I would be lying to you if I said I started meal planning in order to save money, reduce food waste or to eat better. These are just happy byproducts of a more selfish goal: my commute time was about to triple and I didn’t want to have to think about meals when I got home from work. But once I got started, I couldn’t get over how much money we were saving and how little food we were wasting. We’ve actually high-five’d at the dinner table when we’ve realized our home-made dinner cost less than $5 per person. I also find it strangely gratifying to go from having a fully stocked fridge every Sunday to a barren wasteland of a fridge when the next Saturday rolls around. We use everything we buy, and I’ve gone from going to the grocery store almost every day to maybe twice a week.
If this sounds exciting to you–and it won’t for everyone–I’m about to kick off a two-part post on meal planning. Today’s post is all about the mindset, or terms and conditions as I’m calling them, that I think are necessary to stick with meal planning and reap its benefits. Next week I’ll be back with a nuts-and-bolts ‘how to’ post. Let’s get planning!
First things first…terms and conditions
It may seem odd to talk about meal planning and mindsets. Most of the time we jump right to the ‘how to’ part. The problem with that is, at its heart, meal planning is a behaviour change and behaviour changes are mostly about mindset changes. The execution part is going to be more successful if your head’s in the game. In other words, if you want to stick to meal planning, you’ll probably want to agree to the following terms and conditions:
1. Get over your commitment issues: For a meal plan to actually save you money, you’re sometimes going to have to eat things you don’t really feel like eating. There will be times when it’s tempting to order in, go out, or hit the grocery store for something else. Resist the urge! You don’t really want to throw $10-50 down the drain nor condemn that beautiful head of lettuce to a slow, wilting death do you? I didn’t think so. To save money meal planning, you’ve got to be okay with the trade offs. In this case, your trade off is that lovely instant gratification to which we’ve all become accustomed.
2. Plan ONLY for your cooking style and level: This is the age of the foodie, and with that can come immense (and largely self-inflicted) social pressure to cook elaborate and beautifully plated meals. That’s all well and good if you are experienced in the kitchen and have a passion for cooking. If you don’t, it can be intimidating. Meal planning will only work in the long run if you are selecting meals that you are able and willing to prepare, and that include foods that you genuinely enjoy eating. Everyone may tell you kale salad is the best thing since sliced bread (and I might tend to agree) but if you hate kale, I can tell you you’ll be ordering a pizza before you know it. Similarly, if you hate doing a ton of food prep, making that recipe with 19 different ingredients, all of which need to be chopped in a different way, is never going to happen. Once you get comfortable in the kitchen and with sticking to a meal plan, spread your wings, diversify ingredients and become more elaborate. You gotta walk before you run.
3. Repetition is your friend: Yeah, yeah, variety is the spice of life and all that jazz. Let’s face it, though, most of us are stuck on repeat when it comes to our dining options, whether it’s cooking at home or eating out. I used to think that was a bad thing, but when it comes to meal planning repetition is your friend. Why? Ultimately, to save the most money with meal planning, you’re going to want to buy in bulk when you can and build multiple meals around the same ingredient. If you’re cooking for one or two, meal planning also means leftovers. Really, no matter how you slice it, you’re going to have repetition with meal planning. If you can be at peace with this, you’re more likely to succeed. I like to think of repetition like the old friend who you never tire of. If you legitimately crave a ton of variety in your meals, you can still meal plan, but you may not save as much money doing it.
Thank you for indulging in my need to explore the philosophical side of almost any issue. Next week I’ll be back with Part II, which is the part most people will actually care about: the brass tacks of how to start meal planning. Stay tuned.