Meal planning, in it’s most basic boring definition, is the process of organizing your meals and snacks for the week ahead.
This can be as simple as listing it out (while cooking each night) or as advanced as prepping all your food on one day of the week, freezing it, and using the meals throughout the week.
It not only helps you save time and money, but it can also help you make healthier food choices.
Why Meal Plan?
Benefits of Meal Planning
Meal planning offers several advantages, such as:
- Saving time by reducing the need for frequent grocery shopping and last-minute cooking decisions.
- Saving money by avoiding impulse purchases and utilizing sales.
- Reducing food waste by planning meals based on what you have in your pantry.
- Encouraging healthier eating habits by intentionally including nutritious ingredients.
- Reducing stress by knowing what’s for dinner every night.
How do I begin meal planning if I’ve never done it before?
It’s easy to start, but you have to have a goal in mind. As a coach, I have my clients give me their basic goal when starting out – some have a weight loss goal, while others want to put on muscle. Then there are those that just want to be healthy. The “why” of what you are doing is often more important than the “how” if you want to make this a part of your life.
So, you start by setting your goals, assessing your schedule, and considering your food preferences.
Then, choose recipes that align with your objectives and create a shopping list based on the ingredients you’ll need. Let’s start with goals first.
Setting Your Goals
Before diving into meal planning, consider your goals. Are you looking to save money, improve your health, or save time? Your objectives will influence your meal planning approach. Here are some common types of meal plans:
- These meal plans focus on affordable, cost-effective ingredients and recipes. You’ll prioritize sales, bulk purchases, and inexpensive ingredients like rice, beans, and frozen vegetables.
- A health-focused meal plan emphasizes nutrient-dense, whole foods. This may include lean proteins, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. You might also focus on specific dietary needs, such as low-carb, vegetarian, or gluten-free.
- Time-saving meal plans prioritize recipes with minimal prep time and cooking time, like one-pot meals, sheet pan dinners, or slow cooker recipes. You may also focus on meal prepping and batch cooking to save time throughout the week.
Assess Your Schedule
Consider your schedule when planning your meals. If you’re busy during the week, opt for quick and easy recipes or cook on the weekends and reheat during the week. Be realistic about the time you can dedicate to cooking and plan accordingly.
Evaluate Your Food Preferences
Take note of your favorite meals and ingredients, as well as any dietary restrictions or allergies. Also, take note of your overall protein needs and goals. You might need to add more meat and other foods to meet your macro goals.
Incorporate these preferences into your meal plan to ensure you’re excited about your meals and feel satisfied. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes or experiment with different cuisines to keep things interesting.
Determine Your Budget
Set a budget for your weekly groceries to help guide your meal planning. This will help you make smarter choices when shopping and ensure you’re not overspending on food.
Meal Planning Tips
Plan Around Sales and Seasonality
To save money, plan your meals around seasonal produce and weekly grocery store sales. This not only helps your wallet but also ensures you’re eating fresh, flavorful ingredients. Plus, it’s a great way to try new recipes and ingredients you might not have considered otherwise.
Cook in Bulk and Freeze
Batch cooking is a time-saving strategy that involves preparing larger quantities of food at once and then freezing portions for later. This method works well for soups, stews, casseroles, and even breakfast items like pancakes or muffins.
Store your meal prepped food in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on how soon you plan to eat it. Label the containers with the contents and date to help keep track of your meals.
With a freezer, or fridge, full of ready-made meals, you’ll always have something delicious and healthy on hand when you’re short on time.
Utilize a Meal Planning Tracking Sheet
Organize your meal plans into an easy-to-access spreadsheet. These sheets often include features like recipe organization, grocery list generation, and even nutritional information. One such option is my own Ultimate Macro Tracker.
Be Flexible and Adapt
Remember that meal planning, just like macro tracking, is meant to simplify your life, not make it more complicated. Be open to adjusting your plan if unexpected events arise, or if you find yourself craving something different. The key is to strike a balance between planning and flexibility.
Creating a Shopping List
- Organizing Your List
- Once you have your meal plan in place, create a shopping list based on your chosen recipes. Organize your list by grocery store sections (produce, dairy, meats, etc.) to make your shopping trip more efficient.
- Stick to the Perimeter
- As a general rule, the healthiest foods can be found around the perimeter of the grocery store. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and dairy products. Try to focus on these items and limit processed foods found in the middle aisles.
- Avoid Impulse Buys
- To save money and stick to your meal plan, resist the temptation to buy items that aren’t on your shopping list. This can be challenging, but keeping your goals in mind will help you stay focused.
Meal Prep Ideas For Simplicity
- Overnight oats: Combine oats, milk or yogurt, and your favorite toppings (fruit, nuts, etc.) in a container, refrigerate overnight, and enjoy in the morning.
- Smoothie packs: Pre-portion fruits, vegetables, and protein powder in freezer bags, and blend with liquid when ready to drink.
- Egg muffins: Mix eggs, veggies, and cheese, and bake in a muffin tin for an easy, grab-and-go breakfast option.
- Mason jar salads: Layer your favorite salad ingredients in a mason jar, starting with the dressing at the bottom and working your way up to the greens.
- Protein-packed grain bowls: Assemble a base of grains (rice, quinoa, etc.), add your choice of protein, and finish with veggies, nuts, and a flavorful sauce.
- Sandwich wraps: Fill a whole grain wrap with lean protein, veggies, and a tasty spread for a satisfying, portable lunch.
- Sheet pan meals: Toss your protein and veggies in your choice of seasonings, spread on a sheet pan, and bake for a simple, delicious dinner.
- Stir-fries: Sauté your favorite vegetables and protein in a flavorful sauce, then serve over rice or noodles for a quick, customizable dinner option.
- Slow cooker meals: Combine ingredients in a slow cooker, set it, and forget it! This method works well for soups, stews, and even some pasta dishes. Enjoy a warm, comforting meal with minimal effort.
Meal planning is an excellent way to save time, money, and improve your overall health. By setting clear goals, assessing your schedule and preferences, and following our helpful tips, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of meal planning.
Remember to stay flexible, experiment with new recipes, and most importantly, enjoy the process!