Meal planning isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity because everyone’s life is different. Whether you’re single and work nine to five, a stay-at-home parent with children, or have dietary restrictions, the steps of meal planning are the same.
- Think about what you want to eat
- Shop for the ingredients
- Prep what you can ahead of time
- Get cooking!
Learn helpful tips on how to get started with successful healthy eating and meal planning.
Why Meal Plan?
Everyone has a different reason for planning meals ahead of time. If you’re wondering if it’s a worthwhile endeavor for you, consider what goals you want to achieve. Ask yourself: will it make your life better, easier, and happier? We bet that it will! Here are some common goals of meal planning that might make sense for you.
Reasons to Meal Prep
- Eat more healthy, balanced meals
- Stay within a budget or save money
- Make life more organized and less hectic
- Reduce food waste and be more mindful of the environment
- Create meals for someone with dietary restrictions like gluten-free, low-carb, vegan or vegetarian, diabetic, or allergies
- Have more quality time for yourself or your family
- Add more variety to mealtime and try new recipes
Create a Weekly Meal Plan
Creating a meal plan can depend on what comes first: the idea or the recipe. Sometimes we get an idea or hear someone talking about an exciting dish we’d like to try. If that happens, make a note and consider it as a finalist for your week of meal ideas.
Tip #1: Whichever way you come up with ideas, choose one day of the week to sit down and “formally” write out your meal plan for the upcoming week. This depends on your personal or family’s daily schedule, but we find that weeknights are a solid choice for those who have busy weekends.
It’s fun to get the entire family in on choosing their own meals. Just have a few ground rules or you might end up with pizza every night for dinner (although, what’s the problem with that?)
Starting the planning process on Friday evenings gives you time to finalize meal choices, search for recipes, check what ingredients you have on hand, and make your shopping list for Saturday’s trip to the grocery store.
Before you start, decide how many meals you’re planning for. Are you only planning for dinners? Do you need lunches for the weekend? Are you ordering in or going out for a quick meal or two during the week?
Tip #2: When you’re making healthy meal plans, think about balance. Balance the number of calories and nutrients across all seven days. If one meal is heavy, make lighter choices for the rest of the day or week. Balance your budget, too. If you want to add an expensive ingredient like shrimp or steak for a special meal, balance that out with a couple days of cooking less expensive ingredients like chicken or lentils.
Tip #3: Look for recipes if you aren’t sure how to make the dish(es) you’ve chosen. Magazines and cookbooks are great recipe sources, but there are also tons of online sites that give you all the details about how to cook the dish, calories, nutritional values, prep and cook time, and what ingredients you need.
Tip #4: When you find your dinner recipes, write down the ingredients you need. After you have your completed list, check your freezer, fridge, and pantry to cross off things you don’t need to buy. Take the rest of the list to the grocery store and shop for your week of meals. Be mindful of the number of servings you will be preparing.
Planning your meals a week (or two) in advance ensures that you’re getting balanced meals that are healthier, fresher, and tastier than takeaway or frozen microwave dinners. We also find that planning is more budget-friendly, too!
One Day of Shopping for the Entire Week
On to the grocery store! If you planned and made your grocery lists on Friday evening or Saturday morning, go early.
Tip #5: According to the experts, if you shop early, you’ll find the freshest selection of produce, dairy, meat, seafood, and baked goods. Grocery shopping early also means fewer people and shorter checkout lines. Plus, you’ll have more time to spend on other fun activities when your shopping is done early.
Prepping Ahead of Time
Tip #6: When you get home from shopping, start prepping your food while you put away your groceries. For example, if you bought a large batch of chicken thighs to cook on Wednesday, take them out of the store’s packaging, put them into a freezer bag, write what’s in the bag on the outside with a permanent marker, write the day of the week (or date) that you’re planning to cook them, and get them right into the freezer. If you have veggies that need washing and chopping, do that before you store them in the refrigerator.
Tip #7: Find an hour or two on Saturday or Sunday to meal prep. You can take advantage of this time to batch cook meals for the next week. Easy meal prep methods include casseroles that can be portioned out and one-pot meals cooked in an instant pot or slow cooker. You can even freeze part of a batch for later in the month. Experienced meal planners save time by cooking two things at once. While one part is cooking in the slow cooker, you can be cooking another part on a sheet pan in the oven.
BBCgoodfood.com has some great ideas for batch cooking healthy recipes that you can freeze. They have a variety of meals that also include some tasty vegetarian recipes. Even if you aren’t vegetarian, it’s not a bad idea to add some meat-free meals to your menu.
Tip #8: What you need to prep depends on the recipes you’ve chosen. If you need chopped onions, garlic, celery, carrots, or other vegetables, it’s a great idea to get it done ahead of cooking time. Store them in the refrigerator in zipper bags or air-tight containers so they’ll stay fresh for several days.
Get the Entire Family Involved
Tip #9: Don’t think of meal planning and meal prep as a must-do task that is only up to you, turn it into a family activity. Even small children can help in smaller ways. Older children can help by cooking family meals they suggest for the weekly menu.
When everyone is involved, planning the family’s weekly meals will become a habit rather than just something to try once in a while.
Most importantly, stick to that weekly meal plan! We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when everyone gathers and asks, “What’s cooking this week?”
If you’re looking for more stress-free meal planning, meal prep, or easy recipe ideas, check out yofreshfood.com