There are lots of advantages to meal planning including eating better while saving time and money.
But like with most everything in life, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The key is to find the approach that is right for you and your age and stage of life.
So when Carol wrote to me seeking guidance with meal planning when you have a busy unpredictable schedule I could totally relate....
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with me. I have a challenge for you? I get the planning piece; however, my husband and I have crazy, busy lives and eat out A LOT!!! So every time I plan to plan and buy what I need to do that, we get bombarded by unexpected evening meetings and eating out and either freezing or tossing what went bad….help! ~ Carol
Realistic Meal Planning For Busy Unpredictable Lives
We've probably all been in Carol's shoes at one time or another. We've planned and shopped for every meal from Sunday to Saturday, but then there’s a last-minute dinner invite from a friend, or lunch opportunity with your mom, or you end up having to work late.
Before you know it there's a fridge full of limp soggy vegetables and expired chicken staring back at you from the fridge. So much for saving money, not to mention the larger economic, humanitarian and environmental implications.
If something is overwhelming you it's time to readjust your plan.
So what is the solution?
A big part of successful meal planning is staying flexible for life's ups and downs. Having too many meals mapped out isn’t just a lot of work, it’s also likely to lead to wasted food.
You've got to factor in the unexpected including spontaneous meal(s) away from home, what to do when you're too tired to cook or can't get to the store.
Here's the approach that I take when my life is busy and I'm eating out several times a week:
Restaurant food is often fancier and heavier than the kinds of recipes I prepare myself at home. To maintain my sense of balance and keep my clothes from getting snug I usually want lighter, simpler foods the nights I eat in. I also usually end up bringing home part of my meal when I eat out providing a steady supply of leftovers to use as a jumping off point.
Make a Meal Plan Using Only Two or Three Recipes
Often small busy families only need to plan two or three meals each week. Leftovers from those meals along with leftovers from restaurant or takeout meals is usually more than enough food for the week.
Chose 2-3 dinners that you can cook ahead each week. Soups are perfect for this. I often cook one big pot of soup every week, usually in the slow cooker. There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day and having dinner ready in minutes with a simple re-heat.
My husband and I have been known to enjoy a week's worth of meals from a rotisserie chicken, refried beans, tortillas and leftover roasted vegetables. It's amazing how many different combinations can be created from these few ingredients, along with whatever else you find in the fridge like cheese, salsa, salad greens, etc.
Here are a few ideas:
- Rotisserie chicken & grilled vegetables
- Rotisserie chicken & refried bean burritos
- Burrito bowls with chicken, grilled vegetables, cauliflower rice and refried beans
- Rotisserie chicken & cheese quesadillas with a can of soup or simple green salad alongside
- Scrambled eggs or frittata with rotisserie chicken, grilled vegetables & cheese
- Quick & Easy Chicken, Salsa & White Bean Soup
- Salads topped with rotisserie chicken and grilled vegetables
- Pasta with rotisserie chicken, grilled vegetables, and salsa or marinara sauce
Keep a list of simple recipes that you can whip up in minutes from a few healthy pantry/fridge/freezer staples. With a supply of dried pasta, quick cooking whole grains, canned tomatoes, beans, tuna, eggs, cheese, frozen peas and broccoli it's always easy to create light and healthy meal in minutes.
Some of my go to simple meal ideas include:
- Pasta and Frozen Broccoli boiled together, drained and tossed with a little olive oil, Parmesan cheese and generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.
- Simple Tuna & White Bean Salad
- Cottage Cheese, Salsa Baked Potato - a WW classic I learned about years ago.
- 4-Ingredient Corn & Bean Soup
- Scrambled eggs, omelet or frittata. Here's a fun recipe for a quick & easy salmon omelet made in a mug.
- Frozen black bean burger on an english muffin with a side of healthy canned soup.
- Pancakes, oatmeal, or peanut butter toast
One Day at a Time Day-by-Day Meal Planning
Taking a day-by-day, meal-by-meal approach to meal planning can be very effective for folks who lead busy unpredictable lives. It can be very economical too.
At the end of day, take a look around at what you have on hand, what needs to be used up and/or what was available at the market and decide what you will make. Leftovers can often be turned into tasty soups or casseroles.
Refer to cookbooks that focus on simple recipes or use our handy WW Recipe Search tool for ideas.
You Might Also Like:
- Free WW Friendly 7 Day Meal Plan for Two
- How Do You Keep Track of Your Meal Plan Ideas
- 101 Meal Prep Tips from Successful Weight Watchers
- Easy Healthy Meals from the Pantry for Weight Watchers
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