Life can feel like a total whirlwind, with schedules filled to the brim sending us from activity to activity especially now that school has started back up. The day flies by and next thing you know it’s time for dinner and bedtime. Amidst all this chaos, ensuring that you have daily meals prepared or even planned can seem like a complete chore, and let’s not forget about the addition of working to keep meals at least slightly healthy. As seasoned personal chefs, entrepreneurs and parents, we get it. After becoming parents over 4 years ago, we were a complete mess trying to get the things done. There were no on a whim plans and that definitely included cooking, which as chefs we were used to just having inspiration and trying new recipes out all the time and a lot of the time at the last second. That was all ok when it was just the 2 of us but add in a few kids and of course scheduling becomes a must. Some days we feel like we get everything done that we need to (which is rare with toddlers), and others we can’t believe how quickly the day goes by. This is why we have had to implement meal planning into our lives otherwise we would be eating out all the time. Luckily for us our profession makes meal planning pretty second nature after implementing into our own routines, so we wanted to share these tips with you.
We totally understand that meal planning isn’t sexy or cool like going to an expensive restaurant where they give you deliciously beautiful meals. It’s the weekly homework that we were assigned as kids that most of us hated, but it can get better. Once you start and keep up with it not only does it get easier, but you can also add in new and exciting recipes to try because as you continue with follow through you also grow your culinary muscles. While eating out can be exciting it’s not meant to be an everyday occurrence, its meant to be special and meal planning is for every day. Here are some of the top challenges we hear from clients before starting.
Time: We all have the same 24 hours. Some people get so much more done not because they have more time, but because they have implemented and followed through more. We live in a world of wanting instant gratification and that’s not realistic. Things take time to learn, implement, grow, and master.
Budget: I can’t tell you how many times we have heard that “eating out is cheaper” or “produce is too expensive”. Both of those quite honestly are a load of crap. We’ve done the math, and it adds up to WAY more eating out for every meal. Produce does fit into your budget, but you have to use it to take place of the unnecessary processed foods. One of the biggest reasons these excuses are used is to avoid the reality that you have not actually set a budget, or you are not ready for a real change yet.
Motivation: One of our favorite quotes from ourselves, if it’s important enough, you can find the motivation for anything. In order to implement anything new you actually have to be open to it. Are you interested or committed?
Clean Up: There is not an easy or pretty way to say this, MESS is inevitable. We all have to clean up, deal with it. This is just an excuse to not do the work.
Benefits of Meal Planning
It’s not all going to be instantaneous as we stated above, that is not realistic, but there will be some great benefits to meal planning as you keep it up. Aside from being able to come home each afternoon or evening knowing exactly what your plans are, it will also start to become second nature to have a plan. Along with those benefits here are some others that will happen as you grow your meal planning skills.
Organization: Knowing what you have planned for meals during the week will help keep your life more organized for not just meals but also groceries, shopping, budget, and kitchen organization.
Time: This one will take some time to grow your skills in planning and execution, but what we have seen in our clients is that once they get going, planning ahead saves them time in the long run.
Budget: When you plan ahead knowing one, what your budget is and two, what you need for the week it’s a lot easier to stick to a budget. Having a plan also sets you up to having a better chance of avoiding those impulse buys throughout the store since you will have a list of exactly what you need.
Healthy: This is a big one and we know about it firsthand from working in professional kitchens. Not only are portions at restaurant usually bigger, but they also generally have more calories, sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats. When cooking at home YOU control what goes in your food.
How to Create a Flexible Meal Plan
There is not a one size fits all on meal plans, we even did a post on finding a meal plan that fits, that you can check out HERE. We recommend checking it out later if you haven’t already. We all have different family sizes, schedules and activity levels making flexibility in a meal plan super important. Our approach for many families including our own is a flexible meal plan. This allows for having plans that adapt to your schedule and accommodate unexpected changes that may occur. Here is an example of what a flexible meal plan can look like:
3 Main Course Dinners: planned and cooked ahead for easy reheat during the week. Enough for them to last most or all of the week.
Breakfast and Lunch: favorite ingredients on hand for things such as parfaits and shakes for breakfast. Soup made ahead for lunch and/or salad prep done ahead as well.
Snacks: easy grab and go snacks, fruit, and simple cut veggies.
1 Emergency Meal: stored in the freezer for back up. This meal can also be an eat out or order in meal as well.
Select a Plan and Stick With it
When starting something new it takes time to grow your skill and turn it into a routine. It generally takes between 18-254 days to form a new habit and about 66 days for a new behavior to be more automatic. The more you do it the easier it becomes and the more likely it is that you will continue it. That being said we recommend selecting your plan and really stick to it for 90 days. That really gives you the time to see what you like and don’t like in order to adjust it if need be. Of course, we do understand that there may be a need for some minor changes throughout the 90 days but avoid drastic changes.
Utilize Quick and Easy Recipes
Starting with easy recipes with simple ingredients, steps and that are also quick are a great way to keep your motivation up and overwhelm down. These easy wins with simple recipes are great motivators for you to continue in your meal planning journey. The best part is that there are many recipes that can be done in about 30 minutes making them a huge win for a busy lifestyle.
Batch Cooking or Prepping in Advance
Along with planning out your meals another helpful step would be cooking all of your meals for the week ahead of time on one day of the week or prepping the ingredients so that each recipe can be done quickly the day of. For us we have found that cooking the meals ahead of time is probably the best route for most families. Why? Because then it’s done, all you have to do is heat it up and enjoy it. We have found that people are more likely to reheat something to enjoy vs cooking the prep. In fact, when we were doing meal prep for clients it killed us each week to see the prep that was wasted because the family was too busy for daily cooking. Because of that we dropped meal prep completely and just cooked meals for clients. Our goal was to help families, not have them waste massive amounts of food, so we recommend if you are super busy, pick a day to cook your meals for the week ahead of time.
Online Meal Plan Resources
While there are a number of different meal plan sites, we do happen to love ours. Two Chef Meal Plans has preset menus that we have put together with similar ingredients, a section for your own saved collections, recipes to pick from, simple allergy substitutions, and an editable shopping list. Our recipes also integrate with Instacart which is a huge bonus for those that want someone else to shop for them. We made the site with the flexibility of family’s needs in mind. We know there are tons of great meal planning apps and sites to look through but, we would love for you to check out ours.
Are you ready to take the plunge into meal planning? Join Two Chef Mission Meal Plans and gain access to exclusive menus, tips, recipes, and support for your weekly meals. (For Those with Allergies: Two Chef Mission Meal Plans is for you if you are very comfortable with your allergies or only have one of the top 9, if you have more extensive allergies, we recommend the course or an allergy consultation which you can get more info on HERE.)