No matter if you're a bunch of picky eaters, trying out a semivegan or other plant-based diet for 2021, or just hoping to be more organized in general: There is a way to make a meal plan that works for you.
Here's how to set up your personal meal plan to suit your family's style and get the habit to stick, and even budget for the night when you just. Cannot. Wash. One. More. Dish.
"The first question you have to ask yourself is: How much do you like cooking?" said Debbie Koenig of Queens, New York, creator of The Family Plan
, a weekly meal planning subscription aimed at families.
Your meal plan, while aspirational in some respects, will be most successful if it accurately reflects the reality of your regular schedule and family lifestyle. And for most families — even those with professional cooks in the house — having a freshly prepared meal on the table every single night is not feasible.
Koenig plans week by week, with a "cook once, eat twice" strategy that front-loads the week with meal prep. "I always plan to have bigger cooking episodes on Monday and Tuesday and intentionally make double the amount of certain foods so I have leftovers to play with," she explained.
For example, she roasts two chickens or whole cauliflower heads at once, knowing some will be eaten that night and the rest will go into tacos and soup later in the week. "If you spend some time up front, the rest of the week is much easier," she said.
Tackle dinner first and select fave themes
If even the idea of mapping out multiple ways to use up chicken seems like a big step, not to worry. Start with a dinner plan and work your way up.
"There's no magic bullet that makes somebody disciplined," said Emily Peterson, a chef and culinary instructor in Parsippany, New Jersey, who has been building out her meal planning strategy for five years. Peterson started out meal planning her family's dinners, then added lunches and then breakfasts as she felt more comfortable with the process.
The dinners remain the linchpin of her meal planning template. Each day of the week has a theme: Sunday is a big-batch roast or casserole that can make leftovers for the week, Monday is Asian, Tuesday is fish and so on.
Having a category for each day gives Peterson structure so she can theoretically map out an entire month's worth of dinners, but lets her "build in opportunities for spontaneity," like buying fresh clams for dinner instead of thawing frozen shrimp without wrecking the meal plan.
Once you have the basics of your meal plan style, you can expand on what's working for you and plan for two weeks at a time, or even a whole month ahead.
My personal monthly meal plan template
follows the same basic ideas:
- assigning categories to days of the week
- relying on a base of favorite recipes that can be repeated monthly (more on that below)
- making dishes that can work for more than one meal and can be reheated for leftovers
- and allowing room for experimentation.
How you choose to organize your meal plan is also a matter of personal preference. If you need to see everything spelled out as a visual reminder, hang a whiteboard or chalkboard on the fridge. If Excel spreadsheets help you feel more organized, keep your information there. (You can also print out your Excel sheets and put them on the fridge, too.)
Get the meal-