Meal Planning 101: A Beginner's Guide to Eating Healthier and Simplifying Mealtime
Meal planning involves creating a weekly menu, or preparing ahead for each meal you plan to make.
With your already full schedule, figuring out what to eat everyday can feel overwhelming and you might find yourself eating cereal or take out more often than you’d like to admit. But there is an easier way to answer the question: “What’s for dinner?” Meal Planning.
Meal planning involves creating a weekly menu, or preparing ahead for each meal you plan to make. It particularly benefits people with specific health goals like weight loss, as well as people trying to stick to a budget while feeding a whole family.
Planning your meals for the week helps you save time and money, takes the stress and guesswork out of mealtime, and ultimately helps keep you on track with your health and nutritional goals.
Tools for Meal Planning
Before we get into the how-tos of meal planning, check out this list of helpful tools that you might want to have handy.
Food storage containers: When it comes to meal planning, don’t stress about making a new, home cooked dish for every meal, every day. In fact, meal planning works best when you repeat a few dishes during the week. Having food storage containers will keep your previously prepared food or leftovers ready for you to use, or take on the go.
Glass containers or jars are a food-safe and family-safe storage solution compared to plastic which can release toxic chemicals into your food.
Lunch box: If you and/or your spouse want to prepare food for work or an afternoon at the park, having something to keep your food at a safe temperature will be important.
Journal/Notebook: Some people find that they like to write down their meal plan to refer back to during the week. You could use a journal, a notebook, a whiteboard, a digital spreadsheet or app, or you might even feel more comfortable just making a mental list. Feel free to experiment and decide which method serves you and your family the best.
Get Started Meal Planning
Know your eating habits, determine your health goals
When you begin meal planning, you should start by considering your eating habits, as well as your health and wellness goals.
What do you like to eat? Do you or someone in your family have any dietary restrictions? What do you want to change about your eating habits and where can you start making this change? Answering these questions can help make a menu that best suits you.
If you want to make specific changes to your diet and your health, a dietician or nutritionist can help you create a personalized meal plan based on your body’s needs.
Before you start planning, write down the items you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry and use these ingredients as a starting point in this week’s menu.
By doing this, you will save money (and possibly a trip to the grocery store), and ensure that none of your food goes to waste. It also cuts down on the time you’ll spend brainstorming meals.
Make your menu
Okay, now to the fun part–choosing the recipes.
Before you head to Pinterest or Grandma’s old cookbook, be sure to check your calendar to actually know how many meals you need to plan for. Late meeting on Wednesday night? No problem, plan to heat up leftovers that evening. Date night on Saturday? Perfect, leave that spot on your meal plan open.
When it comes to planning your meals, simplicity is key. While finding new, tasty recipes every week may seem exciting, don’t go overboard. Stick mostly to tried and true recipes, meals you know how to make and can depend on enjoying.
If you want to add a little adventure to mealtimes, try one new recipe each week. You’ll save yourself potential frustration and disappointment, and might even find a new favorite dish.
Regularly incorporating a “theme night” like Taco Tuesday or Pizza Night can also help simplify your meal planning, while also leaving room for variety in the dishes.
Create a shopping list
After “shopping your pantry,” you may still need to go to the grocery store for additional ingredients or even to stock up on staple foods to get you through the week. However, before you go, make sure you create a list of what you need based on your chosen recipes.
Having a list can help keep your shopping time intentional and focused, and can help prevent you from filling up your cart with unnecessary (and possibly unhealthy) extras.
Many people who use meal planning also like to incorporate some time into their week for food preparation to simplify their to-do list each day. There are several methods to prepare food ahead of time and you’ll need to decide which method (if any) is right for your schedule and your nutritional goals.
You might want to cook 1-2 meals at the beginning of the week to simply reheat later. Or maybe you’ll want to make individually portioned meals to easily take with you on the go.
You could also prepare several ingredients ahead of time (like chopping veggies or making a large pot of rice) so they are already ready when you start cooking.
Preparing food ahead of your meal time, while an initial, up-front “investment” can really help make your weeks flow more smoothly and is well worth the effort.
Looking for some inspiration for your meal planning this week?
Check out these delicious recipes in our blog archives.
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