When it comes to eating well, meal planning is one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for success. The beauty of it is there are no rules and, you can’t really mess it up. The key is just to start, and to set aside a little bit of time each week to do it. There are so many ways to approach meal planning that, after practicing just once or twice, you’ll begin to find what works for you and your family too.
To help you get started, we’ve broken down some of the basics. We’ve even included two practice exercises to help you map out your next week’s worth of healthy meals!
PART 1: ASSESS YOUR EATING SITUATION
Our eating situations can vary greatly from week to week depending on work schedules, after school activities, evening commitments, travel plans–the list goes on. Here are some things to consider as you assess your eating situation.
How many meals you need to plan for Take a few moments to think about what you have going on next week. Taking a quick inventory of your plans will quickly give you a rough idea of how many meals you’ll need to get through the week, and how much mileage you can get from each recipe.
What you have time for If you have a crazy busy week coming up, make a mental note to be on the lookout for quick, slow cooker or make-ahead meals that can served up in a hurry. We’re big fans of the cook once, eat twice (or thrice) approach.
Your food mood Things like the weather, a change in seasons, and food cravings can impact what sounds good on any given day. Thinking about these things beforehand will make recipe selection process faster and meal times easier on everyone. The most important thing is to focus on getting LEAN PROTEINS, HEALTHY FATS, and COMPLEX CARBS.
Your grocery budget If you want to eat better for less (and who doesn’t) think seasonal produce and sales.
MEAL PLANNING PRACTICE: MAP OUT YOUR WEEKLY EATS
1. Grab a pen and paper. Write the days of the week on the left side of the page and the meals you want to plan across the top (BREAKFAST/SNACK/LUNCH/SNACK/DINNER/SNACK).
2. Sketch out your weekly eats. Vague descriptions like quick dinner, leftovers, or packable lunch are fine for now. Don’t forget to plan for leftovers and make note of special dietary restrictions here as well.
3. Tally them up. Note how many meals you’ll need, grouping together similar ones. For example: 5 quick dinners, 3 packable lunches, 8 easy snacks…
PART 2: COLLECT AND PREP
Now the fun part! Once you know how many meals you’ll need, it’s time to find some healthy recipes and fill in your calendar for the week. Here are some tips to help.
Create a master recipe list Having a list of go-to meals is one of the easiest ways to expedite the meal planning process. Consider trying one or two new recipes and use a few old favorites to fill in the gaps. Every time you find a new meal you love, add it to the rotation! Remember to keep it CLEAN & SIMPLE.
Find a few new dishes to try Finding delicious, healthy recipes isn’t hard–you just need to know where to look. Health-conscious cookbooks and food magazines are great but the internet can literally provide millions of healthy recipes at your fingertips. Here are some that we love:
Write your grocery list Save yourself some time and write your grocery list while you fill out your calendar–and don’t forget to jot down quantities for each ingredient. Before you head to the store take a quick inventory of what you have on hand and cross off the ingredients you don’t need to purchase.
Chose a meal prepping day Sundays are the best days to do your grocery shopping and prep for the week. Have enough containers for all of the meals you need to prepare and lay them all out before you start cooking.
Methodical cooking Start cooking the things that take the longest FIRST. If you plan on roasting sweet potatoes or other veggies, start prepping and getting that into the oven before all else. Depending on the type of proteins you are preparing for the week, they should take less time to cook. Once all of your food is done, portion them out into your containers. Make sure you have a balance of protein, healthy fat, complex carbs in every meal, with snacks in between.
As they say, IF YOU FAIL TO PREPARE, PREPARE TO FAIL.