Episode 6 – Meal Planning for Beginners

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meal planning for beginners

You asked and I heard you! In this episode, I’m going to break meal planning down into step-by-step pieces to help you start cooking from scratch every day.

Cooking from scratch can be way easier than it seems, especially with a little planning!

Listen to Episode 6

Meal Planning for Beginners

Jump ahead to read the episode transcript

Episode 6 timestamps:

  • 3:30 Cooking and sustainable living go hand-in-hand
  • 7:34 Why does meal planning feel so hard?
  • 12:30 My meal planning failures
  • 16:49 Mapping out a mental plate
  • 22:20 Track your favorite meals
  • 26:52 Figure out where to start
  • 30:57 Fill out the meal plan
  • 37:05 Simplify & troubleshoot

Get your pantry staples list now!

Cooking from scratch is a gift you can give yourself and your family! It’s way easier than you think and my free pantry staples list & meal planner will help you get started right away.

Send your free downloads directly to your inbox!


Action items:

Meal planning resources:

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Episode Transcript – Meal Planning for Beginners

Welcome

Welcome to Simple Sustainable Home. I’m Rachel, the blogger behind Milk Glass Home. My focus is all about making sustainable living easy and beautiful. We’re going to slow down and learn about cooking from scratch, gardening and preserving the harvest, setting up a low waste lifestyle, and keeping a nontoxic home. We have new episodes every Saturday to help you find new tips and strategies to make simple living easy. Let’s get started.

Welcome to the episode “Meal Planning for Beginners”

Hey there, everybody. Welcome back to Simple Sustainable Home. It is so great to have you here. And I am really excited to talk about today’s subject because I’ve been getting so much feedback from people that this is what they really want to know.

I recently posted a poll in my Facebook group called Simple Sustainable Home and I was asking, what do you want to hear? What do you want to know? And the topic that had the most clicks, the most votes was talking about cooking from scratch more.

And as I sat in that, as I thought about that, I was thinking, really, the way that you can start cooking from scratch more is to meal plan. And I know nobody really wants to hear that. That sounds kind of awful. You’re like, oh, she just gave me homework. It’s not a quick fix. It doesn’t feel like a beautiful glamorous thing, but really does matter that much.

So my focus today is I really want to guide you through step by step how to meal plan. And I’m going to break it down and I’m going to give you moments where I’m going to say, hey, if your brain is overwhelmed, stop and come back later. I’m not going to try to dump information on you. And I want you to take what you can from this episode, but also know that you can come back and reference it later if you’re like. Okay, I did one part, and now I’m ready for more.

So today is all about meal planning. I believe that’s the secret to really getting home cooked meals on the table and taking the stress out of cooking from scratch. And I know that a lot of us really need that as a solution right now. So that’s our focus today. I’m not going to waste any time because I want to get started right away. Let’s go ahead and jump in.

Set yourself up for success

Before we jump into all the details of meal planning, I want to let you know that I have tools to help you with this process that are totally free.

I’ve created a free pantry staples list, which you can use to set up a simple, real food pantry with the ingredients you need for every meal. I also have a free weekly meal planner, so this is a one-page tool that you can use to track every meal, every snack, and your grocery list all in one spot. These are free for people who subscribe to my email newsletter where I will share more tips and tricks to help you start cooking from scratch and live a simple sustainable life.

There is a link directly to this offer in the show notes. Go ahead and grab that. Make sure you have all of that before you jump into this process. That’s going to make it really easy.

Get your pantry staples list now!

Cooking from scratch is a gift you can give yourself and your family! It’s way easier than you think and my free pantry staples list & meal planner will help you get started right away.

Send your free downloads directly to your inbox!

Sustainable living & cooking from scratch go hand-in-hand

I always go back and forth when I talk about food and cooking from scratch because I have a hard time that some of my listeners, some of my readers, some of my followers, they only want to know about that. They don’t necessarily care about the sustainable living side of it or the local food side of it or the organic side of it.

