
I do like cooking, but I’m not quite at the unbridled joy stage, so I do meal plans. I’ll walk through how that looks at our house next time!
What works for you?
I am definitely the one who does a meal plan in some form or other but then has a week that doesn’t go to the plan or at least doesn’t go to the meal plan and everything has to be rearranged. I am working on it – I can only get better…right?
I think if you have a meal plan and you sometimes have to rearrange it, that’s good enough!
Awesome post! Though… interestingly I’m no longer much of a meal planner. When I cooked for five (my family), I’d plan on Sunday, and shop and then cook Sun through Thu with Fri as ‘fend for yourself’ (many of us were out, likewise with Sat). Now days, it’s just me, and the BF sometimes, maybe. Take this week – Sunday I was at his, had a roast, Monday was a church function (so ate there), Tuesday the BF came over and suggested ordering in pizza (which was it’s own nightmare in some ways), Wednesday was at my parents. Today I’m meant to see the BF, and likely be at his place. Admittedly, this was all ‘planned’ so I could have planned to cook on Tues – but I’m struggling on point one above, as I think just maybe that applies to be BF :s And I’m so caught up on making it healthy, balanced with limited gluten and sugar (and maybe even dairy but it’s the least important)
Well, that’s the thing about meal plans – you only have to cook when you are actually home – and if everyone in the house is “on board” with the plan!