For those of us who are working on health and wellness goals, meal planning is an important tool in helping us reach those goals. As the old saying goes,
if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
When we first think of meal planning, it can seem like one more thing to unsexy thing do. But if we break it down into steps, it can be very helpful. It saves us both time and money, and sets us up for stressless meals.
Most people meal planning on the weekend, but it works best when it works with your schedule. Meal planning is not a book or a binder with a month full of meals. It is something that is personalized to you and your situation. You can write in your calendar, on a sticky note, Google Docs, whiteboard, or anywhere else. Some people meal plan just dinners, and others include breakfasts and/or lunches as well.
Meal plans do not have to be limited to entirely home-cooked meals – think about planning to use leftovers, takeout meals, or meal kits… You can meal plan for a family for one, two, three, four, five, or six … Meal planning lets you front-load some of the work around meals while still having flexibility. You can break meal planning into three steps.
Step 1: Look at Your Schedule
Take a look at your schedule and think about your week.
- Maybe you need an extra-quick and easy dinner on the night you work late.
- Perhaps you want to make sure that you have leftovers for lunch.
- If you have a school or work function that is serving food, you may not need to cook dinner that night.
- Think about how much time you will have for cooking each day.
- Pay attention to your goal(s). Are you looking to make your life easier, add variety, improve your diet to improve health, prevent waste, save time, and/or save money?
Step 2: Create Your Plan
Now that you have your calendar and goals in front of you, figure out how many meals you want to plan for. Some people skip the weekends, and others include it. One way to do meal planning is to assign a few nights during the week a theme. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, chicken night, fish night, beef night, pork night, breakfast for dinner, leftovers… If you are new to cooking, start small with quick, simple food. A meal plan can be as simple chicken, fish, meatballs or as detailed as a specific recipe per meal.
If you are cooking for others, involve them in the process. For a long time, I kept a notebook on the table with the recipes and meals I cooked. My kids rated them with a thumbs up, thumbs down system. It helped them feel like they were being heard, and it made planning easier for me. Over time I created a bank of recipes that I knew they liked and I could go to over and over again.
Plan to try one or possibly two new recipes a week to add variety, without being overwhelming. Look for recipes that have some common ingredients – if you make tacos one night and use half a bunch of fresh cilantro, you can put the other half in a Thai coconut soup the next day.
Double up on recipes you can freeze to eat another time. You can also leave some room in your plan to turn leftovers into another meal. This might mean turning leftover rice into fried rice or turning a roasted chicken into tacos.
You can incorporate meal kit delivery services or take out as part of a meal plan. Maybe someone else in the house will cook. That can be incorporated too.
Lastly, write into your meal plan a plan B in case something unexpected happens like bad moods, traffic, and meetings that go long. My plan B is sausages with greens. If I have other veggies, I will sauté them all together. Eggs are another favorite Plan B.
Step 3: Go Shopping
Make your list of the ingredients you are going to need and decide if you are going to shop once or twice during the week. Look through your kitchen to see what you already have and then write up your grocery list. I like to group things by aisle or department – all of the produce together, proteins together, canned goods together … to make shopping easier and quicker. Use a grocery delivery service if you are short on time.
Consider spending an hour prepping your weekly meals on the weekend to make the weekday meals that much faster. You can dice garlic, chop veggies, wash lettuce and herbs, make a sauce, and even cook some chicken thighs or lentils for lunches.
Every time you go through the process of meal planning you will improve the process. If at first, it seems tedious or overwhelming, I encourage you to stick with it. You will start to notice that you save time and money, and that it is easier to stick to your original plan when things get dicey and pizza comes calling. Like any skill, it gets easier over time.
… As you head into the new year are your health and wellness goals top of mind?
… Do your diet and/or lifestyle need an upgrade in 2023?
… Are you looking for some direction, facts over fiction, support on what is best for your body, and accountability?
If so, let’s set up a time to talk. If you are new to Barbara Sobel Nutrition, book an exploratory call (for new clients) or a follow-up visit (for existing clients) at book an appointment so we can dive deeper together.