And so when I start talking about that stuff, they’re like, what are you doing? I just want you to tell me how to make dinner tonight. And I completely hear that. But I need to say right here, right now, that those passions, the desire to cook from scratch and the sustainable living all go together.

I cannot separate them. They are intricately linked to me. I see that cooking from scratch has so much power, right? It has so much power to heal you, to save money, to help you develop these simple mindful routines every day. Like, think about how cooking is an act of love and act of care. Feeding our families is a way of showing that we love them so those things are really important.

But then from a sustainability side, I cannot underestimate the value of cooking from scratch. So we know that food waste is a huge issue. Like, 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste. And the average American family throws away $1500 worth of food every year. So food waste is not just a financial loss, it’s an environmental challenge that is really, really problematic.

It’s one of the few places where individual consumer action matters a ton. So often in sustainable living, we start to look at who is really causing the most problem. And it’s not you and me. It’s not individual consumers. And you might be thinking, well, Rachael, why have you been talking to me so much about my own actions if it’s not really my fault?

Well, for me, that’s the drops in the bucket mentality. If you found a penny on the ground, would you pick it up? Do these small actions lead up to collective, large-scale change? I think we’re seeing that right now.

Notice when you go to a store how many times you can find more sustainable products. And yes, some of it’s greenwashing. But like marketing companies and all of these businesses are finally learning, like, we want less plastic, we want things made to last, we want things more sustainable, we want them safe for our families and the environment.

We’re seeing just from consumers shifting their habits, the marketplace changing. So what happens if consumers start shifting their habits against food waste? We’re going to see less methane produced by landfills. We should probably see healthier people. My dream would be to see thriving local farms and farmers markets in every community. There’s a lot of social and environmental potential in cooking from scratch.

I ran a farmers market for four years. I can’t take it out of it. So if you ask me to stop talking about sustainable living when I talk about food, I will have to politely decline. And if that’s the deal breaker for you, I get it. But my hope is that if you’re here with me, if you’re listening to a podcast called Simple Sustainable Home, you are right there with me.

You understand the value of this, and you see that cooking from scratch has a lot of power, environmentally, financially, and from your own physical health, hopefully. I’ve clarified that these two go together. They’re always going to go together. For me, that’s where we are.

But we can totally do this. We can make cooking from scratch easy, which means we can save money, we can reduce our carbon footprint. All of those things are totally possible. We just have to have a clear-cut system that really works for us. That’s what we’re going to get today.

Yes, meal planning is that hard

The first thing that I really want to share in this episode is that if you feel like cooking from scratch has been challenging for you, or you’ve tried implementing a meal planning system or something, and it just hasn’t worked, I want you to know right now that that is normal.

I was on a podcast episode recently with Stephanie, a sustainable minimalist called Desperation Dinners, which is like, Rachael, what do you have to say to people who have a really hard time with cooking from scratch? Like, they want to do this, but it’s just not quite working for them.

My first thing is to just let you know that you’re totally right. This is actually hard. Meal planning, cooking from scratch juggling all of the demands of modern life. Knowing what’s in your pantry, knowing what’s in your fridge, thinking about what you need to use first, thinking about dietary preferences and food allergies, thinking about the weekly schedule, thinking about dishes, all of those things go into meal planning and cooking from scratch.

That’s a lot of stuff. That’s really a lot of stuff.

When I started thinking about meal planning from a teacher perspective, I was like, oh, my gosh, this is a really cognitively demanding task. If I gave my students a task that required them to synthesize information from all of these different parts of their lives and just do it, they’d fail.

You have to have some sort of baby steps built into that to build you up to that sort of performance. And just saying, yeah, this is actually really hard can be really helpful to understand that you are not alone. You are not wrong. You are not weak. You are not failing. You are not making a mistake. You’re doing everything right just by trying. It’s just that tricky.

But it doesn’t really have to be that tricky. I’ve created a few scaffolds. And if you’re a teacher, you’re like, I know what she’s talking about. Scaffolds are just like stair steps or baby steps that you can take to complete a more complicated task. It’s taking a more complicated task and then breaking it down into individual pieces and helping you achieve those so that you can be successful with the bigger task.

