What's the best meal planner?
If you want to (and help your nutrition clients to) stop grabbing drive-thru or takeout on the way home from work, or staring into the fridge for minutes at a time before giving up and popping something random into the microwave, then planning meals in advance is the way to go. We’ve created a step-by-step guide for you on how to do meal planning, and today we’re going to talk about what’s the best meal planner.
Let’s go through three main types of meal planners and hash out the pros and cons so you can decide which is best for you.
We’ll start by assuming you already have some favourite recipes and are planning meals for one week.
PRO TIP: Plan for some leftovers so you can make a meal once, and eat it twice.
1 - Meal Plan List (Paper or electronic document)
Using a piece of paper or a doc is the least expensive and simplest way to plan your meals.
You’d simply divide the page into seven parts and list each day going down the page. Under each day, you’d write in your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for that day.
If using this kind of meal planner list, you’d double-check the number of servings made from each recipe and scale it so it works for you (i.e. how many people will eat this how many times during the week). For example, if you’re planning meals for two people, and your recipe makes four servings, you might make the recipe once and schedule it into two meal slots for the week (one is leftovers).
Next, go through the ingredient list in each (scaled) recipe and create your grocery list.
PRO TIP (OPTIONAL): As you’re going through the recipes you can also check for meal components that can be made ahead of time - “advanced prep recipes”. For example, if a recipe called for cooked chicken breast or rice, those are things that can be made a couple of days in advance and refrigerated until they’re needed. Make a list of these meal components to cook in advance.
2 - Meal Plan Calendar/Table (Paper or electronic document)
If you’re a visual person and like to see things tabulated at a glance, then using a calendar or table may work better for you. In this case, you can have each day as one row, broken up into four parts with each part being one meal:
The process for using a calendar/table is the same as using a piece of paper/doc, but it looks a bit nicer and more organized. Follow the above steps in the same way whether you’re using a sheet of paper/doc or a calendar/table. That means scaling the recipes, creating your grocery list, and finding any “advanced prep recipes”.
Note that whether you use a paper/doc or calendar/table you won’t be able to calculate nutrition info if you’re trying to reach specific nutrition or health goals, nor can you automatically scale your recipes or automatically create your grocery list. All of these can be done manually.
3 - Meal planner software
If you’re a nutrition pro, then using software is really the only professional way to create meal plans for your clients. Not only can you simply send clients a link to their plan, but you can quickly look at the nutrition info for each one to ensure they meet your clients’ needs - whether that’s for calories, protein, fibre, calcium, or any other nutrient.
Using software isn’t just for professionals, though, you can use it for your own personal meal plans along with the benefits of:
Seeing pictures of your recipes in the calendar/table format instead of just their names,
Scaling recipes for the right number of servings without doing all the math yourself,
Checking nutrition information to ensure this plan supports your goals, and if not, easily swapping recipes/ingredients until it does,
Automatically calculating accurate grocery lists with the push of a button,
Listing “advance prep” recipes that can be cooked on days you’re not too busy and refrigerated until you need them.
After you learn how to use the software, all these functions come so easily you may wonder why you didn’t start off with this meal planner in the first place!
There are many meal planners that you can use to get the same result. The difference is in their cost, ease of use, and functionality, plus how professional they look if you’re using it for your health & wellness business. If you’re OK with scaling your recipes and creating your shopping list yourself, then you can use a meal planner list and/or calendar and do-it-yourself. If you want to see your nutrition info and have your grocery list and advance prep recipes created with the push of a button, then software (like Meal Garden) is the way to go.