You might have heard that meal planning is a great idea, but if you’ve never done it before – it might sound like a daunting task. If you’ve never meal planned before – how do you get started? Here’s the breakdown of meal planning for beginners …
What is meal planning?
Let’s start with defining what meal planning is. Meal planning is scheduling what will be served for each meal of the day for a designated timeframe. This may be for a week, 10 days, or 3 days depending on what works best for you.
Meal plans can include every meal and snack of the day; however, if you’re new to meal planning start with one meal. Pick the meal that feels the most important to control. For a lot of people this tends to be dinner since breakfast and lunch are more consistent.
The meal plan is essentially your menu for the week. Based on what you’ve selected for meals – you’ll build your grocery list to create those meals.
How to meal plan.
This is a multi-step process that involves some organization beforehand…
Get prepared in advance.
To build your meal plan for the week you need to have a list of possible options. Your list of choices will depend on what’s most important to you.
Do you need to have fast and easy options? High protein options? Options that make leftovers? Having a variety of choices that fulfill what’s most important to you is the first step. If you love the internet for recipe searches or you’re a Pinterest fan, go where you find a wide selection. You may also have a recipe binder or recipe collection that you can go to.
Create a list of options that you can refer to when you create your meal plan. A good goal to shoot for is at least 10 recipes, which will offer about 2 weeks’ worth of meals. You can always add more recipes over time.
Also, be prepared to change up your main list as the seasons change. Over the course of the year ingredients come in and out of season and types of cooking methods will change. For example, you may have more opportunities to grill in the summer vs. the winter, but in the winter, you might use the slow cooker more often.
What’s scheduled gets done.
Now that you have your list of options – it’s time to plug them into your meal plan. Pull up your calendar and determine what’s realistic to make based on the time you have available. For example, you may have more time on Sunday to create meals that take longer to prepare. Then, if you have to work late on a weeknight – plan for a quick meal or leftovers that can easily be reheated.
When you know what’s manageable ahead of time you can plan for something that’s doable.
Why should I meal plan?
There are multiple reasons why you should start meal planning if you’re not doing it already…
Eating balanced meals with appropriate calories.
Meal planning can help you avoid hitting the drive through because you don’t have the time or energy to cook at home. For anyone who is focused on healthy eating – your home cooked meals are more nutritious than what you get at a fast-food restaurant.
Food that is prepared in a restaurant is created to taste amazing so you’ll come back as a repeat customer. Restaurant food is not prepared with your health in mind. And the calories found in restaurant food can be many times higher than food you would eat at home.
If you’re watching your weight – those calories can really add up and affect your weight and your health. When you cook your meals at home you have control over what goes into the food. You can limit the amount of fat, salt, and sugar, which is notoriously high in restaurant food.
When you meal plan you only buy the groceries you need. When you have a plan to use them – they don’t go to waste. With the predictability of a meal plan you can use one ingredient several ways and as leftovers, which is a great money saver!
Plus, if you use a plan to buy groceries – you’ll do less impulse buying at the store because you have a list prepared ahead of time. This also saves you money and is healthier too!
And when it comes to eating out because you don’t have a plan – it’s cheaper to eat meals prepared at home. If you consistently eat out because you don’t have a meal plan – you’re spending extra money unnecessarily.
When you don’t have a plan – you spend time trying to figure out what you’re going to eat. One way or another you will make a decision about what you want to eat. If you do it in advance you’ll waste less time than you would if you have to make a decision at the last minute. Plus, decisions made ahead of time will always be better than those made in the moment!
Planning for what you’re going to eat ahead of time is less stressful than waiting until you’re desperate. When you’re tired and hungry – you don’t have the emotional or mental energy to make the best decision. Making decisions in this state is a battle of good intentions vs. emotion. Life is stressful enough without leaving an important decision about how you eat up to how you feel.
Helpful tips to go from meal planning as a beginner to a pro!
10 Tips for success…
- Have a regular day of the week that you grocery shop and make that day your deadline to have your meal plan completed. This makes life easier because you have a predictable schedule for what days you need to plan meals for and replenish groceries.
- Use one item/ingredient multiple times (i.e. slice bell peppers for lunches and also for fajitas for dinner, spinach for omelets and sandwiches.)
- Purchase ingredients in bulk if you will be using them very often (i.e. chicken breast, beans, grains, eggs).
- Plan to use ingredients in different ways throughout the week to re-purpose leftovers – i.e. brown rice for a side and then with stir fry; roasted vegetables as a side and then in a frittata, chicken leftovers in a salad.
- Prepare extra for leftovers for meals that week or freeze for another time.
- Plan ahead for when you will do prep work such as defrost meat, wash and chop vegetables, make a batch of rice, etc.
- Have the family help develop a list of meals to choose from.
- Divide and conquer – what can the family to do help with serving or preparing meals?
- Repetition is ok! Weekdays and weeknight meals should be treated as fuel. Indulge on the weekend when you have more time to relax and enjoy your food.
- Practice makes you more efficient. Some aspects to meal prep/planning may seem daunting or arduous – but the more you do it the better you become at the process and the easier it will get.
There’s lots of benefits for meal planning when you decide to do it. When you implement these tips you will go from meal planning for beginners to feeling like a pro in no time!
To make meal planning EVEN more simple – let our partners at EatLove create the meal plan for you! For more info on our in-house nutrition program powered by EatLove and our meal planning app visit youfit.com/nutrition/ .