That’s what we need to do here. We need to figure out how to do that type of cognitively demanding thinking in an easy way. Doesn’t that sound nice to not make it this burdensome thing? So that’s my approach that I have to meal planning is I’m really going to break it down like a complicated task that I would give my students so that you can do this as simply and as effectively as possible.

Which of these meal planning tools would help you the most?

All right, my friends, I really need some help from you now. So I know that we’re all trying to learn how to cook from scratch. We’re trying to get our heads around meal planning and simplify the process. But I really want to know what is actually helpful for you.

So I’m trying to create some tools to help people get their meal plan under control. But I want to understand which of these three options sounds the very best option.

1: A workbook that’s going to break down all of the tasks and thinking and meal planning to make it really simple. Remember, as a teacher, I’m really good at creating tools to help break down complicated thinking tasks. And that’s exactly what this would be. Self paced. Get printed out and go through all of these steps with my guidance and tips.

2: The second option is a self paced course so you’d be able to log into a platform, watch videos. I’m going to share tips. You’ll have assignments to do there. I’ll help you remember important strategies. It’s going to really be like you’re in a meal planning classroom with me.

3: Your third option is to get a two week email challenge. So if you’re the kind of person who thinks, yeah, logging into a course platform is really not going to work for me. It would help me a lot more if I just got an email directly to my inbox with a brief video and some sort of tip. It’s kind of like putting that workbook and that course together and delivering it straight to your inbox.

Which of those three modes would be best for you?

Would you rather have a workbook, a self paced course or an email challenge? I’m going to put a poll on my Show Notes page because I really want to get some ideas from people about which of these I should focus on, because I already know what I want to tell you. I already know how I want to help you. I already have it broken down. It’s just doing it in a way that’s going to be the most valuable for you.

My Meal Planning for Beginners Story

I wanted to share a little story with you about my own experience with meal planning, because I know that when I talk about meal planning, it’s kind of like being a brownnoser at school.

Like if I say, well, all you really need to do is a meal plan, then people kind of roll their eyes and want to tune me out right away because they’re like, of course you would be a meal planner. We can tell.

I want to address that head on because I totally get it. Nobody wants to hear that somebody else has. It just so easy when they’re struggling with this that doesn’t feel relatable. But I’m not telling you that because I feel like I’m better in any way or that I don’t see the challenge, because that’s the thing. I do see the challenge and I get it.

I have a really hard time meal planning, and the reason why I’m good at it is because I’ve really focused on making it simple for me. This whole thing has been very selfish. This whole process of learning how to cook from scratch and meal plan has been to try to help me because it’s hard for me if I don’t meal a plan.

Here’s what dinner looks like. I am very well known for surviving off of just nachos. I’ve spent summers living off of just nachos and watermelon. But also like, those are the best things to eat in the summer. So they’re simple, they’re delicious. But that doesn’t really help me achieve my health goals. It doesn’t really help me live my best life.

So I can tell that if I don’t meal plan, I’m either going to eat something that’s not quite as healthy. I’m very prone to heading online and ordering a pizza. I’m very good at that. If I’m really hungry and I don’t have a good plan for dinner, I want to eat chocolate, I want to eat sugar. I want to have some sort of sweet snack. And again, that’s another thing that doesn’t really help my health goals.

So because I’m really serious about trying to make some lifestyle change and really eating home-cooked from-scratch meals, I’ve had to put in the work here. I’ve had to try to figure it out. Now you get to benefit because I’ve kind of used myself as a test subject and I’ve had successes and failures in that process. So I’m able to share with you what works for me.

I’ve been able to tweak that by sharing with other people. But I just need you to know I’m not here saying, this is so easy, and I don’t know why you haven’t done it already. Like, no, I totally get it. Meal planning is hard. Meal planning feels like a chore sometimes. It’s the sort of thing that people really want to put off. Like, you’ll keep telling yourself, I know I should. Oh, I know I should. Meal planner. Oh, yeah. I’m going to look into that later. And it just never happens.

