Nutrition

Top 3 Tips for Making Meal Planning Easy

I like to waste my time, money, and food—said no mom, ever.

If you’re like most modern-day mothers, you value your time, hard-earned dollars, and the food that fuels you and your family. You probably dislike waste and want to save your resources as much as possible.

Most moms who run want to eat well and be healthy so they can feel strong and run faster and farther. 

If you don’t already plan your meals, you’ve likely heard others claiming its benefits, but it just seems like one more thing on an already full plate.

What if planning meals could actually be easy? Read on for three top tips to ease your stress when it comes to getting food on the table. 

1. Start small and simple

First, remember that wherever you’re at on the meal-planning spectrum is OK. Start where you are and take a simple step to get one-percent better each week. It’s about progress, not perfection.  If you’re just getting into meal planning don’t try more than one new recipe per week. If you’re already planning one meal per week, try for two. If you’ve got dinners down, but struggle with breakfast, look up some recipes you could prepare in advance for the coming week. 

“Something that was small and simple for me was listing all our go-to meals and family favorite meals. So my first week of meal planning was nothing new, I was just prepped and ready to go mentally and with the groceries for the week instead of scrambling at the last minute,” said Whitney Sandoval, a working mom of three who runs and lives in Kansas. 

 

If you’re the type of person who likes to eat intuitively (whatever sounds good on the day), then just write a list of possibilities rather than deciding in advance what everyone will eat on which day. 

2. Involve your family

Secondly, figure out ways you can involve your crew in the meal-planning process. Don’t make the mistake of being a martyr for your family.  Moms don’t have to do everything all on their own.  

“I can’t do it all,” admits Lauren Puretz, a gynecologist and mom of two who placed second in the 2021 Leadville Marathon. “I know my limits. If I want to run and work my family has to absorb some of the tasks.” 

Involving the whole family in the meal-planning process may seem like more work in the beginning, but it will save you time in the long run. Imagine the day when you come home from work and your kids already have dinner on the table. 

Yes, this can (and does) happen!

Jeanine Stearns, a mother runner from California, started teaching her kids to cook when they were toddlers, giving them age-appropriate tasks. Stearns got divorced when her son and daughter were 11 and 13. That’s when she started asking them to start dinner before she got home from work. She says, “they weren’t angels about starting dinner, but a few mommy meltdowns” they got the hang of it. “My advice is to give them specific things to make. Knife skills come later, so it’s better to have them do mixing or stirring when they don’t have the hand eye or concentration skills.” 

Food Network details cooking tasks for kids by age here

If possible, find a time when the whole family can sit down to look at the calendar and the week ahead.

 What days will be busiest? Who has activities that will keep them out later? Who will be responsible for cooking on those days? 

If you’re training for a race, consult your training plan. How will your intense or long-runs play into your meal choices? Will you need extra help with a meal, or could you have something prepped for those days? Think about what healthy snacks and meals you want to have available for days you may be hungrier or have depleted energy. 

Maybe your partner has  particular preferences. Let them come up with ideas or recipes that can be served that week. Give your family some guidance if they need–either a list of recipes or ingredients from which to choose. Have them find something in the fridge or pantry to plan around.

Have half a head of red cabbage? Look up recipes like this one from the “Run Fast. Eat Slow.” cookbook. 

If your kids can read, give them a cookbook to get ideas. Let them choose a meal or two for the week, and if time allows, help them cook it. Kids are much more likely to eat and enjoy a meal they help prepare! 

3. Keep it short

Finally, schedule a block of time to plan meals for the week. Planning meals doesn’t have to take long, but it will take as much time as you let it. Parkinson’s Law states that you’ll finish a task in the amount of time you allot for it.

Start by setting your timer for 30 minutes. Once you get the hang of it, you can shorten the time even more, aiming for 10 minutes. Stay present during this time. Remember, you don’t have to plan a whole week of brand-new recipes. 

Here’s a suggestion (and of course do what works for your unique family circumstances): Consider planning meals for the following week on a Friday afternoon or evening when you’re finishing up your work for the week. This way you’re not in full-on weekend mode and then you (or whoever shops in your household) can get groceries on Saturday. Sunday can be used for prepping any food for the coming week, such as chopping veggies.  

Here’s how the whole process might go: 

  1. Pick your day/time to sit down and plan. This isn’t the time to find new recipes. It’s just to jot down what you’re going to eat that week. Keep a list of family favorites. Have a folder, either with printed recipes or a digital one, where you keep recipes you want to try in the future. If you like trying lots of new recipes, set aside another time in the week to explore Pinterest or other favorite recipe sites.
  2. Consider dinner theme nights (like Taco Tuesdays), at least for some nights of the week. 
  3.  Decide what needs to get used. Take a look in the pantry, fridge and freezer.
  4.  Choose meals based on #2 and #3 and make a grocery list.
  5.  Write down what meal will be served on which day based on everyone’s schedule. 

For example, if it’s a day with lots of after-school activities, maybe plan a crockpot meal or something super quick. Remember, you’re allowed to switch it up. Do what works!

With these three tips on making meal-planning easy, does it seem like something you might consider trying?

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