If you’ve been on Pinterest for more than 5 minutes, you’ve probably run into about 893 people trying to tell you how to meal plan.
There are blog posts about How to Begin Meal Planning, How to Menu Plan With the Seasons, How to Meal Plan so You Will Eat Your Leftovers; Menu Planning for Breakfast, for Lunch, and Dinner; Meal Plans that are Vegan, Paleo, Keto Meal Plans, Gluten-Free Meal Plans, Meal Plans for a Month… a Week… Six Weeks… or even a Year!
But why is there even so much hubbub about meal planning in the first place?
I mean, is there even a payoff for the time and energy that meal planning requires?
In this post, I am going to take a closer look at the pros and cons of meal planning and see if the benefits of meal planning truly outweigh the effort that it takes.
So here is a super honest look at meal planning, from someone who meal plans. A lot.
Meal Planning Pros
1) Meal Planning Saves Money
Purchasing food can be the sneakiest way for money to leave your bank account without you even knowing it.
It’s like your grocery money became a teenager and decided to go out to eat, even though you told it to stay home instead.
Between last minute trips to the grocery store to buy “one quick item,” and loading the family into the car to go out to eat for the third time this week because you don’t feel like cooking, your grocery budget can get out of control.
Meal Planning, and using your meal plan to prepare a grocery list (see number 2 below!) can save you so much money in the long run.
How much money will you save? That will depend on if you have been going out to eat for the majority of your meals instead of eating at home, or if you’ve been buying more food than you can eat at the grocery store.
We can feed our family of four people with massive appetites on a plant-based diet for between $100-$125 a week. When we go out to eat occasionally, we can easily spend $40-$50 per meal (I told you our kids are crazy big eaters, even our 18-month old needs her own plate now.)
That means, for the same amount of money, we could purchase 2-3 meals going out to eat, or 21 meals that we could eat at home!!
Since we only purchase what we will eat in a week, it saves us money because we actually eat what we purchase.
Plus it prevents food from expiring in the pantry, from going bad in the fridge, or from getting lost at the bottom of the freezer.
The only exception is that we pick and freeze a lot of fresh fruit in the summer. But my rule is that the freezer to be completely empty by the time strawberry season rolls around so that I can fill it back up.
2) It Makes Grocery Shopping is Easier
I don’t know about you, but grocery shopping is my least favorite chore. (When I made My Simple Weekly Cleaning Schedule, I wrote grocery shopping down as one of the chores that I need to accomplish each week… because that’s exactly how I feel about it!)
If you are like my husband, who enjoys going up and down the isles looking for fun new things to try, this point may not seem like much for you. I, on the other hand, would meal plan for this reason alone: grocery shopping becomes infinitely more simple when you go with a plan in place.
The only catch to this one, is that you have to make the list using your meal plan, take the list with you when you leave the house, and use it at the grocery store.
Doing that tiny little bit of work ahead of time will save you time, money, and stress at the grocery store.
You won’t be wandering up and down every isle seeing if there is anything you forgot to write down; you won’t be buying something that you never end up using because you decide to go out to eat again; and you won’t be wondering if you need 3 loaves of bread or 2.
3) Meal Planning Saves You Time
Can I tell you a secret?
I don’t enjoy meal planning.
Phew, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.
But here’s the thing, if I don’t enjoy meal planning, why would I want to spend my precious time every single day deciding what to make before I can cook?
If you don’t plan your meals in advance, you are looking at spending 5-10 minutes before breakfast and lunch deciding what to make. Then you will probably spend another 10-20 minutes figuring out what to cook for dinner. That’s up to 40 minutes a day figuring out what food to eat.
FORTY MINUTES A DAY!!
I don’t know about you, but I can think of at least 12 other things that I would rather do with forty minutes a day.
4) It Can Help You Eat Healthier
Since meal planning will encourage you to eat at home more often, you will most likely be eating healthier.
