How-to guide to meal planning
Sure, meal planning can help you save time, money (and stress), while boosting your health - but how do you start?
The beauty is to make it work for you! Plan your meals in advance so you don’t have to worry or make last minute compromises all week - that’s it. It’s flexible and customizable.
For example, if you want to stop “staring into the fridge waiting for dinner to whistle to you because you’re tired and hungry and have NO IDEA what to eat” syndrome - meal planning can help!
Or, maybe you want to make sure you’re reaching specific health and nutrition goals every single day - meal planning can help with that too!
Plus, you don’t have to plan to cook everything from scratch - you can include prepared foods, takeout, or restaurant meals in your meal plan as well.
The idea of meal planning is to decide what you’re going to eat in advance - that’s it. You don’t need to decide every single meal when you’re hungry - just plan a whole week’s worth of meals on the weekend, then you’re good!
Here’s how to start.
PRO TIP: Many of these steps go well paired with your favourite cup of tea! Feel free to relax and enjoy planning your meals!
Step 1 - Prepare for meal planning
There are a few key (and fun!) things to set yourself up for success.
1a) Collect your favourite recipes.
This can mean tried and true family favourites, a few new and exciting recipes, and even some of your favourite prepared foods, takeout, and restaurant meals.
Start with at least 2-3 ideas for each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for a week.
PRO TIP: Consider the allergies, intolerances, aversions, and preferences of everyone you’re planning for. Also consider tools, appliances, and skills needed for each recipe.
You can collect your recipes by bookmarking your cookbooks, saving web addresses to your browser, pinning them on Pinterest, or creating a virtual recipe collection in meal planning software.
1b) Get a planner.
If you’re not using software, grab a piece of paper or a blank calendar where you can jot down your plan.
PRO TIP: Some benefits of meal planning software are it automatically calculates your nutrition and creates your grocery list.
1c) Choose your time frame to plan meals for
One week is a great place to start, or even just Monday-Friday.
PRO TIP: You can re-use your meal plans from week to week if you want to.
Step 2 - Start Meal Planning
2a) Choose your recipes for each meal of each day (e.g. breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
If you’re good with leftovers, you can double a recipe and eat it for two days - this way you only need to choose a recipe every other day. Also consider the amount of time you have to prepare/cook each day - many items can be made in advance, and many recipes can be made in under 30 minutes.
When planning your recipes consider what you already have on-hand in the pantry, fridge, and freezer that needs to be used up.
Keep in mind any health and nutrition goals. These may be having a fruit/veggie with every meal, eating greens every day, or ditching sugary drinks in place of water or unsweetened tea, for example.
If you’re stuck on this planning step, maybe a daily “theme” will help! Check out Kristine’s daily “mom-hack” themes for her busy weeknights.
PRO TIP: If you want to see (and use) meal plans already created, check out Meal Garden.
2b) Choose snacks for between meals (if you need them)
It can be great to have something ready to grab-and-go to avoid convenience, junk, or fast food when you’re hungry during the day. Especially for those who spend much of their day at work or school.
PRO TIP: Pre-package them in snack-sized portions so you can grab-n-go.
2c) Go shopping
Now that you have your meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks planned - make your grocery list. Consider not just the food you need, but also if there are any other items, like small appliances, tools (e.g. knives, etc.), and storage containers.
PRO TIP: Meal planning software automatically lists all of your ingredients (by store aisle) and calculates how much of each you need. ;)
2d) Do some meal prep in advance - OPTIONAL step (preferably on weekends)
If you have little time throughout the week to cook, then preparing some ingredients in advance can make all the difference when it comes to following your meal plan. It’s as simple as 1-2 hours on Sunday (that can save you many hours throughout the week).
This can include:
Batch cooking proteins/veggies in the oven or slow cooker,
Making a large pot of your sides (i.e. rice, quinoa, etc.).
2e) Make those recipes
If you’ve pre-made all the components, then you just need to put them together and you’re ready to dig in. If you need to cook something, then all of your ingredients, appliances, and tools are ready for you.
The whole idea of meal planning is to take the time and stress out of deciding what to eat every meal of every day. It can definitely make your life easier and help you reach your health goals.