What if we told you healthy eating doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think it is? What if we told you there was a way to make healthy eating less overwhelming — easy, even?
Maybe you, like millions of Americans, resolve to eat healthier every new year. You vow to give up junk food and alcohol and manage to stay strong for the first few months. But your “New Year, New Me” motivation always fades quickly.
Well, you might ask, what’s the secret? The answer is simple: meal planning. Strategically planning every meal you and your family consume doesn’t sound as fun as swinging through a drive-through or ripping open yet another bag of chips. But meal planning is a way to ease your mind and give you more control over what goes into your body.
What's meal planning?
Meal planning is exactly what it sounds like: You decide ahead of time what foods you’ll eat each day of the week. The recipes you choose for the week determine your grocery list. Once you decide what you’ll make, buy only what you need.
Why plan meals?
Is putting in this extra effort every week even worth it? We think so!
Meal planning saves you loads of time, especially on your busiest days, because the question, "what's for dinner," will have been answered days ago, and you'll already have all the ingredients you need.
And since the only items on your grocery list will be the ingredients you need to make your pre-planned meals, you’ll stop buying foods that will go to waste before you decide to eat it. If you stick with meal planning, you’ll also be more likely to cut out unnecessary snacks and junk food.
How do I plan meals?
The goal is to develop a meal planning system that works for you. Start with these simple steps and feel free to modify them as you get into a groove:
1. Select your recipes.
This is an obvious step one, but you'd be surprised at how many folks wait until they're at the grocery store to decide what they want to eat. Take an hour or so to scroll through recipes on sites like Pinterest and take inspiration from cookbooks.
Keep your goals in mind. Are you looking for healthier options? Do you want to save money? Whatever your reason for meal prepping is, it's important to stick to it while picking the recipes.
2. Go shopping.
It's not enough to just copy and paste the ingredient list of every recipe onto your grocery list. You'll need to pay attention to portion sizes and decide how much of each food you'll need; nothing is more frustrating than a midweek grocery run when you either don’t have enough to make because you bought too little or have food that has gone to waste because you bought too much.
One helpful method to make your weekly shopping trips easier is to make two lists:
- Have a master ingredient list that covers everything you’ll generally need to keep around. This includes weekly goods as well as staple foods that are good to have.
- Have a shopping list that covers exactly what you’ll need for the week. Use your master ingredient list as a reference.
Consult your shopping lists before you head to the store so you can be certain you’ll have exactly what you need.
3. Prep your meals.
You've got your meals planned and your ingredients ready... now what? Now, it's time to actually prep your food.
What prepping looks like depends on the recipes you've chosen and how much time you've allotted for preparation. Maybe you'll just need to wash and chop your vegetables, or maybe you'll want to cook your meat ahead of time so you'll only need to reheat it later.
Meal planning done right is a breeze. You’ll always be prepared ahead of time so your food will be easy to make and ready to eat when you need it.
Tricks of the Trade
As you start planning your weekly menus, keep a few helpful tips in mind to make your life even easier:
Don't overwhelm yourself.
Don’t attempt to plan too many meals all at once. You might think it’s efficient, but really all you’ll do is stress yourself out.
If you're a beginner meal planner, start small. Start with maybe one meal for three to five days a week, then go from there and see what happens.
Pencil in non-home-cooked meals.
We know that even though meal planning and prepping makes cooking easier and more efficient, you probably don't want to spend every night in the kitchen. We don't blame you.
Healthy eating doesn't necessarily mean completely cutting out all the snacks and restaurant food you like. Enjoy non-home-cooked meals in moderation; if you want, plan to eat pizza, takeout, or restaurant food one or two nights a week.
Plan meals that yield leftovers.
Make the most of your time, money, and food by stretching meals as far as they can go. Prepare a little bit extra and store it in your fridge for the next day. If you have a low tolerance for immediate leftovers, prepare meals that can be frozen and store the extras in the freezer for later.
Save your recipes.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised by how easy it is to forget about recipes once you've found them. Don't feel pressured to come up with new ideas each week. If there's a meal you and your family really enjoyed, or one that made your life easier by being simple to prepare, hang onto the recipe and save it for another week. Doing so will save you time in the long run.
Remember, consistency is key. Set up a routine; try to do your meal planning, grocery shopping, and prepping on the same day every week. It sounds simple, but a solid, consistent routine makes meal planning and healthier eating that much easier.