Always having to think about what you will have for breakfast or dinner can be very stressful. It is not only frustrating but also a waste of your time. That is why meal planning is something that everyone should practice. Even though the process of executing a meal plan varies depending on the number of people involved, it does come with a lot of advantages, the main one being not having to think about what meal you will have.
Article Summary: Meal planning can be a daunting practice to newbies; that is why in this article, I am committed to helping you get the hang of it. I will also cover what NOT to do, and some additional pro tips. Once you master this craft, trust me – you will love the results you can achieve (both mental and physical)!
What is Meal Planning?
Before you read any further on how to start meal planning, I want to make sure we are on the same page!
Meal planning is essentially asking yourself “what’s for dinner” once a week instead of every night. Then taking the answer and buying and prepping the food ahead of time to save time and money or to stick to a diet if that is your goal.
Tip: It is usually easiest to start meal planning after your last day of work. Friday for most people. This allows you to shop Saturday and prep Saturday or Sunday.
What Meal Planning Isn’t
- A tabbed binder with a full month of meals: Write it in your planner, on a paper you stick to the front of the fridge, in a Google doc, or on a whiteboard you hang in the kitchen. Just put it somewhere you’re going to see it. Try to keep it simple so it doesn’t get overwhelming.
- Entirely home cooked: plan for takeout, pizza night, and leftovers. Try to keep your diet to the 80/20 rule. 80% healthy, home cooked, and 20% foods that are good for your mental health. You know… Like pizza.
- Just for single people and large families: Meal planning is for everyone. But there are different strategies to employ depending on the number of people you’re planning for.
- Expensive: When done well, this practice will save you money. Promise!
- A lot of work: You do a bit of concentrated work up front, but it’s smooth sailing once you begin to work your plan. And the time saving during the week will make that up-front work seem like nothing.
- Inflexible: There’s so much room for experimentation, quick revisions, and customization in meal planning. It’s not set in stone.
Getting Started Meal Planning
Below is a highlight of the steps you need to follow during meal planning:
- Identify Your Need;
- Find the Right Recipes;
- Make a Precise but Substantial Grocery List;
- Execute the Plan.
Identify Your Need
Meal planning is not a death sentence. It shouldn’t stop you from looking forward for pizza night! In fact, a great meal plan should still allow you not only to eat healthily but also slip in some cheat meals. This is why it is very important that you first think about what you need to achieve before you start meal planning. Decide on what significantly matters to you and use it as a foundation for your meal planning adventure.
I’m not saying to need to dig deep, just assess your goals a bit. Why are you interested in meal planning in the first place? Here are some things to consider:
- Are you looking for variety?
- To save money on food?
- Eat better/healthier?
- Prevent food waste?
- Preserve you sanity?
- Or to have a ready answer to the daily question from your partner or kids of what’s for dinner?
Burnout can become a problem, so if you’re a beginner, pick just two or three of the things that matter most and keep them in consideration when you move on to the next step of picking the recipes.
Find The Right Recipes
If you aren’t sure what your daily caloric needs should be you can start with our Calorie Calculator: Find Your Caloric Needs. If you are cooking for multiple people be sure to factor that into your planning.
Once you decide what you want to accomplish with your meal planning, it is time to arm yourself with the right recipes. The recipes you choose will certainly kick start your quest to get the perfect meal plan that works for you. Start by deciding on the number of times you will eat at home during the week. Consider your children and other family members, and don’t forget to account for any guests you are expecting over the week. Considering all of those factors will help to ensure you cook the right meal at the right time, without anyone being disadvantaged. Go for recipes you are very familiar with but also add a new one each week. These recipes should be of food you want to eat and ideally require shared ingredients. Lastly, try to use recipes that leave you with leftovers that you can have at some other time. That will help you save money and reduce food waste.
How to Pick Recipes
Take a look at your calendar, consider any events coming up in the coming week. Decide how many nights you want to make dinner at home. Most people choose five but this is more dependent on your budget, schedule, and goals. Then dig a little deeper. What are you working with during the day? If your child has practice after school that might be a good night to use the slow cooker. If you are going to be working late one night, cook a meal the night before that will have leftovers.
Where to Get Recipes
4 Tips for Picking the Right Recipe
- Choose meals that give you leftovers: This will save you time with additional meals.
- Cook recipes you know + one new recipe: This is a pro move! Start with recipes you know and love. Then add one or two new recipes each week, but only if you want.
- Pick recipes based on common ingredients: This is another pro move and it starts with looking at what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Shopping your home kitchen can help you decide on recipes and avoid wasted food. This is the money-saving aspect of meal planning in full effect.
- Cook things you really want to eat: You might have to spend some extra time uncovering recipes that are right for you, but it’s worth it. Only cook foods you want to eat!
Make A Precise But Substantial Grocery List
After choosing your recipes, it is time to make a grocery list to guide you when shopping. Use your recipes to do some stock checking in your kitchen and determine which ingredients are still available and which need replenishment. Remove from your list any ingredients that are already in your kitchen. Then, come up with a well-organized final grocery list so that you can shop with ease. After shopping for the ingredients, store them in specific places (such as cupboards or pantry shelves) in order to create an organized system that works for you hence saving time while cooking.
Execute The Plan
At this point, you already know what your meal plan is aiming for, you have the right recipes and you have shopped for all the ingredients you need. It is now time to start implementing your meal plan. You can either start with chopping vegetables, washing tomatoes or batch cooking. By doing so, you will curb the fatigue that often accompanies cooking throughout the week.
How to Start Meal Planning Conclusion
Meal planning will help you to achieve what you need in terms of having a flexible meal plan that saves on money, blesses you with leftovers and allows you to eat your favorite healthy meal (but still lets you sneak out to McDonald’s occasionally). However, getting the right meal plan is not a walk into the park! Following the steps outlined above will help you come up with the right meal plan that works for you. Keep repeating the process of meal planning as often as needed while making necessary changes to arrive at what suits you.
Always remember that meal planning is not restrictive. It is flexible and convenient. You can still enjoy your favorite ice cream! So what are you waiting for? Start meal planning now!