Is it a lack of time that prevents you from preparing healthy meals or is it a lack of planning? Deciding what to eat every day can be a tedious and sometimes frustrating task. If you have recently started trying to eat heathier, it can be daunting. Making sure you are eating balanced meals with plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, healthy fats, and healthy sources of protein can seem overwhelming if you don’t have a plan. Without the proper meal planning, it can be hard to make necessary changes to your diet to begin eating the way you want.
WHY SHOULD I MEAL PLAN?
Making a weekly meal plan can help take the stress out of knowing what you are going to eat. A weekly meal plan can help save you time at the grocery store while also saving you money on unnecessary food purchases. A recent article even suggested that meal planning is also linked with better food variety, diet quality, and even body weight1. Here are 9 different tips and ideas you can use to help make meal planning a part of your weekly routine.
Pick a specific day of the week to setup everything and plan out your meals for the upcoming week. Try choosing a night that normally does not have much going on, where you know you will have 30 minutes to plan for the week’s meals. Try to use the same day every time to help make it a habit and bring more consistency into your meal planning.
Photo by Jazmin Quaynor
Once you have picked a day you are ready to start planning. While you are planning your meals it’s important to look at the schedule for the upcoming week to see what lessons, practices, late night meetings, or social events are planned. This will give you an idea on what types of meals you can prepare that day.
For example, with dinner, if you know you have a work meeting until 7:30pm on Tuesday night, make sure to plan a meal that won’t take too long to make or that can be prepared ahead of time. On a night you have more time, you can attempt that new beef wellington recipe you have always wanted to try. Whatever meal you decide to make, be sure it fits into your schedule.
To save a little extra money, look for items that are on sale that week that you can plan your meals around. You can check your local grocers’ website for their sales of the week or check their mailer ads/coupons. If you see that there is a great deal on chicken, try planning a few meals with this ingredient: chicken enchiladas, chicken casserole, grilled chicken salad, etc. This can help guide your meal planning and make choosing recipes a little easier.
Once you have a good idea of what is on sale for the week, now it’s time to find recipes. Look for healthy recipes in cookbooks, online blogs, or recipe catalogs. Try asking family members or friends for some of their favorite recipes or ask your friends on social media. When you find recipes you really enjoy, make sure to store them all in one place, like in a notebook or in an app on your phone.
With recipes in hand, make a list of the ingredients you need for the week and first go through your pantry and spice cupboards to see what items you already have. If you already have an item, cross it off your grocery list. Making sure you are only buying the things you need will save you time and money.
Now that you have the list of meals you want for the upcoming week it’s time to go shopping! Make sure you have a list of the all the ingredients you need to purchase. If you are short on time, many grocery retailers offer free online grocery shopping with in-store pickup. This can make things a lot easier and it lets you know beforehand how much things will cost to help you stay within your budget and save you time during your busy schedule.
Photo by Ella Olsson
One of the things that takes up the most time when making meals is all the chopping, cutting, and dicing. Try setting aside 45 minutes to an hour to do all the prep-work for your meals, so that during the week you have more time enjoying your meals and less time worrying about making them. Store the chopped veggies in the refrigerator to keep them fresh until you need to use them.
If you find that you are getting stressed looking for recipes for different meals and can’t seem to find ones you like, try taking a step back and thinking of meals that you have liked in the past and make a short list of go-to recipes. This can help cut down the time it takes each week to plan out your meals. Also, try simplifying your meals for breakfast and lunch. If there are one or two things you like eating for breakfast and lunch, that’s great! This will make it even easier to make your shopping list for the week.
Cooking should be an enjoyable experience and one that you can share with your roommates, family, or friends! Invite friends over to help you meal prep and then let them enjoy one of those meals with you during the week. Involve your kids in the cooking process a few nights a week, having them help with some of the easier tasks (depending on their age) like putting together a salad or measuring out the ingredients you will need. They can even help you when picking out recipes from our earlier step.
STICK WITH IT
There are many other ways you can make meal planning a success, saving you time and money at the store, while also reducing unneeded stress and anxiety when the usual “What’s for dinner?” question is asked. It may take you some time to get into the habit of weekly meal planning. Don’t get discouraged if the first couple of weeks don’t go exactly as planned. Learn what works for you and what doesn’t and adjust accordingly. These tips are just a few ways in which you can make meal planning a part of your everyday life.
- Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, et al. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017;14(1):12. Published 2017 Feb 2. doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7