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Meal Planning Is the Daily Structure You Need Right Now

A man, woman, and little girl chopping and cooking vegetables in a kitchen.
George Rudy/Shutterstock

There are many benefits to meal planning, such as eating healthier and saving money. Most importantly, though, meal planning can offer some much-needed structure during times of uncertainty.

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially type-A folks, who are used to planning every aspect of their lives well in advance. Channeling that pent-up energy into organizing the week’s menu can be a helpful way to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Limit Snacking and Grazing

Has your snacking increased since you started working from home? If so, you’re not alone. This lack of structure has caused many people to deviate from their normal routines.

However, a preplanned menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can help keep you on track. You can even add a “snack of the day” to limit impulsive choices, like downing an entire bag of Oreos. (But, hey, no judgement here—sometimes, an Oreo-binge is just what you need).

If you have a house full of hungry kids, meal planning will help limit constant snacking. At school, kids were used to having designated snack and meal times. Now, with everyone at home, they’re probably grazing constantly. Not only does this spoil their appetites, but you’re sure to go broke in the process.

Reduce the chaos by listing snack time on your daily schedule, and then make it easy for your kids to grab their own (approved) snacks.

It’s never too early to teach your children about self-control and independence!

Stay on Top of Balanced Meals

A plate loaded with salad and quinoa, and sliced tomatoes, chicken, avocados, and limes.

Having a plan will ensure your family’s eating a variety of balanced meals. If you wait until the last minute to decide what’s for dinner, it’s easy to fall into the rut of just whipping up mac and cheese or nuking soggy leftovers.

However, if you write or type out your week’s menu in advance, you can keep things interesting. For example, you can list your family’s favorite veggies, and then spread them out over the week. Maybe you have green beans on Monday, carrots on Tuesday, and then asparagus on Wednesday.

You can also alternate the protein options, such as having chicken on Monday, beans on Tuesday, beef on Wednesday, and so on.

We suggest creating a spreadsheet of your family’s favorite meals or pinning them on a Pinterest board. Then, you can just scroll through the options at the beginning of each week and pick a few well-loved dishes. You can add some new recipes to try out, too.

Looking for inspiration? My Pinterest meal page has plenty of tasty recipes to suit any palate.

Avoid Hunger-Induced Anxiety

Nothing’s worse than a hunger attack at 5 p.m., while your kids are screaming in the background. Add in a couple of barking dogs, and you’re bound to lose your mind.

A solid meal plan can help you avoid this type of last-minute panic. At the very least, it’ll reduce any meal-prep anxiety, like starting a recipe only to realize you’re missing half the ingredients. Oops!

Make your life easier by doing some meal prep throughout the day. For example, toss some rice in your Instant Pot during your lunch break. Chop a few veggies while your kids are having their afternoon snack.

Better yet, just throw everything into your slow cooker first thing in the morning, and dinner will be ready when it dings eight hours later.

If you despise cooking, but have to do it, try some of these tips and see if you don’t learn to love (or at least tolerate) it!

You can also lighten your load by assigning chores to your kids or teaching your teen how to cook—maybe he’ll love it!

Channel Your Planning Skills

A piece of paper with "Meal Plan" written at the top, and the days of the week listed below.

As we mentioned previously, all the planners out there are suffering big time. Normally they’d be organizing an upcoming vacation, doctor visits, birthday parties, and so on. Sadly, though, all that planning is on lockdown due to COVID-19.

So, why not channel that energy into meal planning?

We suggest using a standard whiteboard and thin tape to create your weekly menus. Alternatively, you can get this magnetic whiteboard menu and hang it right on your fridge.

Get the whole family involved in the brainstorming process. Mix healthy meals with a few treats, such as chicken nuggets or homemade pizza.

Save Money

Meal planning saves money because it transforms your regular shopping trips into focused missions. If onions, beef, and broccoli are on the list, that’s all you get.

Plus, if you plan out a week’s worth of meals, you can limit your trips to the store. The less time you spend perusing grocery aisles (either in person or online), the more you’re bound to save.

You can even take it a step further and list all the food you can make from scratch, like bread, salad dressing, or snacks. Every little bit you can save will add up over time.

Meal planning is a helpful life skill, and it benefits the whole family. It also helps you focus on eating healthy, reduces meal-prep anxiety, and saves you money. So, start searching for recipes!

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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