By Sarah Roth, RDN, LD
1. Food goes bad. So I did the thing, I planned all my meals and bought my groceries for the week… and then the week didn’t go anywhere near like I thought, so all my meat is now expired, and my produce is wilted. What a waste!
2. It takes So. Much. Time. It’s not a priority for me on the weekend, but there’s no time to do it during the week, or I feel like it’s too late to meal plan for the week when Monday has already passed.
3. It’s expensive. When I plan meals, I plan gourmet, delicious meals that have 10+ ingredients and spices that I don’t have in my pantry that cost so much upfront and I feel like I’m spending $100+ more dollars than I normally would had I just not planned in the first place.
4. It’s boring. Enough said.
5. It doesn’t offer flexibility or feels too rigid. So I planned to cook dinner on Thursday, but then I worked late and didn’t have the energy to cook anymore, plus I’m starving. My meal plans don’t offer a contingency plan for nights that don’t go the way I originally thought they would.
6. What I planned on cooking for Tuesday doesn’t sound good on Tuesday anymore. I had planned to make lasagna for dinner on Tuesday, but then work catered Italian food for a lunch meeting today and I don’t want to eat the same type of food twice in one day.
7. It gets so daunting. There’s so much involved with meal planning, by the time I’ve finished taking inventory of what I already have in my freezer, fridge and pantry it’s been 2 hours. The thought of trying to come up with recipes that make sense with this mish-mosh of ingredients is so overwhelming!… This is the point where I always just give up.
8. I don’t like leftovers. I made a double recipe for dinner so I can have the leftovers for my lunches during the week, except I don’t like leftovers, or the food just doesn’t reheat well.
9. I don’t have time to cook every night. Who does?
10. I can’t plan more than a day of my life in advance. I like to fly by the seat of my pants, go by my whims of what sounds good, or what fits to my particular food rules that day. Meal planning is just not for me.
So, we’ve established many reasons why meal planning may not seem feasible for your schedule, budget, or culinary skill level. I bet all of you readers could add at least five more reasons to this list! And yet, you feel like something needs to change. You can see how having a plan would be helpful rather than always coming home ravenous, scouring the panty every night only to realize there’s nothing, or at least nothing edible you can cook in a reasonable amount of time… so take-out it is! Again..
So what is the solution?!
While I might sound a bit counter-productive now…. A meal plan! But maybe not in the sense that you think. A meal plan doesn’t have to be a well-structured and beautifully organized chart of the entire week, with home cooked dinners every night and homemade EVERYTHING for breakfast, lunch, and other snacks.
A meal plan can be as simple as this scribbling on a Post-It note:
This is my plan for tomorrow that took me literally 2 minutes to come up with. It’s simple, and requires no grocery shopping, or scrolling Pinterest for hours looking for the perfect recipes.
Now let me tell you what something so seemingly simple actually provides: Structure. Tomorrow I’m not going to have any moments of “Oh crap, I’m starving and have nothing to eat!” I’m not going to famishly raid my fridge and overeat on a bunch of random things that don’t satisfy me like a proper meal would.
Structure is so important to taking emotions and uncertainty around food out of the picture. We all have been there when you get so hungry that nothing even sounds good! This may lead to one of two things: skipping a meal and trying to ride out the hunger until you get home from school/work, or you might make poor food decisions that you otherwise wouldn’t have made. When you can spend just a few minutes the day before thinking about what tomorrow’s schedule looks like, and how meals and snacks can fit into that day, you set yourself up to staying properly fueled and energized for the day, and not feeling like your food intake is so chaotic and out of control.
Meal planning just means to plan out what you’re going to eat the next day. It doesn’t have to co-exist with grocery shopping or meal prepping. You can plan to go out to eat, or to pick up a pre-made meal from the grocery store on the way to work. But the point is that you’re doing this ahead of time, ideally in a comfortably fed state and relaxed to where you can make wise decisions and food choices. You’ll be able to ask yourself if what you’re planning to eat will make you feel the best, and is something that you’ll actually want to eat!
This small act is the best place to start if meal planning feels too overwhelming and you don’t even know where to begin! Taking small steps over time is the best way to establish lifelong habits, and we’re here to help you along the way! Over the next couple weeks, us dietitians at WC&NT will be sharing with you some of our favorite tips and tricks for realistic, time-friendly, and flexible meal planning on the cheap! We’ll be sharing these ideas here on the blog, as well as in our instagram stories over at @wcandnt, so please stay tuned!!