Determining how many meals to plan can seem daunting, especially when you're first starting out. I'm here today with a few questions you can ask yourself, that will help you decide how many meals you should plan for your family.
First, let's clarify what I mean by planning meals. Any time I refer to this, what I'm saying, really, is meals that require cooking or preparation. In our house, and in most houses, that's typically dinners, only. Breakfast is the same every morning – some variation on oatmeal, eggs, and toast. Lunch hardly ever needs to be cooked from scratch – it's either leftovers or snack-y stuff. Dinners are the only meals I plan, and I've learned that if I plan the right number of dinners, those odds and ends of leftover meals will spill over into our breakfasts and lunches.
So here's how to find out what your magic number of meals is! Ask yourself...
1. How busy are we this week or in this season of life?
Your meal plan is only as good as its ability to fit into your schedule. If you over-plan, you'll wind up with a sense of guilt every time you don't go home to cook, and with a fridge full of wasted food, which, in my world, is a total tragedy. If you're in a season of life where you know plans will come up last minute and you'll most likely not end up eating at home every single night, start by planning just 3 or 4 meals.
2. Will we eat at home (or take food from home) for more meals than just dinner?
Food. Served at mealtime. Counts as that meal. This is just as true for breakfast and lunch as it is for dinner. As you start becoming more creative in the kitchen, you'll notice that you're working your leftovers into new meals, rather than just reheating them and eating them the same way you served them the first time. This will leave you without leftovers for dinner, and that's okay! If you notice you're starting to use up your leftovers before you can get to them again for another dinner, just add one more meal to your meal plan.
At this stage of life, I plan 6-8 meals. Ryan and I both work from home, so we go through the leftovers faster than we would if we were out of the house. I also cook from scratch on the weekends for lunch and dinner, so I make sure I've got enough meals planned to carry us through for a full seven days.
Finally, we either host or attend spontaneous pot luck style get-togethers at least once a week. It's always nice to have extras on hand to bring along or serve to my guests.
3. Am I being realistic?
Or am I being aspirational? I would argue to say that starting a meal planning journey is NOT the right time to be aspirational. I believe whole-heartedly in setting realistic, attainable goals so you can set yourself up for LONG TERM success. The last thing any of us needs is more expectations or guilt heaped on us. If you find your meal plan is making you feel guilty because you're not getting to it... adjust. Lessen the number of meals you're planning and be more intentional about using up the leftovers of meals you do have time to cook.
Eventually, you'll find the exact number of meals that works best for your family. It's a little bit of trial and error, but it's all SO worth it.
This post is sponsored by my free training, "How to Write the Shortest Grocery List, Ever!" Learn how to use what you already have on hand to reduce overwhelm and spending. Many students save $100 in the first week!