You really have to ask yourself, at the end of the day, why has it not happened? And for me, it was a feeling of I just don’t even really know how to do this successfully. I don’t really get it. I feel frustrated by not getting it. I feel like I can figure out anything else, but I can’t figure out meal planning. Shouldn’t that be easy? If that’s the sort of thinking that you’re going through, that you’re feeling like this should be easier than it is, you’re in the right place.

You’re totally right. It should be easier than it is. But we really need to take an honest look at your lifestyle, your budget, your eating preferences and priorities, and we need to figure out what’s happening with your routine. That’s not working. And I’m going to share with you a lot of tips today about how to start fresh. You know, how can you just change how you think about meal planning and make it as easy as possible? So it’s something that you can really stick with because, let’s face it, we probably all need to have something Besides nachos and watermelon, although those are totally fine here and there.

Step 1: Imagine a Mental Plate

All right. The very first baby step that we need to take to be successful at meal planning is to imagine a mental plate. I know it sounds a little bit weird, but if you can come up with a formula for healthy eating that works for you and your family, then you can create a plug and play system where you just add foods to this equation and you know what to do.

And if you’re like, I hate equations. It’s really a lot more simple than that.

For us, we try to use this mental plate like we think of what’s an ideal healthy meal for us. We really try to eat kind of an anti inflammatory lifestyle, like anti inflammatory diet. So for us, that’s like a lower carb diet, not low carb, not keto. We don’t try to restrict things, but we’re trying to make sure that we’re adding as many fresh fruits and vegetables as we can and that we’re sticking to lower GI foods to reduce insulin resistance and reduce inflammation.

So for us, this is what my mental dinner plate is like. My ideal dinner plate looks like this on one half of it, it is filled with fresh produce, usually steamed or sometimes roasted. The other half is split into two. One quarter of this whole plate is high quality protein. The other quarter is some sort of lower GI starch. And that can be a whole grain or some sort of vegetable. Like, maybe it’s carrots or sweet potatoes or winter squash. Maybe it’s brown rice or quinoa.

But when I think about my plate like this, think about how simple that is. That means every recipe is simply meat, starch vegetable, meat, starch vegetable, meat, starch, vegetable. When I’m planning meals during the week, all I’m thinking about is meat, starch, vegetable. I’m picking just one of each of those things, and that is my meal.

I will say I often like to tie all the flavors together with some sort of sauce or some sort of seasoning. And I just pick the things I like the most. I love lemon. Anything like lemon pepper is probably my favorite thing. I like things. So lemony that my husband’s like, yeah, this is over the line. Like, most people wouldn’t want to eat it like this, Rachael. But I’m like, no, it tastes so good. It’s just so delicious.

We try to have just a basic handful of different flavor profiles that we like to add to things to eat. So we eat a lot of, like, Italian types of things, Mexican types of having lots of cumin and chili powder, and then we eat a lot of lemon pepper because I just love it so much. So then think about what sort of dinner that is.

Maybe I’m making some sort of roasted chicken thighs. I’m going to steam a whole bunch of broccoli, and I’m going to stick some Brown rice in the rice cooker that on its own is okay, that sounds pretty good, right? That’s a pretty healthy meal. But to make it even more exciting, I might just make a really simple gravy with lemon pepper sauce and some chicken stock. And then that’s going to tie everything together, and it’s really good.

And if you’re like, hey, I was good before when you said just three components. And now you’re talking about making sauces and stuff. I promise you, it’s actually way, way easier than you think. But this is the first step. What does a healthy plate look like to you? Do you want it to have more protein, more starch, fewer vegetables? I mean, whatever is right for you and your dietary preferences is fine. But for us, that’s what we like to do. And I find that having this again, this is plug-and-play.

If you’re a teacher, you’re like, this is like a sentence stem. You’re saying, fill in the blanks here. Protein, starch, produce, maybe some seasoning. If you can come up with that, that’s dinner. These are not complicated meals. These are not challenging meals. It’s really as simple as just picking three things and filling in the blanks.

