Are you making meal planning mistakes? Maybe you don't even know you're making them? I know these are made because I've made a ton myself!
It doesn't matter if you're a meal planning newbie or a seasoned expert, these mistakes can be easy to make, but also to fix.
If you're a meal planning beginner or still not sold on why you should do it, read my post, 4 Reasons Why You Should Meal Plan.
These meal planning mistakes cost us time – sometimes causing us to spend a lot more time planning than we should, effort – making it a lot harder than it needs to be, and sometimes even money – when we waste food and throw it out since we planned poorly.
If you want to avoid these costly mistakes, either watch the video below or skip ahead and read further for the 13 meal planning mistakes I share!
13 Meal Planning Mistakes
(1) Sitting down with a stack of cookbooks and Pinterest and figuring out your meals
This is the quickest way to overwhelm and spending WAY too much time planning. Sure, sitting down with a stack of books can be fun and inspiring, but it's not a sustainable way to plan week after week. Instead, pick one or two books OR go online to a Pinterest board of tried and true recipes and plan from those.
The exception to this rule is if you know of a certain recipe from Cookbook A and another one from Cookbook B, etc. that you can make this week. I'm talking more about flipping through and seeing what looks good and not having any specific idea of what recipes you want to make from each book until you look through them.
(2) Trying out all new meals/recipes each week
Unless you're going cold turkey onto a new style of eating or doing a trial week of a diet, this will also burn you out. Instead, try rotating in 1-2 new meals each week – and when you have plenty of time to make them. On the other nights, make tried and true meals.
Keep a list of these favorite, known meals on a piece of paper, in the Notes app on your phone, in a spreadsheet, or in some meal planning software so that you can easily draw from them.
(3) Trying out a new meal on a busy night, or for guests
Have you ever made a recipe that says it's going to take 15 minutes and yet 45 minutes later you're still prepping the dang thing and haven't even started cooking it yet? Yeah, this is why we don't try out new recipes on busy nights. Hello stress!
And then you also don't want to make it for guests for the first time since you don't know if it'll turn out. I remember once making some Paleo hamburger buns that looked like flat pancakes when they were done. Good thing I wasn't trying to impress anyone!
(4) Not taking inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer before figuring out what to make for the week
You might have some leftover veggies that are crying to be used or that pound of ground beef that you meant to make on Friday is still hanging out. Use this stuff up!
(5) Failing to make sure your pantry essentials are always stocked
There's nothing worse when you're going to make chili and realize that you only have 1/4 tsp of chili powder left. Make sure you do a quick look through all your spices, flours, and anything else you might “take for granted” and restock if necessary
(6) Thinking it's going to take 15 minutes to meal plan when you first start out
This is what it takes me now, but I've been doing this for years. When you're a meal planning beginner it can take a long time. You need to organize, figure out what meals work for you, and especially if you're new at eating a certain way, like Paleo for instance, it can take you a while to build up a recipe database.
Count on it taking almost an hour the first few times. It should get easier and less time consuming as you go though!
(7) Not figuring out WHY you want to meal plan
This one may sound a bit “woo-woo” but it's one of the most important. Why do you want to meal plan? Is it because you know if you don't you won't eat Paleo? Or if you don't your family will eat whatever and never sit down at the table together? Or do you find yourself so stressed out at meal time because you don't know what to make you often just give up and eat out? It can be a combo of these too.
Figure it out and remember it since it'll help give you the motivation to do it each and every week. (My WHY? Because when I don't I get really stressed and turn to foods that cause my autoimmune disease symptoms to come back + spend a ton of money on eating out)
(8) Forgetting to write down your plan for the week
hee, hee, I do this one more than I'd like to admit. But it really helps to write it down because while you THINK you're going to remember everything you're planning to make, when life gets busy and you have to make dinner NOW, you might forget.
Usually my ramifications for this are that I make a protein with the completely wrong side dish and then when I go to make something with that veggie the next night I realize it's gone. My whole “plan” at that point is shot and I have to come up with something on the fly – which is what I'm trying to avoid because that equals stress.
(9) Scheduling produce-heavy meals at the end of the week (the furthest away from your shopping trip)
This one may not affect you if you shop multiple times a week, but I tend to only go once a week (I spend WAY too much if I go multiple times since I wind up getting a bunch of stuff I don't need). But if you're like me and only go once a week, plan to have the delicate produce options, like greens that wilt and other things that go bad earlier in the week. Then the heartier veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower, for instance, can go later in the week.
(10) Forgetting to take proteins out of the freezer
Again, this one may not be a factor if you don't actively use a freezer to store things, but for many of us it's the crux of our budget-saving process to buy meats on sale or in bulk. Yet, when you need a recipe NOW and it's still frozen, it doesn't help. Some things can be cooked from frozen, and you can quickly thaw some things as well, but it's way easier if you can remember at least 24 hours ahead of time to remove things from the freezer.
I typically meal plan on Saturdays, so I take out Sunday through Wednesday's proteins on Saturday, and then Thursday – Saturday's proteins on Wednesdays. But you can also set calendar reminders or post a note on your freezer to remind you as well.
(11) Forgetting to do the “leftover desire test”
Say what? This is my term for figuring out if you're actually going to want to eat the leftovers you planned. For instance, part of my meal planning strategy is to build in making enough dinner to feed my husband and I leftovers for lunch the next day. However, what sounds good for dinner may sound terrible for lunch. Like salmon for me – I love salmon for dinner and could eat it all the time. But I CANNOT and WILL NOT eat leftover salmon for lunch. EWW. Just no. But it took several times of me making it, smelling it, taking a tentative bite, and just saying “F NO” before I threw it out (wasting it) and went and got something else to eat.
Save your money and effort by making sure you're actually going to want to eat it. This may take some experimentation to figure out what you will want to eat, but once you know what you WON'T eat, just don't schedule it.
(12) Not having an emergency backup plan
When you meal plan you do so with the best of intentions. But life happens. Maybe something came up or you didn't follow Tips 9 and 10 and you have moldy kale and frozen pork shoulder and it's 6 pm. It's always a good idea to have an emergency backup plan so you don't resort to going to McDonalds.
This can look like an easily defrostable freezer meal (need some ideas? Check out my Mini AIP Freezer Meal Plan in my Paleo Freebie Library) or a box of gluten-free pasta with sauce. Jill Klausen, a YouTube viewer of mine, even mentioned she keeps sweet potato starch noodles, frozen spinach, garlic sauce, and frozen shrimp on hand – these both cook up really quickly and make a great meal.
(13) Not giving yourself flexibility
Just as in Tip # 12, life happens. Maybe you thought Tuesday was going to be a night with tons of time but something came up and now you have 30 minutes. Maybe you can switch the meal with the one for Thursday or you can eat out and freeze the components of the meal you had planned on eating. Perhaps schedule in a “leftovers” night so you can breathe easier if something does come up.
Flexibility can take many forms, but don't be so planned out that you can't rearrange things if needbe.