13 Tips for Better Weekly Meal Planning
One of the most popular questions I get asked is what the best tips for meal planning and prepping is. How can you get breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared week in and week out in a stress-free way AND without getting bored or overwhelmed? How do you stay energized and engaged with the act of cooking at home? Here are thirteen of what I believe are the best and most universal tips to start learning how to plan your meals.
What is meal planning?
Why should we make meal planning a priority in our lives? It’s a great way to keep yourself organized cooking meals for yourself and/or family. It helps take out the “I’m going to buy the whole store” factor because we aren’t sure what we are going to make. Some people plan a month in advance, freezing neatly-labeled packets of soup and stew. This is definitely not my husband and I, but I do admire those who are SUPER prepared! Meal planning is a really personal thing. What works for you may not work for me. The goal, I think, is to find a process that is both enjoyable and effective.
I don’t know about you but I love to read through magazines, cookbook and different websites, getting excited to try one of those recipes and make it our own. This taps into your creative mind. I personally was a horrible cook, now I definitely am not going to be on the Food Network anytime soon but I absolutely love cooking now. Once I started getting engaged in different foods, I was hooked. Even if you are making your grilled cheese into a star shape, find ways to inspire yourself and look forward to having fun in the kitchen!
There’s no right way to plan your meals; you should just do what is effective for you. You of course can google a million ways to organize and plan, but meal planning is going to be trial and error at the beginning. Don’t spend too much time looking for the most perfect and impeccably-maintained system. The system is just the tool. The point is the meal. The result is to enjoy it and make it your own.
Before we get into the list, some of these may no brainers, but I feel it is always good to have a list written out as a guide even when we forget those simple tips. Of course this isn’t a perfect list but I hope you find this helpful and please don’t hesitate to leave a comment at the end if you have any tips to share! Get inspired, have fun and eat some good, healthy food!
13 Tips for Meal Planning
- Research Recipes Weekly:
This may be an inconvenience for you but trust me, once you start you can’t stop. Browse blogs and websites for recipes that look delicious. Hang out on Pinterest. Pile up some cookbooks and grab your notepads. Get inspired!
- Develop a simple space to save recipes:
Do whatever works for you. Don’t let this part stress you out, just use whatever works best and of course easiest. Personally, I like Pinterest or printing out recipes and putting them in a pile above my fridge. I know where to look when I want to re-create a recipe and online I have the visual aspect of what I’ve saved to try.
- Ask around what others in the household like to eat:
This might sound obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in our weeks and forget to ask our households what they would like to eat. To me this is one of the best parts because I get to see my husband show off his cooking skills and we make it a time to spend together.
- Weather can be a factor:
You might be thinking what?!?! But some people are more in tune as to matching foods with the seasons, or if it is cold outside maybe a hot soup sounds more appealing than a cold salad. We BBQ all year round, but definitely turn towards more comfort foods in the winter and lighter foods in the spring and summer.
- Start a calendar.
Now that you’re getting inspired in what to eat, start a calendar of what you’d like to cook over the next few days or few weeks. It can be as organized as a Google Calendar, with notes on each day for that day’s menu. Or you can just jot notes to yourself in the corner of your cellphone, get fancy and stick a magnetic chalk board on your fridge (check out amazon). The important thing is to write it down.
- Theme Nights :
Spice things up and make it fun! Make it seem like your kitchen is a restaurant. Monday night you will be serving a pasta dish, Tuesday is grilled fish, and Wednesday is Baked Chicken. Of course this may not be a fun idea for everyone, but those of you who have kids, I definitely think this would be a hit! A bigger plus would be to get the whole family involved making it a fun activity.
- Pick a day and make a list:
Shopping with a purpose leads to more successful grocery trips. After looking at your recipes and making your shopping list, you are on a mission and know what you need to get. I usually have a path I take in the grocery store, always start on the outsides and work my way in. But if I’m at Trader Joes then every aisle feels like I won the lottery.
- Sales, Coupons, Deals:
Some people really like to organize their meals around coupons. Is organic chicken a dollar off this week? Or canned chickpeas? Check out your grocery store circular and adjust your meal plan or shopping list a bit. (Again though, this is going to be a personal preference) Also try and incorporate bulk items into multiple recipes. Don’t let that bag of spinach rot after one recipe or that leftover chicken sit in the back of the fridge. Combine for a healthy lunch item tomorrow!
I am a huuuge fan of the leftovers that we have made. Soups, healthy casseroles, baked chicken are just a few great ideas to make extra for leftovers. Make a little extra of everything, and if you don’t want it right away, freeze it.
Getting It Done
10. Time to Prep:
A perfect time to start prepping your food is after you grocery shop. You already have the food out, you have those meals embedded in your brain by now and you can just get it done! Wash and dry lettuce. Chop onions. Roast vegetables. Bake chicken. Shred zucchini for quick stir-fries. Stack up glass containers of prepped ingredients in the refrigerator and give yourself a HECK YA you just kicked meal planning’s butt! Shredding cheese if you are making tacos, slicing veggies and bagging them for breakfast scrambles, stir fries or smoothies! There is a reason why Rachael and Bobby can do their recipes in the allotted time…yup you guessed it! PREPPED ITEMS.
Going beyond prep, cook components of the meals. For example, start a batch of tomato sauce while you wash greens. The sauce can go on pizza one night, and in lasagna the next. Or roast a chicken right then that you can eat that night and use for sandwiches and pasta the rest of the week.
12. Stay away from filling up your fridge:
I can’t tell you how many times I have had to throw away cucumbers, peppers and zucchini because it got lost in the bags of kale and spinach. Keep in mind you need to know how many days you can legitimately prepare. If 3 meals, 7 days a week is intense, make sure you are only focusing on 2 meals at least 3 times a week. A good tip I heard was to keep a list nearby of everything in the fridge, especially leftovers, as a reminder of what to be eat.
13. It is ok to fill up the pantry:
Because pantry foods don’t go bad as easily, make sure you have lots of back up plans in case of a late night soccer game, work meeting, you forgot to rehydrate the chickpeas for your hummus wraps, etc. Don’t run out of olive oil at inconvenient moments. Have spices ready to dress up chicken and beans quickly. Just because life gets in the way doesn’t mean that you cannot still prepare a healthy meal.
All right! Who is ready to start meal planning! You excited or did I just stress you out even more? Don’t worry it seems like a lot of steps but it does become second nature.
What keeps you motivated, inspired, and on track with cooking for yourself during the week?