I don’t think I need to convince you that eating out isn’t generally the healthiest choice. Obviously, this depends on what you eat when you go out, but as a general rule, the healthiest meals are made at home.
If you plan your meals ahead of time, you are setting yourself up for success if you are looking to eat a healthier diet.
5) Meal Planning Reduces Your Stress
If you struggle to choose a balanced meal to cook for your family every evening, it is probably stressful.
You may try to outsource that stress to your spouse, your best friend, the love of your life, by asking a simple question: “What would you like for dinner?”
To which they helpfully answer: “I don’t know.”
You respond with: “I don’t know how to make that,” and the search continues.
As it gets closer to dinner time you feel the pressure mounting. You have to get something together for your tiny humans to eat so that you can send them to bed and have a little downtime. If you don’t start soon, it will be a late supper which will consist of cranky kids and a tired you.
At this point, your significant other tries to be helpful and offers a suggestion: “You know what sounds good? Lasagna ”
Thanks, Sweetheart, that was helpful. I would have needed to start that hours ago.
This was my reality almost every night before I started meal planning. It stressed me out and made me frustrated.
Once, I said “Hello” to meal planning, I said “Goodbye” to a lot of stress.
6) It Can Help You Eat Your Leftovers
Throwing food away is not only frustrating, it wastes our time, money, and resources…yikes!
I think I’d rather hang on to all of those things.
When you meal plan, you
will can waste so much less food.
In our meal plan, we eat leftovers for lunch every day of the week, unless we don’t have any leftovers, then lunch is something simple, like a sandwich. In addition to eating leftovers for lunch every day, we also have leftovers every Thursday night.
And if our fridge is bursting at the seams with leftovers, then we also eat them on Tuesday night.
How do we have so many leftovers at our house? Simple, I double everything! It takes so little extra time and money to double a recipe and it gives your family so much more food!
Check out this post for How to Reduce Your Food Waste by Eating Your Leftovers.
7) You Will Have Less Decision Fatigue
I think the reason we struggle so much with the question “what’s for dinner?”, is that we have so many decisions to make every single day.
Do we need to get some toilet paper? Awesome, there are 24 varieties to choose from.
Do you like to use toothpaste? Great, another 87 choices for you to whittle down.
You’d like a healthy option for your family for dinner? Well, with the help of the internet, there are only 467,987,872 things that you can make!
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Which reminds me, we also have too many choices for lettuce!)
Meal planning gives you three less decisions each day because you made them for yourself in advance.
That’s a good enough reason for me to keep menu planning right there!
8) Your Family Will Love It
We are foodies at our house. We generally plan our camping weekends around our meals and will take entire days to make fresh pasta even though we are well aware that you can purchase it at the store for almost nothing.
Often during breakfast, my oldest daughter will ask me what we are having for dinner. When Ross is on his lunch break or driving home from work he calls me and asks what we are having for dinner. And though my younger daughter is still a little young to ask, she shouts suggestions for everyone to hear as soon as she starts getting hungry (“Sloppy Joes,” “Lentil Soup,” “Cake,” etc.,)
The wonderful part about meal planning is that I already know the answer to the questions.
Maybe your family isn’t as into food as mine is, and maybe they won’t be as thrilled when you reveal the menu for the evening, but you can still use this to your advantage.
If anyone complains about what you have planned, just let them know that you’re sorry but it’s already written on the menu and you aren’t at liberty to change it.
9) Having Company Just Got Easier
I used to worry about what to make when company was coming over. I would try to find the perfect thing that my guests would love. And inevitably someone still wouldn’t like it.
Now I just stick with my meal plan. If I have someone coming over on a leftover day, I will just switch the menu with the night before or after.
That was easy!
Cons of Meal Planning:
1) Meal Planning Takes Time
There’s really no way around it. Unless you hire someone else to do this for you, Meal Planning is going to take some time.
I have found that the more meals I plan in one sitting, the less time it takes to decide on each meal.
