“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It’s a cliche we’ve heard plenty of times before, but it’s absolutely true. If you’ve got a goal to eat healthier, your best time spent is on meal planning. The prospect of planning out a week’s worth of meals can be a bit overwhelming though, so here are my tips and tricks to make it simpler.
My first tip: If you are brand new to meal planning, pick the one meal of the day that is your biggest opportunity to make an improvement. Maybe it’s breakfast because you usually run right out the door and grab a pastry at the office when you get into work. Perhaps you go out to lunch every weekday or are too tired to cook anything when you get home at night. Or maybe it’s needing to pack healthy snacks for yourself so you don’t succumb to the vending machine. Give it a month or two making that one change, and once it’s truly become a habit, add in another meal.
Whether you’re planning 1 meal a day on workdays only, or every meal for every day, here’s 3 steps to make it manageable.
Map out your meals for the week. (Friday)
- Look at your social calendar so you know how many meals to make.
- Consider the types of meals you enjoy most. Don’t plan to make things you aren’t likely to enjoy! It’s also wise to consider the types of produce that are in season so you can enjoy them to the fullest.
- Each week, spend a little time going through your recipes or searching for new ones. Keep them all in a notebook for easy access. Be honest with yourself in regards to how easy or complex the recipes are to make – how much time they’ll take, what your cooking strengths and weaknesses are, how many dirty dishes you’ll make in the process, etc. Those could all be barriers to the process.
- If you often have a hard time choosing meals, stick to theme nights. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Breakfast for Dinner, etc.
- Lastly, check your pantry, fridge, and freezer for anything you’d like to use up.
Go Shopping! (Saturday)
- Rule #1: Always have a list!
- Rule #2: Don’t shop when hungry!
- Make your list based on your planned recipes for the week. Sticking to rules 1 and 2 will help you avoid impulse purchases. Don’t forget to check your spice rack before you go, as fresh herbs and spices will make your dishes taste so much better.
- Stores are often busier in the afternoons and evening, so head out early if you want to avoid the crowds.
- Don’t forget to check your supply of reusable containers, too, so you can keep your meals organized and ready to grab when needed.
Prep Time! (Sunday)
- Do you want to make everything for the week, just some of it, or maybe even just chopping up the veggies and organizing the ingredients to make it easy to cook every night? Lots of people love to get it all done, but that’s going to take a chunk of your Sunday away. The flip side, of course, is that all week you only have to grab, maybe reheat, and eat.
Perhaps, due to your schedule, you need to change the days of the week that I’ve suggested. Just remember: Map, Shop, Prep!
- Consider cooking double batches, and freezing half. A few weeks down the line, and you’ll have that much less work to do.
- Sheet pan meals are so easy. Line a sheet pan with foil, load it up with your veggies and choice of protein, add whatever seasonings you like best, bake in the oven until done. When it’s done, divide into containers, throw out the foil, and you’re done!
- One-pot soups are another of my favorites. Toss 3 parts veggies to 1 part whole grain of your choice (quick cooking brown rice, barley, or pre-cooked quinoa) in a pot, cover with your favorite broth or soup base, simmer until the grain is cooked through and/or the veggies are soft. That’s it!
- Find a great source for slow-cooker recipes. They usually make a lot so you can keep your freezer stocked with a variety of items to grab when you need. Here’s one of my favorite sources (though the recipes are definitely not all healthy, so choose carefully). And here’s another where you can put all your ingredients in a freezer Ziploc, then take it out to cook it when you need – it’s meal planning emergency back-up!
- If you’re short on time, or just not a fan of cooking in general, consider a meal delivery service. Not all of them are healthy, and different services require different amounts of prep and cooking time, so be sure to do a bit of research before picking one. However, if you’ve been out of the kitchen for a while, they make it easy to get back to regular cooking. They’re pretty pricey, and will come with a lot of packaging waste.