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Woman's hands chopping vegetables with grey overlay with how to meal plan when you work at home and May Virtual Assists' logo

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When you're trying to build a business, it can be challenging to do all of the housework and work on your business! That's why it's so important to create a plan for success in whatever you're doing. It doesn't matter whether you're working on business tasks or home tasks, it's much easier to get things done when you make a plan.

That's why I'm talking about planning today, specifically meal-planning. If this is a struggle for you, as it was for me, check out these tips on how to create a meal plan that works when you work at home! 

Before I get started sharing my top tips, I want to let you know what this post is not. I am not a food blogger, so I'm not sharing my favorite recipes. I do have some excellent recipe round-ups on a board on my Pinterest account, so you can find that here or the board is embedded at the bottom of this post.

First of all, I don't really use recipes when I cook. I am more of a look at a recipe and throw things in without measuring. Don't get me wrong, I'm a good cook (at least my husband, sons, and family members think so!), but I can't share recipes when I don't measure the ingredients. Most people, especially new cooks, struggle with my directions because they aren't precise. Of course, there's also the fact that I never make things the exact same way because I don't measure. I like the creativity, but my husband has a hard time following my directions when I try to tell him how to make something. He's not a natural cook, and he's an engineer. #dontknowhowheputsupwithme 

The second reason I'm not sharing recipes is that creating a meal plan is so much more than putting a bunch of recipes on a schedule. It's developing a system or strategy that will work for you. Plus, with all the various food allergies, dietary preferences, varying levels of cooking abilities, and time restrictions out there, it is IMPOSSIBLE to provide recipes that meet every person's needs. That's why I'm sharing the tips that you need to develop a meal plan and strategy that will work best specifically for you. Creating a meal plan is so much more than putting a bunch of recipes on a schedule. It's developing a system or strategy that will work for you! Check out these tips to get you started. Click To Tweet

Let's get to it!

Organizing the Meal Plan

The first step to using a meal plan is to think about what will work for you. Again, there are so many options! Some people plan an entire month at a time. Others have a certain number of meals that go through a rotation. I had a friend who had 21 dinners that her family rotated through. She would add new recipes periodically, but they generally had all of those 21 meals in a month.

A lot of people are successful with theme nights. Popular ones include Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, etc. We have Pizza night every Friday, because Mama is tired! Also, we do a breakfast dinner a few times a month, and my husband is in charge (I told you he wasn't much of a cook). We also eat out a few times a month, so I count those as part of the meal plan, too.

When I was looking for input for this post, Karen from Running on Balance shared this,

My favorite strategy is one that I use with my own family. I call it "The Sunday Question." The Sunday Question is: "What do you want for dinner this week?" Each of my three kids plus my husband has to offer a dinner menu. I add in another. That gives us five meals for the week right there!

I love the idea of making it a regular thing to have the hubby and kids involved in planning. Sometimes I ask my husband for ideas and his response is usually "Whatever you want to make will be delicious." It's a sweet compliment, but it doesn't help when I'm stumped. I'm definitely starting with the "Sunday Question" in my home!

Budgeting the Meal Plan

When you're shifting to using a meal plan, it can require adjustments to your budget. If you haven't really meal-planned in the past, you might have made multiple small trips to the grocery store throughout the week. You might not have used a list. You might eat out a lot. All those little expenses don't seem like much, but they definitely add up quickly! 

The first time you go to the grocery store with a list for a week's (or more) worth of groceries, the bill can seem ridiculous! Spending a$100+ dollars on groceries at once can be hard to swallow. If you're doing significant meal prep or freezer cooking that requires a lot of supplies and meat, you can end up spending a few hundred dollars. Don't let that stop you from creating a meal plan and sticking to it!

Rachel from Budget with Rachel has several posts about freezer cooking. In this post, she suggests two ways to find the money to start freezer cooking:

  • Save for them quarterly.  You can put $50/month (or whatever that number looks like for you) toward saving for the next round of freezer meals.  Then when it is time to purchase the ingredients, you have $150-$200 saved for them.
  • Use money out of your monthly budget.  If you have enough income you can just increase your grocery budget for one month and cut some expenses elsewhere.

Rachel has other posts about meal-planning and budgeting, so be sure to check those out, too!

Here are a few more tips for budgeting for a meal plan:

  • Always make a list. Look at the meals you're planning to make AND what you already have at home to see what you actually need. When I don't make a list, I inevitably forget something that I need. When I don't look at what I already have, I end up with multiples of things that take forever to use up! Why do I have three bottles of Worcestershire sauce in my pantry?? #truestory
  • Make it easy to take your list with you. I used to forget my list at home, leave it in the car, or lose it in my purse. Now I keep it in the Trello app on my phone. I love it so much! I always have it with me, I can add to it on home or on the go, and I can check things off as I add them to my cart. If you want to see more about how I much I love Trello and all the things I use it for, you can read this one, or this one, or this one. (I might have a problem...) You can even grab your own copy of my weekly Trello board with the built-in shopping list by subscribing to the May Virtual Assists' email list. Don't worry! I won't spam you. 

