Here’s a crash-course on how I go about creating a meal plan each week. I’m sharing the why, the how, and my favorite tools to getting the dreaded question “what’s for dinner” answered for you – painlessly!
At the beginning of this year, I got a bunch of questions from friends and family about what to make for dinner as people were transitioning to joining WW (PS, anyone want a to join & get a free month? Click this link!). I got the idea to post my meal plan for them. This then spiraled into me thinking of those inquiring minds who weren’t necessarily asking for it but found themselves curious or wanting inspiration. I also noticed that in my close circle of friends, we ask “what’s for dinner?” to each other almost daily, so I just know other people have to be asking that question, too.
Since I do take the time to meal plan, it makes so much sense to share it because I get inspiration from other people all the time since I constantly feel like I get stuck in food-ruts. I wanted to share because sharing is caring.
For anyone wondering why anyone would do this, let me enlighten you why meal planning is awesome:
- helps build a focused grocery list
- more effective use of ingredients you already have in your fridge/pantry
- keeps you on track (for those of us counting points/calories)
- gives you something to look forward to
- removes the question each day of “what’s for dinner”
- time-saving & efficient
When I build my meal plan, I used to map out each meal for each day, but I found that I ended up deviating from that more often than not. So, now I focus on picking a bank of meals I plan to make for dinner and leave room for leftovers/eating out/fend for yourself nights. Sometimes if we have a lot going on in the evenings a certain week, I may be more specific when mapping out meals, but that’s only so I can maximize my time and effort for what’s happening. That may mean maybe we eat leftovers a specific night, or I plan to make something that’s fast & easy as opposed to something that requires a little more effort.
I use Instagram for inspiration. I’ve talked about a bunch of ways Instagram has helped me on my WW journey previously, but it’s also been a great tool to get ideas for what to make for literally every meal. Seeing what other people are eating helps create variety in my meal bank and it’s nice because most people list how many points specific foods are, and that’s super helpful.
Instagram also has a “save” feature that allows you to essentially “pin” posts to a memory board saved within your profile for you to go in and reference if you want to remember something. When I discovered this, it BLEW my mind because I can’t tell you how many times I’d see something and be like, I need to remember to make this sometime! but then never come back to it or be able to find it. For those who don’t know, this is what it looks like:
You can create various folders, but after I spent time going through and doing that, I find I just end up looking in my “all posts” folder and scrolling there anyway, so that whole folder business didn’t really work like I thought it would for me in this platform, but that’s totally okay. At least I can come back to what looks good to help inspire me!
So, I am a giant nerd and I thrive on making lists on lists on lists. OneNote is basically a dumping ground program (part of of the Microsoft Office Suite of programs) for all kinds of ideas and it’s so unstructured that you can pretty much do whatever you want with it. I used it like crazy when I was working, and I’ve continued to use it for project management in my personal/home life. This is where I have really maximized my menu planning game. I love this because it lets me keep a record of meals and lets me have my recipe bank (with links) all in one spot.
Here are some screenshots of what my Meal Planning Page look like:
What makes this an effective tool for me:
- I’m a visual person, so laying it out in a chart helps me take in a lot of information at once
- I can anchor the events that we have going on in the evening and plan accordingly
- I include point values for each food listed in the food bank
- I include the hyperlink for recipes if it’s not something I’ve created myself, know how to cook by heart or is a stand-alone food.
- I keep track of items I want to try so I can throw in a new recipe each week
- I keep track of recipes we’ve tried and did not love so if I look back at the log for inspiration I can remember if we liked it or not
- The log of meals is a good reference for favorites and reminds me of meals if I feel like I’m in a rut
- I always include at least one FFY (fend for yourself) and one OUT because of our social schedule/laziness (sometimes both)
Additionally, this system has allowed me to build my grocery list based on the meals I plan on making. I use the Reminders app on my iPhone and have a list called “Grocery List” that I add anything I need from the store based on the meals I’ve picked. This is cross referenced with what we already have in our fridge and pantry (based on memory and me just standing in both of those places peering in and seeing where we’re at with those things).
I only plan out dinners because I can eat leftovers for lunch or make something else, based on what we have in the fridge/pantry. Although when I first started doing WW, I did map out each meal with a box for snacks, but I found this wasn’t that effective for me, so I bailed on this pretty quickly:
Our Calendar / My Planner
Jeff and I use Google calendar to keep track of various things/events we have going on. This allows us to both enter in items in our shared calendar and we both have access and the ability to check it or add to it at any time. I always do a quick scan of our calendar when I sit down to meal plan to make sure I have an idea of what the week looks like, so if one of us has an appointment or made social plans or is traveling, that will impact what I decide to plan/make for dinner that night or for the week.
My planner is something more of a diary than a schedule-keeper. It has become a record of all the things – I track all kinds of things in here. It’s a habit tracker for some of my #selfcare items, but it’s also where I make note of dinner and weekly plans. In this blog post, I shared a hard copy of my dinner log to help identify trends and as a bank of meals to gain inspiration from if I’m not on my computer.
Ultimately, you need to find a system that’s going to work for you. If that’s having a chalkboard in your kitchen, or a notebook you use to make your grocery list, an app or computer program… it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as the system you’ve built works for you. The system I created may seem way too intense or too much work than what you’re willing to do, and that’s totally fine.
The biggest benefit of meal planning is that it keeps me on track with my goal of losing weight. I subscribe heavily to the belief that failing to plan is planning to fail. When it comes to my experience with weight loss and using WW as a tool to do that, I found that I am more successful when I can appropriately budget my points to eat food that is worth it and not end up hungry and out of points. It also saves me from scrambling every day to come up with something to make for dinner. I also end up pretty happy about everything I’m eating, which makes my healthy habits both easy and attractive (which, in turn, makes me continue doing those healthy habits). Small changes make a big difference.
Drop a comment down below and let me know what you thought about this!! If you liked it, please share it with your friends! If you start meal-planning, take a picture of your system & tag me @glimpseatgrace on social media!