All right, we’ve got our mental plate. We know what we want a healthy meal to look like, right? So we’ve talked about that. We’ve thought through, how do I want to break down those macronutrients in whatever way is best for you and your dietary preferences and your eating style.

Step 2: Master Meals List

The next thing is to brainstorm a list of our favorite meals. And maybe I should rephrase that, because I don’t just mean your favorite meals. I mean the meals that you can make without a recipe. And the reason why I’m saying this is that think about how a decluttering project works.

Recently, I was trying to organize our office space that we have, and I have tons of stuff just stashed in a closet. And I was like, I’m going to pull some of this out, and I’m going to go through it. I’m cleaning the closet. I’m going to pull up this box, I’m going to go through everything in it, and I’m going to make those decisions right then and there because I’m ready for less math. And then I’m engrossed in all of the individual things in this box. And before I know it, I’m kind of tired. I need a snack. I need to go to the bathroom. So I get up to walk away from this project, and of course, I never go back. And then you leave all this stuff scattered around because you don’t really have the mental or physical energy to get back into that complex of an activity.

Don’t let that happen to meal planning. I know that you are listening to this, and you’re trying to learn this because this really matters to you. You understand that this is a healthier way to eat. You’re in it to save some money, and maybe you even want to really reduce your waste. You’re thinking, I really want to be a little bit more sustainable, so I want to maximize the most of everything that I’m buying, and I want to eat as healthy as I can on a budget. This matters way too much to leave scattered in a spare room on a piece of paper.

I want you to think as simply as possible, what meals can you make from scratch? No recipes, no Googling. And even if you’re like, I’m not really sure. I don’t really have anything. I promise you, there’s something you can make. Can you make a quesadilla? Can you make a grilled cheese? Can you make some nachos? You can start with things just as simple as that.

Maybe there’s a recipe or two that you learned how tocook from scratch when you were growing up. So you’re like, I might not know how to cook a lot of things, but I know how to make that. I can make that without looking up any ingredients. Those are the recipes I want you to write down on your favorite meals list.

We’re going to come back to those in the next step and expand on them to help them fit your eating style. Okay. I just want to check-in and see how you’re doing with this process so far, because again, remember, meal planning is a cognitively demanding task. If we tell ourselves we’re going to do all of this and figure it out and be expert meal planners in 1 hour, it’s not going to happen again.

Our thought today is, how can I simplify this complicated process? To make it as easy as possible, we’re building in those stair steps so we’re starting with one simple task and then moving to the next simple task and then moving to the next one so that at the end of all of this, we are successful, effective meal planners.

Check in with yourself

So I want you to pause and check in with yourself right now. Are you feeling mentally burned out already? You’re like, hey, I’ve already done a lot of thinking. I’ve mapped out my mental meal plate or my mental plate. I’ve mapped out my favorite meals. Like, this is kind of a lot. I’m not really be ready for a next step.

If that’s the case, you can always stop here and come back later. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed by this process right now and quit. Instead, I want you to pick one teeny tiny step.

This is kind of a sequential task. Don’t jump ahead to the end. Start with the very first step. Be comfortable with that, kind of live with that, settle into that, and then add the next one.

So you have my permission to stop listening right now if your brain is already checked out. If your brain is like, I’m good, I understand this mental plate idea. It’s going to be super easy to jot down some of my favorite meals or I’ve already done it. Then great, go ahead and continue on.

But you have my permission at any point to pause this episode. Save it, come back to it later when you are ready for the next step. Okay? Okay.

So if you’re still listening, then you’ve decided, I’m good. I can take more information. My brain is not overstimulated right now. I’m ready for the next step. And that next step is going to actually be looking at a piece of paper and completing a meal plan.

And don’t worry, I’ve already created a meal plan template that you can use to make sure that this is really easy. It’s also kind of pretty. So I find that if the tool that I’m using looks nice and is effective, then I’m way more likely to actually stick with it. So I’ve created a really simple meal planning tool that you can print out one for every week and fill it out and you’re good to go.