 

  • Control the impulse buys. Whatever you do, don't go to the grocery store when you're hungry. Or send your husband when he's hungry. Or take small children when they're hungry. The amount of snack food that ends up coming home is ridiculous. Our grocery store now offers free apples or bananas for kids under 12 to eat while they're shopping. My kids definitely like shopping a lot better than they used to, and we don't need a "treat" to get through the grocery store. Serious mom win on that one!
  • Look at what's on sale and what you have coupons for. If you have some flexibility in your budget and a place to store excess food, stock up when things are on sale. I usually buy meat for several meals when it's on sale. We have a freezer in our garage, and I love that I can stock up when I find a good deal. If you don't have time to batch cook (see below) the meat you buy, I do recommend splitting packages into smaller amounts that you can pull out for a single meal. I don't have one, but I have a friend that swears by her Food Saver vacuum sealer like this one (affiliate link). I just use freezer bags, but we're not too picky about freezer burn. 
  • Order your groceries for pick-up or delivery. You only end up with what's on your list. Every. Single. Time. I've done curbside pick-up, and it's so helpful when you're super busy! Each store or service has their own policies for their pick-up and delivery options, so be sure to check those out. I've used curbside pick-up from Kroger, Wal-Mart, and H-E-B, and they're all great. It does take a little more time the first few times compared with making a list, but it definitely saves time vs. doing the shopping yourself. 

Once you've got the groceries bought, you're ready to get cooking!

mushrooms on a cutting board with knife and parsley.

Executing the Meal Plan

This part scares some people who are new to meal planning. They might feel overwhelmed at the thought of coming up with meals all the time. Or having to cook all the time. Or being locked into a specific meal every night. 

But that's actually the beauty of meal-planning!

You are building and executing a meal plan that works for you. It can look like whatever you want. There's not a right or a wrong method. You also know what type of meal plan works with your schedule. Especially when you're running a business. 

Samantha Eaton from HealthyEaton.com gets it. She recommends breaking up meal planning and prep over a few days. She says, 

On Thursday, pick the meals you want to cook for the coming week and write out your grocery list. On Friday, get your groceries. On Saturday and Sunday, you already have your gameplan, you already have your groceries, all you do now is find pockets of time here and there to do prepwork.

Samantha said her clients love this tip, and I can see why! If you've ever tried to plan, shop, and cook all in one day, it's exhausting. I did it this past weekend for my son's birthday, and I'm still recovering! 

Another great way to execute a meal plan is to batch cook the main ingredients. For example, when I come home with a big package of chicken breasts from the store, I throw all of the chicken breasts into my Crock-Pot (affiliate link) with a cup of water and cook them on low for six hours. I can then put the number of cooked chicken breasts my family needs for a meal into quart-size freezer bags. Plus, I can leave them as whole breasts, cut them into chicken strips, dice them, or shred the chicken. When I need the chicken, I pull out what I need in the morning, and it's thawed for use by dinnertime. 

You can also batch prep fruits and veggies for the week by washing and cutting them into servings. It makes it so easy to add them to quick breakfasts, school lunchboxes, and family dinners. This works for most harder types of fruits and vegetables, but it's not the greatest for fruits like apples and bananas and vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and avocadoes.  These are likely to change colors and become weird textures when they're prepped beforehand. This post from Meal Prep Magic is especially helpful in understanding how long food lasts when you prep them early in the week.  

Other tips for executing a meal plan:

  • Keep it simple, sista' (or bro 😀) - I make very simple breakfasts and lunches because I don't want to be cooking all day. We're oatmeal, cereal, or smoothie people for breakfast and lunches are usually leftovers, sandwiches, or salads. Karen from Running on Balance says, "Not every meal needs to be a Thanksgiving feast! There is nothing wrong with baked, seasoned chicken on top of a mixed greens salad. It's simple but nutritious." Plus, there are so many ways to season chicken that you don't even have to make the same meal everytime you make the same ingredients! 
  • Involve the entire family in cooking - As I shared above, my husband cooks simple meals for our family. These usually involve breakfast dinner or grilling, but they're dinners and I don't have to make them! Karen also shares that she has her kids help with age-appropriate kitchen tasks like washing produce, chopping veggies, and even browning meat as they get older. When you can hand off those repetitive tasks and prepare your kiddos for future life, it's always a win!
  • Use those kitchen appliances - I already shared how I use my Crock-pot (affiliate link) for batch cooking, but I also cook meals with it. I use that or my Instant Pot (affiliate link) at least once a week. I love that I simply dump ingredients in and leave it alone. It's perfect for those days that are crazy busy and you still need to fit in time to work your business!
  • Start small with your meal plan. If you've never laid out a plan before, don't try to make a schedule that has 21 meals in a week on it. You will burn yourself out and go right back to whatever you were doing before. Maybe start with planning four dinners during the week, then go to six. I definitely recommend at least one night of rest a week!
  • Be flexible. While I do plan a specific meal for each night, I'm ok with switching it up. If something pops up during the week and we have to have pizza on Wednesday night instead of Friday, we all survive. Sometimes (when I'm really feeling wild), we might have something that's not even on the meal plan at all! 😲

There you have it. All of the best tips to get going with a meal plan. You can even get it going for next week! Don't forget to involve your family, and don't go to complicated.  

I can't wait to hear about your meal planning success! Let me know how you're doing by leaving a comment below or on my Facebook page. Or, if you have a tip that I missed, please share it. Life is better when we work together.

As promised, here is my Pinterest board for Meal Planning and Prep. I would love for you to check it out, find some good meal ideas to get you started, and, of course, follow my Pinterest profile!
 

 

Until next time,

owner name with logo, website, and tagline for May Virtual Assists

 

 

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