Meal Planning How-To Guide
In my previous post: The Many Benefits of Meal Planning I talked about the importance of meal planning, which I think we can all agree on. The hard part is putting it all into practice and sticking to it. In this post I’ll share with you how I go about meal planning which I hope will give you some insight and motivation to do it on your own.
Step 1: Make time.
In the beginning, plan out at least one hour where you can sit down and focus on the task at hand. As you begin to meal plan more often, this process can become much quicker. Set aside a specific day. My favorite time for meal planning is on the weekend when I have more free time. Some weeks Saturday is the day and other times it’s Sunday, but either way I make a plan to get it done.
Step 2: Check your kitchen stash.
See if you have anything in the fridge or cupboards that will make up a meal, or at least make up most of a meal. If so, this is great. Now you have one less meal to buy groceries for. Then, check the freezer for any leftovers or meats that you have tucked away. Get them out and ready to defrost if you’re going to use them.
Step 3: Gather the goods.
Grab your computer, ipad or tablet, some of your favorite cookbooks or some of your own recipes. Have a notebook or piece of paper that you can write out your meals and grocery list on. Then, make some space at the table and get organized. I like to look through some of my favorite Pinterest recipes for inspiration and then peruse the cookbooks. Some weeks I feel more daring and will try out some new recipes, while other weeks I will stick to some of my favorite go-to meals that I’m most familiar with.
Keep in mind that we meal plan mainly for dinner meals, with the intention that dinner leftovers will make up our lunches. Having leftovers for lunch cuts down on the time is takes to pack a lunch and allows you to eat something healthy and homemade. When appropriate, I will top some salad greens with leftovers to make an even more nutritious lunch.
Step 4: Don’t get too fancy.
If you’re new to meal planning, I wouldn’t start out by trying all new recipes. Try a couple of easier new recipes and then make something super simple that doesn’t necessarily require a recipe and a long list of ingredients, like baked chicken and steamed veggies. If you start out by overworking yourself, the likelihood of you continuing to meal plan will significantly decrease. Instead, start the process more slowly until it becomes more natural for you; this is when meal planning becomes fun and something you look actually forward to.
Step 5: Start planning.
To make my life easier during the week, I almost always choose to make a large soup or crockpot meal early in the week [or even on Sunday when I have more time]. That way, if life gets in the way or we get busy, there are leftovers in the fridge. I also make sure that a couple of my meals are more simple to make, while others may be slightly more time consuming. It’s important to make sure that each of the meals you choose is healthy. By healthy I mean balanced with plenty of veggies, protein [animal or plant based] and healthy fats. Refer to my Recipe Search page or my Pinterest page for some healthy meal ideas.
Step 6: Create a list.
I start out by picking my meals and writing them down. I write out at least 5 different meals. I don’t plan 7 meals for the entire week because I take into account leftovers and the chance we will go out to eat. I then look at the meals I’ve chosen and I write out my specific grocery list based on the recipe ingredients. Be sure not to forget any ingredients because it’s no fun to find out you’re missing something and have to go back to the store. Remember that you don’t have to write down every ingredient from the recipe if you have that ingredient already on hand. Lastly, I will jot down the groceries that I replenish weekly [i.e. raw nuts for snacks, smoothie ingredients, fruit, condiments, etc.].
When I’m feeling really organized I will write out my groceries in categories [i.e. all the produce together, meat/poultry together, etc.]. This will help streamline the grocery shopping process so you can get in and out faster. I always bring my list and a pen to the store so I can check off every item as I buy it. This way I make sure to get everything on my list. This keeps me focused and on track while also helping me avoid any unnecessary impulse buying.
Step 7: Shopping time.
If you’ve taken the time and effort to write out your grocery list, the shopping part is so much easier and less stressful. I always start with the produce, then make my to the rest of the store, avoiding the inside aisles as much as possible. [hint: if you’re eating a primarily whole-foods based diet, you will not be shopping much from the inside aisles; you’ll be staying mostly on the outside of the store which is where the fresh ingredients are.] Remember to check your items off the list as you go.
[Overwhelmed at the grocery store? Locally, I offer grocery store tours where we walk the aisles, read food labels + learn to get familiar with the healthy and not-so-healthy options. Email me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Step 8: Organize + prep.
Yay! By this time you have done a lot of the leg work. Now all that’s left to do is put things away and begin cooking. At this point, if there’s anything I can do ahead of time, I’ll do it. For example, I’ll cut up my veggies, make salad dressing, and get my bananas peeled, chopped and in the freezer for my Super Green Smoothie. This way, when it’s time to start batch cooking for the week, you’ve already cut down on some of the work.
Step 9: Batch cooking.
The information for this step will come in a separate blog post coming soon. I will spell out the details for how to efficiently prep + cook for the week in such a way that will cut down on your mid-week cooking time. Once people master this step, it’s hard to remember how they functioned without it, myself included.