Tip: Start with one meal at a time

But where do you even start with this? Which meal do you start with? If this task already feels kind of challenging, I don’t recommend starting with every single meal. Yes, you heard me say it might be fine to just stick with changing one meal at a time, letting that become comfortable and second nature to you, and then moving to the next meal.

If you are somebody who really needs a quick win, you’re like, I don’t even know where to start with all this meal planning business. I need to feel success so that I can keep going on this journey.

Start with Breakfast Breakfast is the easiest meal to meal plan. We really like to keep it very simple. I will often make just a simple egg casserole on a sundae where I scramble up a whole bunch of eggs, pour them in a baking dish and Bake them, and then I can portion that into about six portions, put them in our meal prep containers, and we’re good to go. Another option is to do something like baked oatmeal. We’ll often do that with eggs because we really like to have protein in the morning. But if you can find one or two simple, simple breakfast that you can prepare on a Sunday and eat during the week, you don’t even really have to think about breakfast again. You’re just going to take something out of the fridge, microwave it. You’re good to go super easy.

But maybe you’re thinking, I really want to start with dinner because I’m noticing that dinner time is when all of my plans seem to fail. You might even have a meal plan that you’re working with and you’re like, hey, I’m going to make this for dinner, but when you get home from work, you’re exhausted. You’re too drained. You can’t quite get there.

If dinner is where you’re struggling the most, you are welcome to start there. It’s the hardest one. It is tricky. You probably will fail and stumble. I fail and stumble with dinner sometimes that’s very normal. Dinner is the most complicated meal to prepare for many reasons, but it also doesn’t have to be that hard. But if this has been a really tricky spot for you and you want to start there, then go ahead and pick dinner as your starting point. Okay?

So choose which meal I want to start with. So I want to start with breakfast. So I want to start with dinner. And once you know, we’re going to keep moving on to the next step.

Join our Facebook Group

If you love sustainable living or simple living or cooking from scratch or gardening, or you just want to hang out with people who care about those things too. Do you know that this podcast has a Facebook group?

Guess what? It’s called Simple Sustainable Home and we talk about living a simple, sustainable life. It is that easy.

I would love to invite you to join us. We share our episodes. We talk about our favorite parts. We share resources and strategies to live a simple, sustainable lifestyle. I ask questions to build community and I’m hoping to get people to start sharing their own questions and photos.

I really want to turn this into a community where people lean on each other to help them in this process. Again, the group is called Simple Sustainable Home. It’s a Facebook group. You could either search for Simple Sustainable Home on Facebook, or if you check the show notes, you’re going to find a direct link to get you there right away. Can’t wait to see you inside

Breakfast meal planning ideas

if you chose breakfast, I’ve already shared a couple of ideas of meals that you could make. So think about things like baked oatmeal, egg casserole, or overnight oats.

Those are great because you’re just going to prep them into jars and stick them in the fridge. You can make a whole bunch of them on Sunday before the week gets crazy. You can also do Chia seed pudding, which is a nice low carb one too.

I was often doing Chia seed pudding, and I would put frozen blueberries as the sweetener really. And that was a really nice way to use up my frozen produce and also get some nice filling fiber in my belly before the day began. But we know that breakfast is a little easier.

But again, if this is new for you, if that feels challenging, pick one of those recipes. Or pick something really simple that you can make for breakfast that you can eat throughout the week. I’m telling you, starting your day knowing that breakfast is ready to go. And it’ll be ready either right away. If it’s a cold meal like overnight oats, or in a minute after microwaving an egg casserole, man, that just feels really great in the morning.

Dinner meal planning tips

But if you wanted to choose dinner, then let’s go back to that list of favorite meals. Let’s start with something that you already know how tocook, something that’s quick, something that feels easy, and plug that in one night a week. If you really want to push yourself, I would love to recommend that you try doubling that recipe.