I think there are a few reasons for this:
1. I don’t have to figure out which food I am in the mood for right now.
If I am deciding between making Burritos, Tacos, Nachos, Quesadillas, Enchiladas, or Fajitas for dinner tonight, I have to decide which one of these things sounds best to me right now.
But If I am planning my weekly dinner menu, I can have Burritos on Monday, Tacos on Tuesday, Nachos on Wednesday, Leftovers on Thursday, Quesadillas on Friday, Enchiladas on Saturday, and Fajitas on Sunday.
I went from deciding on one meal to getting to eat all of the six meals that sound good to me over the course of the week.
(Is anyone else wanting Mexican food right now!?)
2. It is easier for me to decide something for my future self.
I used to have a Pinterest board full of delicious-looking recipes that I hoped to try one day. The only problem was that “one day” never comes.
When I started meal planning, I decided that every Wednesday night was going to be “new recipe night” at our house.
I went through my boards and cookbooks and found everything that I wanted to try *someday* and wrote one down on every Wednesday in my calendar.
When that week would come, I would get the recipe out, write down the ingredients on my shopping list, and make the new recipe on Wednesday.
If I had waited until that day to decide what to make, I probably would have gone for the easiest recipe that featured ingredients that I already had on hand. But since I had made the decision in the past, it was easier for me to follow through on it.
2) Meal Planning Takes Energy
It takes mental energy to sit down and make decisions. And Meal Planning is all about making decisions.
I know, I know, who has time for more decisions?
Here’s the thing: just like buying in bulk can save you money, making decisions in bulk can save energy.
Once you are already in the decision-making mode, it is easier to keep making similar decisions.
So the question is how much energy would you like to use and how often? If you would like to use a little bit of energy for menu planning every day, that’s totally cool if it works for you and you are happy with it.
Or you can use slightly more energy once a week, or month, or 6 weeks…or year if you like to take things to the extreme as I do!
Then you can sit back and kick your feet up instead of scrambling around trying to decide what to make… unless of course, you’re a mom. Then you probably need to go take someone potty or help your children clean up their toys before dinner. But that still sounds way more fun to me than having to decide what to make for dinner!
When I’m making a decision I like to list out the pros and cons together to get a better idea of which list is greater, so here’s a quick recap for you:
Meal Planning Pros:
- Meal Planning Saves Money
- It Makes Grocery Shopping Easier
- Menu Planning Saves Time
- It Can Help You Eat Healthier
- Meal Planning Reduces Stress
- It Can Help You Eat Your Leftovers
- You Will Have Less Decision Fatigue
- Your Family Will Love It
- Having Company Just Got Easier
Meal Planning Cons:
- Meal Planning Takes Time
- Meal Planning Takes Energy
Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Meal Planning?
Then check out Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning!
In Set-it-and-Forget-it Meal Planning, you will learn how to
- Create a Breakfast Rotation
- Create a Lunch Rotation
- Create a Snack Rotation
- Choose Theme Nights
- Create Rotations for Each Theme Night
- Fill in Your Meal Planning Calendar
Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning walks you through my unique method for setting up your meal plan so you will never have to start from square one again!
Plus you will receive the Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Spreadsheet and email support from me anytime you have questions.
I hope to see you inside the course!
(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Meal Planning Resources!)
You May Also Enjoy…
If you’re ready to get started with a step-by-step guide to meal planning, read How to Begin Meal Planning When You Don’t Know Where to Start.
If you’d like some ideas for how to make breakfast easier, check out Weekly Meal Planning for Beginners, How to Get Started With Quick Healthy Breakfasts.
To learn how to save money, cook less, and have easy lunches, read How to Work Leftovers Into Your Meal Plan.
If you want to take saving money on groceries to the next level, check out 37 Ways to Save Money on Groceries.
If you’d like to try Seasonal Meal Planning, the Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Meal Planning will get you started.