How to Avoid 6 Meal Planning Pitfalls

meal planning

Have you been burned by meal planning in the past?

Have you tried and things just didn’t... go according to plan?

Maybe because LIFE doesn’t always go according to plan?

I hear you.

You've probably encountered one or more of these problems:

  • You came up with a plan, but found it too overwhelming to stick to.

  • You didn’t have enough time to execute the plan!

  • Your schedule changed unexpectedly. The plan didn’t.

  • Your family didn’t like the food you planned and prepared.

  • Your ingredients went bad before you could use them.

  • You discovered (too late) you didn’t have all the ingredients you needed.

Kinda makes you want to give up on the whole thing, doesn’t it?

Please don’t.

If you don't plan meals, you’ll be missing out on it's many benefits!

These can include:

  • Saving time

  • Saving money

  • Eating healthier

  • Enjoying a better variety of foods

  • Being able to be more conscious about what you’re eating

  • Not overeating

These are all great benefits, whether your goal is to lose weight, overcome a health challenge, improve your risk factors for disease or just maintain the excellent health you’re lucky enough to be experiencing already.

Here's how to avoid 6 meal planning pitfalls

I’ve seen (and experienced):

1) You’re too ambitious.

You plan your week with a different breakfast and lunch everyday, homemade snacks, and a three course dinner each night. Each day is unique and delicious, full of things you know you and your family will enjoy. But as you get halfway through day one preparing all those meals feels so overwhelming, you just want to order a pizza and call it quits. There’s a lot more to your life than cooking!

Solution: If you’re new to meal planning, plan just a few meals. I’m a big fan of taking small steps. It’s most helpful if you start with the meals that are the biggest hassle if left unplanned. I find if weekday dinners are planned, the rest seems to fall into place. You may find that if you don’t have an easy breakfast planned, you don’t have time to eat and by lunch you’re starving. Or if you don’t have a healthy lunch to pack for work, your day falls apart. Start with what will make your life easier right from the start.

2) You think you have more time than you do.

You came up with a beautiful plan for delicious meals, but then discover you don’t actually have the time to make it happen. If you have to make dinner between soccer and piano lessons, there’s not going to be time to make a lasagna. Some days and nights require an even faster plan. And some just require grabbing leftovers.

Solution: The first step in meal planning is deciding when you can prepare meals and how much time you will have. Be realistic with what you plan to make, how involved it is and how long it’s (really) going to take.

3) Your plans change.

Yep, plans change. A meeting runs late, an extra practice gets added to the schedule. We’ve all been there. You thought you’d have time to cook, but you don’t. Plain and simple.

Solution: Plan no more than five dinners per week and make at least one or two of them super fast and easy. Then if you happen to be home for dinner all week, use leftovers or pantry basics to put together additional meals. Or give yourself the night off. (You deserve it.)

4) Nobody likes what you made.

You planned a meal, had the time and ingredients on hand to make it and served it to your family. But some/all of the people didn’t like it.

Two Solutions: Introduce Variety Early and Maximize Favorites.

Minimize this possibility by introducing your family to a variety of healthy foods and types of cuisine from an early age - which means as soon as they start eating table food. Doing this makes it more likely your kids will have a well-developed palate and be open to more foods. Don’t offer a separate kids’ option.

Second, get input from family members and don’t be afraid to rely on family favorites. Everyone enjoys Taco Tuesday? Great. You may be a day of the week planner. Variety is best, but you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Vary family favorites by changing what vegetables or protein it includes.

5) Ingredients go bad before you want to use them.

After a hectic week, you have a special dinner planned for Friday night, but when you gather your ingredients to prepare it, things aren’t looking so fresh. Those mushrooms that looked great on Monday, now smell like dirty socks. Gross.

Two Solutions: Use delicate items early or restock mid-week.

When you make your plan, use the more delicate items earlier in the week and for the end of week recipes rely more on long-storing staples – grains, beans, root vegetables, frozen ingredients.

Second, avoid this by making a quick mid- week run to the store just to restock produce. The average American makes 1.5 trips to the store a week anyway. Be intentional about yours and it can really help! When you just hit the produce section (or the Farmer’s Market if you are lucky enough to have one nearby) that second weekly trip takes just 10 minutes, in and out. (Yep, I’ve timed it.)

6) You’re ready to go, but missing an essential ingredient.

Ugh. This one might be the worst. You’re ready to cook and realize you’re missing something that you absolutely need. This can even happen with items you think you “always have” because even these have to run out sometimes. (In fact, when this happens to me, it’s usually something I think I always have.)

Solution: Make your meal plan and shopping list BFFs

Use your meal plan to create your shopping list and then bring your shopping list AND your meal plan to the grocery store with you.

Make sure you have, or plan to buy, each ingredient you need for your menu. If the store is out of something, you can get a substitute or figure out a solution right there and then. You won’t stand there wondering, “Why am I buying diced green chiles?”

Now you know the 6 Keys to Successful Meal Planning.

It’s time for you to go for it! And don’t forget to have someone else do all the dishes while you bask in the glory of your magnificent meal planning. (I consider this essential. My husband and kids make it a group project.)

If you want a shortcut to get started, you can get 16 weeks of meal plans that include recipes and shopping lists for 3-5 meals a week in my e-course Green Your Plate, Change Your Life. Bonus: they all feature super healthy leafy greens, the color most lacking in the American diet!

Then use the dinner menu planner I use to get started with successful meal planning today by planning some dinners for the week ahead. Download it or print it from the Resources page.

Which of these menu planning mistakes are you most determined to overcome?


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Hi there! 
I’m Jennifer Haubrich, wife, mother, certified natural food chef & health coach (AADP).


I help smart families re-chart their path to create a delicious, healthy lifestyle by including more plant-based foods in their diet.

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