So here’s what I like to do on Sunday night. Normally on Sunday, I’ve done some sort of meal prepping. I’ve got my breakfast casserole done. I’ve usually worked on something for lunch, which we’ll talk about lunch, probably in another episode. But lunch is really very similar to dinner, just dinner food, but made in a really big batch and portioned out. But for dinner, what I normally do is I make a giant pot of something.

On Sunday, I get a chance to look through my fridge. I see whatever vegetables I have hiding in there that are getting a little old, and I come up with a way to use those up. I often will make some sort of soup just because that’s so easy, like it’s so incredibly easy. It’s not always ideal in the summer, of course, but here in Western Washington, man, we can get by with soups for dinner like nine months of the year. So it’s a pretty good go to for us. We could also make something like a casserole, which is just like a thicker soup.

But anyway, what I’m trying to say is on Sunday, I look through the fridge, I find a couple of carrots. I see if I’ve got some celery. I grab an onion, I saute those up. I add whatever kind of meat I want to have. Am I going to do something chickeny, like a chicken noodle soup or chicken and rice soup? Am I going to do chicken and dumplings, which is my number one favorite meal of probably all time, or am I going to go the beef route? Am I going to do like a marinara bowl? Am I going to do some sort of tomatoey beef soup?

You know, I choose either one of those directions to notice that I’m limiting my choices of protein. I’m not saying, well, today I’m doing Turkey and tomorrow I’m doing whatever. No. It’s literally like, are you doing chicken or beef? Very simple.

I’m going to start with the same vegetables. I’m going to really just adapt the recipe by adding whatever extra vegetables I have on hand or changing up the grain.

So, for example, think about a chicken noodle soup. It’s really just a basic soup with broth chicken, onions, carrots and celery. That’s it. But you can adapt that and change it into lots of different things by adding noodles or dumplings or rice or whatever. I often like to make like a lemon chicken orzo soup. I’ll add lemon juice. And instead of spaghetti noodles, I will put in orzo. And then it becomes this really nice, delicious soup. But these are all the same base soup recipes. And I’m just adapting by changing up one or two ingredients. And I’ll make a giant pot of that on Sunday night.

So I’m clearing stuff out of the fridge. I’m just adapting a very simple recipe and I get my biggest stock pot and I make a huge batch. And since it’s just my husband and I, we can have that for dinner. We can usually have it for Monday night and maybe one other night during the week.

How great is it to come home from work and know you are not cooking? You are just heating up something you already made that is healthy and nourishing and made to your personal dietary preferences and needs. And it’s going to be ready in literally minutes. It is so helpful.

So if you can make a big batch of something on Sunday that you’re in a portion of during the week, then during the week you only have to cook a couple of nights. And that’s a great time to say, hey, Tuesday night we’re really busy coming home from soccer. So we’re going to heat up soup. But then Wednesday night we have a little more time. We’re going to do quesadillas and we’re going to have apples with them. Do you see what I’m saying?

Here where you can make one big pot of something on Sunday, eat that as leftovers during the week, and then you only have a couple of nights during the week that you need to make something else. And then you can use those really simple meals that you already know how to make quickly and dinner’s ready.

This is my favorite strategy to do, and it might sound confusing right now. It might be kind of tricky and maybe I haven’t explained it as clearly as I want to, but this is the sort of path that I want you to try to take. I want to think about how can I double up the amount of food that I make so that I have some leftovers to eat another night in the week?

Give yourself a break on the busiest nights of the week. And then when you need to fill in the gaps with really simple meals, this isn’t necessarily perfect. And there’s other parts of meal planning that we need to consider later. But man, this is a really nice way to start because you’re going to know that every night of the week I’ve got a plan. How great is that? How great would that feel?

Check in

So that’s where we want to go with our meal plan at this point. I want to give you a chance to do another body check here. I know I’ve talked about a lot of information. If you are feeling like, oh my gosh, this is good, but I don’t really this feels kind of like a lot.

