I recently fell off the meal planning wagon — big time. But after too many nights of takeout (goodbye, food budget) and unappealing dinners cobbled together at 7 p.m., I slowly inched my way back on. Here's how it all happened.
How I Fell Off the Meal Planning Wagon
There was no precise and definitive moment that I let meal planning fall to the wayside. Instead there were a bunch of tiny slips that added up, and ultimately took me down. It was a combination of a jam-packed schedule, weekends away, my husband out of town for work, and pretty much just feeling lazy and wanting to relish in the long summer days. Sound familiar?
You know that saying when you fail to plan, you plan to fail? That pretty much summed up dinner in my house when I stopped meal planning. It culminated in way too many days of stepping into the kitchen at 6 p.m. (if not later) and wondering what to cook for dinner. Before I knew it, one night of takeout turned into three. I ran out of those blessed meals I kept stocked in the freezer, ate enough pasta with jarred sauce to last me a year, and cobbled together whatever I could as quickly as I could. What I'm trying to say is that dinner was a sad state of affairs over here.
And because I work mostly from home, I usually rely on leftovers for lunch. So falling off the meal planning wagon not only made for too much takeout and uninspiring dinners, but it also left me grazing through the fridge and pantry at lunchtime.
How I Returned to Meal Planning (and What I Learned)
Returning to meal planning was hard; at times it honestly felt totally overwhelming. I wanted the structure and organization meal planning adds to my life, but getting to that point felt like a challenge some weeks. I can see now that returning to meal planning was a challenge because I was trying to find the "right" time and trying to do too much at once.
The first thing that helped was remembering a tip from Associate Editor and meal planner extraordinaire, Meghan: She says there will never be a "right" time to start meal planning. Something will always pop up to give you an excuse to push it off. Instead you just need to do it. Start meal planning now — no waiting.
I looked at meal planning (like I do many things in life) with an all-or-nothing mentality, wanting to jump right back into planning a whole week's worth of meals, plus lunches and some snacks. What I needed was baby steps, and to ease myself back in. When I let go of the high standard and set small goals, I saw results, quickly. While I once believed micro-meal planning was not for me, it is 100 percent responsible for getting me back on track.
I started small, planning just a couple dinners a week and making sure there were a few items to turn into quick and easy lunches, like hard-boiled eggs, grains, and roasted vegetables. Suddenly meal planning felt doable again, and it also (after a couple weeks) got me back into the swing of things.
Now I can see just how easy it is to fall off the meal planning wagon, and I learned a good strategy for how to get back on in case it happens again. I'm also a little more lenient with my approach to meal planning, so there are weeks with a built-in takeout night and some where I scale back to planning just a couple dinners if that's all that feels doable. So I guess now I have a plan for the times when I don't!
What makes you fall off the meal planning wagon? How do you get back on?