Meal Planning — a Formula for Success

Meal planning is the best way to ensure success in the kitchen. Grab my free printable meal planning template and get started making your plan for the week!

Would you like me to give you a formula for… success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all… you can be discouraged by failure / or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll find success. On the far side. ~ Thomas J. Watson (founder of IBM)

So…failure rocks…but it doesn’t feel like it. One sure fire way to fail when it comes to eating right is to go into it without a plan. Here’s a little story from my life: I was all excited to make something out of nothing for dinner and then share my stroke of genius with the world…but it was kind of…blah. And I’ll admit I was a little frustrated with my apparent lack of ingenuity. Trust me, this isn’t the first dish I’ve tried to recreate only to find that everyone wants toast after they gag down their obligatory first serving. But if Mr. Watson was right, if I keep on making mistakes, I’ll be successful in no time! Awesome. Enjoy that bowl of failure kids, we’re on our way to success!

That particular night started out like this. I had no meal plan and a random assortment of veggies left.

I had seen a recipe for Stir Fried Singapore Noodles with Garlic Ginger Sauce from Lindsay at Pinch of Yum and thought maybe I could start with that recipe and sort of make it my own loaded with more veggies (and specifically, the ones I had left in the fridge).

Singapore Noodles by Lindsay at Pinch of Yum

Doesn’t that look good? I’m sure if I had followed the recipe, it would have been great, but changing it as much as I did, my results were less than desirable. It didn’t taste bad, it was just dull and not very pretty. On the plus side, everyone ate their dinner (eventually). It was healthy. It filled us up (OK, it filled me up, everyone else had a piece of toast instead of a second helping). And yes, if Mr. Watson is right, I’m one step closer to succeeding as I can check one more failure off my to-do-list.

This is what failure looks like in a bowl.

But here’s the thing: more often than not, when I have an actual meal plan for the week and get myself organized, good meals happen. Lately I’ve been busy, I’ve made excuses, and I’ve not made plans. So we’ve eaten a lot of repeats of dishes I can make without thinking from things I always have on hand. The little people are getting bored. We’ve eaten out more. The little people seem to like that, but the stomach-aches that result in addition to the obvious nutrition fail are not ideal. And we’ve eaten more “Mystery Meals” from everything left in the fridge (see example above). The little people don’t like those. So…I headed to the library for a fresh batch of inspiration and a new resolve to make a plan and try some new dishes.

You don’t have to exhibit your OCD tendencies and run to the library to check out seven new cookbooks to make a meal plan, but do sit down with the cookbooks you have or with your Pinterest account and start throwing your ideas on paper. Download my free printable meal planning template to help you get started, make your own, or just use an empty notebook.

  • Starting with a piece of scratch paper, write down seven breakfasts, seven lunches, and seven dinners.
  • Check your calendar for the week, taking note of busy days, nights away from home, or anything else that will affect your meal prep time on a given day. Note those days on your weekly schedule.
  • Assign a breakfast, lunch, and dinner to each day, considering your schedule and needs for that day and doing your best to separate meals with similar ingredients so that you have a good variety from day to day.
  • Consider what will need to be or at least can be done ahead of time to speed up your meal prep time and make a note on your weekly prep work schedule. When should you soak your beans? Can you cook a double batch of rice on Monday to be used for Monday and Thursday? Can you chop the carrots you’ll need for Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday all at once? While you’ve got the food processor dirty chopping some mushrooms, can you give it a quick rinse and make a batch of hummus for use the next day?
  • Take a look at the ingredients you will need for the meals you have chosen and note them on your grocery list.
  • Take inventory of food you already have in your pantry/fridge and cross those things off your grocery list.
  • Go get your groceries.
  • Sit back and relax. Your work is done. The rest is just following the orders you made for yourself. No more decisions to be made. No more last-minute mealtime uncertainty. Just revel in your awesomeness.

I know all of this takes time. But the time you invest once will pay off all week. You won’t end up with a bunch of spoiled produce that you never used because you only bought what you have a specific plan to use. You’re also much less likely to end up resorting to fast food when you know you have a plan for dinner and you’ve already done some of your prep work ahead of time. And hey, if everything falls apart one day and you still fail to get dinner on the table, know you are in good company! It happens. Tomorrow will be a new day and some say we learn a little bit every time we fail…so you’re one step closer to awesome :).

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