Meal planning is the best way to feel in control of the week that is coming. I adore writing down a great menu and then shopping for the ingredients. I love trying new foods and new recipes, and I love even more exposing my kids to new foods! The major flaw in meal planning is the waste of food and dollars when a last minute plan change throws a wrench in your perfectly planned week. How do you adjust when you spontaneously ditch your pre-planned meal and do something more fun instead?
This say-yes-to-experiences quality is one of my favorites in our family: a last minute picnic at the arboretum, an invitation to meet friends and their kids at a restaurant, or the decision to run to the pool all evening in the summer brings so much joy to our family. And yet it often means that the meal I had planned for the night we are spontaneous goes bad as I stick to my meal plan for the rest of the week.
This solution is such an easy one, and I think everyone should implement it! Instead of my meal plan looking like this:
Monday – pork tenderloin
Tuesday – veggie fried rice
Wednesday – roasted sausages and veggies
Thursday – chef’s salad
Friday – dinner out
Saturday – leftovers
Sunday – chicken milanese
it looks like this:
- pork tenderloin
- veggie fried rice
- roasted sausages and veggies
- chef’s salad
- etc. etc.
This is a minor change that has made a LOT of difference. Here’s why: my type A personality doesn’t feel trapped on Wednesday when we decided to eat out Tuesday. Or when we need a big meal on a Saturday afternoon, I don’t worry about what we will eat Saturday night. Instead, when I need a meal, I just make the next meal on the loop. So sometimes we eat out several times in a week, and then my meal plan lasts longer than I had thought it would originally. Sometimes we finish early because I use the next meal in my plan on a Saturday or Sunday at lunchtime. In other words, the food gets used and made in the order that I planned it instead of on a particular day that I had intended it for initially.
The cool thing is that I can plan a loop a month at a time. To do this, write down a list of 20 meals with “leftovers” taking a spot every 4 meals. You then have a month of meals mapped out for me. When the loop runs out, you just start again without having to reinvent the wheel every month. I absolutely love this model because it is made for a flexible planner like me. And I love it because it makes me feel horribly guilty when I toss food from the fridge into the trash, wasting food and my family’s resources. By looping I spend less money at the grocery store (my friends know it is still way too much, but one thing at a time…) and still leave room in my plan for experiences and spontaneity. I believe in a flexible plan for all things in life, so this technique is made for someone like me!
Actually, planning on a loop makes a big difference for me even in terms of planning errands, cleaning my house, and anything else you might make a list for. Instead of planning a day to do something and then feeling like a failure if you don’t achieve the right item on the right day, you can feel proud of yourself for doing the right thing in the right order…and you’re never a day late.