Why Meal Plan?
- It helps with weight loss: If you're serious about losing weight, practicing portion control and tracking calories are essential. If you plan out nutritious and filling meals, it makes it easier to stay on your healthy path. Plus, when you know what you're eating every few hours, it keeps hunger at bay, which can help curb cravings and prevent overeating later.
- It can save you money: Mindlessly hitting the grocery store and grabbing anything that looks delicious can add up! Since you don't know what you'll be in the mood for later that week, you choose a whole slew of things. Chances are, you buy way too much, and many of the foods go bad because you didn't have a plan for using them. Knowing what you're eating every day also eliminates the money spent going out to eat. When I plan my meals for the week, I end up saving between $30 to $60
- Your time is precious: While it seems like it'll take a lot of time to sit down and figure out a week's worth of meals, in the end, it'll save you time. Once you have that first week done, you can pretty much use that week after week, tweaking a few meals here and there to find a plan that works for you. It also eliminates all the wasted time asking your family what they want for dinner at 5 p.m. or staring blankly at an open fridge.
Step 1: Map It Out
- Go basic: If you're a meal-planning newbie, just focus on planning out one meal a day, such as dinner, and keep it simple. Now's not the time to try out seven different dinner recipes using ingredients you have to drive to three different specialty shops to find. Stick to tried-and-true, basic recipes you know and love.
- Have these on hand: Stock your pantry with healthy staples like whole grains, olive oil, canned beans, boxed tomatoes, broth, spices, and garlic, so you don't have to worry about buying these every time you shop.
- Overlap ingredients: Plan out meals that use the same ingredients. If you roast veggies for pasta on Monday, make enough so you can use the leftover veggies in tomorrow's lunch wrap. Or double recipes so you can pack the leftovers for lunch.
- Find a method that works for you: Once you start meal planning you'll never go back to randomly throwing together meals. So make all your hard work each week count. Write out the week's plan somewhere whether it's on a blackboard for all to see or in your weekly calendar. Takes photos of each week or write them on index cards or in a meal planning journal so you can look back for dinner ideas or to have an entire week already laid out for you.
- Keep your schedule and weather in mind: If you know you have a late work meeting, a slow-cooker recipe is probably a better choice than whipping up homemade lasagna. Or if it's going to be a warm night, grilling might be a better option than turning on your oven.
- Have recipes on hand: Once you figure out what you want for all seven nights, make sure you have the recipes easily accessible so you can write out your grocery list, and then have them handy later when you're cooking. Print them out or save paper by bookmarking recipes online. If you need to go to two different stores to get everything you need, write out two different lists to keep yourself organized.
Step 2: Shop
With your trusty lists and shopping bags in hand, carve out an hour or so to go to the grocery store over the weekend. I try to go on Saturdays since Sundays tend to be crowded and understocked. Aim to stick to your list as closely as possible, crossing things off as they go in your cart to make sure you've gotten everything on the list from the red peppers to the avocado.
Step 3: Prep
All those delicious ingredients won't do you any good hiding in bags in the fridge drawers. To ensure your meals happen on the days you planned, take a little time (I prefer Sunday afternoons) to wash, cut, and organize the ingredients. Get large reusable containers, and place all the cut-up ingredients you'll need in the same container. If you're making soup or something in the crockpot, you'll be able to dump it all in the pot, add a few more ingredients, and dinner will be done in no time. Aim to prepare a little something for every night, even if it's one huge salad that you can divvy up each night to accompany your main entree. Or save time by cooking up the whole grains you'll need for your stir fry or roasting a chicken you'll use for a couple recipes later that week. You can also make an enormous batch of soup for dinner, but freeze a bunch to enjoy the following week.
Meal planning may seem like it takes hours and hours, and at first, it might. But keep in mind that all this planning ahead and prepping is well-invested time going into the making of a healthier, happier you. Each week you plan will go by quicker once you get the hang of what works, and it'll make every meal go that much smoother. No more stressing about what to make, no more eating chips and salsa for dinner when you can't decide, and no more throwing together unhealthy meals just because they're easy. It may seem a little crazy to think about eating this way, but give it a try, and you'll soon be a meal-planning convert.