Meal Planning Made Easier
Updated: Jan 4
It's that time of year again--time for people to start taking a hard look at their health and fitness goals and make some changes (ME!). This year it feels more important than ever since 2020 threw many of us off our games in terms of our healthy habits (ALSO ME!). And while there's no wrong time to start a new training and nutrition program (terms I prefer over diet and exercise), a new year just feels like the perfect place to start, especially since the January Whole 30 challenge has become a "thing." I know several people who are participating in the challenge and while I am not doing a "strict" version, I am cleaning up my diet where sugar is concerned, and trying to get back to a cleaner way of eating. I'm not gonna' lie--this is something I set my mind to almost every January. I become determined to cook, meal plan, and meal prep my way to success--and I almost always fall short because I hate to cook and because although I dream of a Pinterest-worthy, perfectly stocked pantry and colorful containers in my fridge filled with prepped ingredients, I am just not that organized.
Enter my friend Rikki Calvert, a regular JoyRider and busy mom who has got this meal planning thing down. Like many of you, she is participating in a Whole 30 reset this month and, like many of you, she juggles a career and her family responsibilities. I asked Rikki to share some of her tips and tricks for success in the hopes that we can find inspiration together. Cheers to a happier, healthier year ahead!
When did you start regular meal planning and why?
We started a year ago in an effort to eat out less and have less waste. I used to go to the store and buy things that would rot in the fridge because I was so uninspired. I also have some food sensitivities and autoimmune disorders that have us trying to follow a mostly Whole 30 and Paleo lifestyle, which is hard to do if you are eating out a lot. Of course, little did I know then how much we'd be at home during 2020, but it worked out well.
When do you plan your menus?
We plan by the week. I used to do it all myself, but now I enlist the help of my family so that they are invested in the process and have a say in the meals. We sit around the table on Sundays and talk about what we want for dinner that week, and I write each evening's meals in my Erin Condren Life Planner. This works well for me because I can view our calendar at the same time and see which nights might need to be a crockpot meal depending on what we have scheduled.
Do you shop on Sunday too?
Yes, I usually do a curbside pickup from Whole Foods on Sunday afternoon and/or have any Amazon items delivered. I highly recommend using curbside. It saves us so much money and keeps me on track. If I walk into Trader Joe's or HEB on the regular, there is no hope--I'm coming home with a cart of things I don't need. Having said that, I do go to Trader Joe's about once a month for pantry staples like their chili onion crunch, kale gnocchi, vegan kale pesto, and their frozen, boneless chicken wings--the best!
Do you do a lot of meal prepping in addition to menu planning, or do you cook as needed?
I actually enjoy cooking! Some things like breakfasts or the boys' lunches I will make ahead like boiled eggs, bacon, etc., but for the most part I cook every day. The adult lunches are usually leftover proteins from dinner the night before.
How do handle the unexpected schedule change?
That's where the staples from Trader Joe's come in handy. That way, if things go haywire, we can still stay on course.
How much time do you spend each week on meal planning?
I spend about 30 minutes on Sunday writing down the plan, about 10 minutes adding the order to online pickup, 20 minutes actually picking it up, and maybe 30 minutes each night cooking. If it's not a 30-minute meal, it probably isn't happening for us. So it comes down to about 4-5 hours a week total. That doesn't seem like a lot to me, especially when you add in that we take leftovers for lunches.
What are a few of the tools that make it manageable for you?
The Defined Dish cookbook, 100% got us through COVID. Her recipes are simple, straightforward, and family-friendly. Another one I love for easy recipes is 40 Aprons. Whole Foods curbside and Amazon grocery delivery are a must, and my Instapot, which I use mostly as a slow cooker because we'd be screwed without slow cooker options during the week. One thing that seems intimidating but isn't is the Sous Vide. If I'm making pork tenderloin, I'll marinate the pork during the day, run home between kid activities and throw it in the Sous Vide water bath. When I get home, I'll sear the pork for maybe 5 minutes, make a salad and be ready to go!
Can you offer a few tips on how to started and how to be successful at meal planning?
The easiest way to do it is just to do it! Get the support of your family and make it fun. Give everyone a voice in the planning and, most importantly, WRITE IT DOWN! I think the key to success is figuring out WHY you want to do it. Is it because you want to eat healthier? Save money? Reduce waste? Spend more time with family? Whatever the reason, start there and keep it in mind when you feel discouraged. Also, be honest with yourself about how much you like to cook and what you like to eat. Then find recipes that inspire you, yet are manageable at the same time.