If you’re feeling some sort of tightness anywhere in your body or you’re feeling a little hesitation or you’re feeling that sort of nervous trepidation that I want you to pause and think about where that is coming from. Is it because there’s a part of this that you have a question about that I have not answered? Because if that’s the case, you could head to the show notes and send me a message to let me know what you really need to know. What’s next? What specific question do you have that you want answered?

The other thing I want you to do here is remember, remind yourself of the fact that meal planning is hard, and especially for me this year. And for a lot of people.

I was working in a very high stress situation. I was experiencing chronic stress every day. I was not doing well, like self care was a necessity, but even self-care wasn’t enough. And in those situations, it’s so hard to stick to something like meal planning and cooking from scratch. It feels a lot better to just grab a tub of ice cream from the freezer or grab some chips from the pantry.

But all of those things feed the problem. They don’t really help anything. So if you’re under chronic stress or you’re a parent or you’re going through a mental or physical health challenge, or if you’re neurodiverse and you struggle with executive functioning skills, then you might be thinking this is all just too much. And I don’t really know if I’m ready for it right now. If that’s the situation, I want you to choose one step to try.

Maybe today you just want to brainstorm that mental plate. What would a healthy meal look like for me? What ingredients would I want to have in there?

Or maybe you want to write down a list of recipes that you can make without looking at the ingredients. Those are two really good baby steps. But if there’s one cooking action that I would recommend that you try out this week. So if there’s one meal you’re going to cook, think about Sunday nights. And if your schedule is different, it doesn’t have to be Sunday nights. Try to make a big pot of something. You can make a lasagna or some sort of casserole, make a big pot of soup, make something that you can eat as leftovers even one night later in the week.

Imagine how nice it would be to come home on your busiest, most stressful day of the week and know that all you have to do is heat up some leftovers and good leftovers leftovers that you want to eat. That is such a relief. It feels so good.

And when you get in the habit of eating at home, of just heating something up while your food is heating up, you could then convince yourself to do some other things. Like maybe you’re going to Peel some carrots for a recipe later in the week. But again, these are baby steps. So if you just do one thing on this list, I would love to challenge you to make a big batch of something on Sunday night and eat it during the week. That’s it. That is it.

You’re already cooking on Sunday. What if we just made more of it? Do you think you could handle that? Does that sound like a good plan? Does that sound like a good strategy? I want to know, does that feel accessible to you? I don’t know where everybody is. Are you a real beginner and you need these tiny, tiny baby steps, or are you somebody who has some skills and you’re ready for more advanced content? You can head to the Show Notes and leave me a message so I know how to tailor my blog posts and my content in my podcast episodes just for you.

Meal Planning for Beginners Resources

All right, everyone. I know I’ve covered a lot of ground here, so we have gone through a lot of details, and hopefully you’re taking away an action step or some sort of tip about making your meal planning routine a little bit more successful, especially if you are a total beginner. And I want to let you know that there’s plenty more resources on my site.

So first, don’t forget to get your pantry staples list and your meal planner, because those are going to help you tremendously.

Then I’ve got a post about my five favorite last minute dinners that I make on those nights when I’d really rather just order a pizza. I have a bunch of tips about simplifying meal planning.

I have information about learning how to cook without recipes. That’s a big part of it.

If we can do that, meal planning is way easier and I just want to leave you with one word of advice here which is to remember that meal planning is not an all or nothing process. Don’t make this black and white think of meal planning as simply a habit or routine that we’re building which means we need repetition. We need practice. We need to just keep trying.

If you can remember this one thing meal planning is supposed to take away the stress. If your meal planning routine is adding stress then the piece, the stuff that you’re on is too big and we need to cut it into a smaller slice to scale it back.

Make each piece as easy as possible, let that become comfortable and then move on. If you have an idea for an episode or you have a question about this process that you would like me to answer, head to simplesustainablehome.com send me a message. Leave me a comment. Let me know. Is this resonating? Is this helpful? What do you want to hear?

That’s everything for today. I’ll be back next week and I hope you have a wonderful week. Take care.

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