If it’s late morning on a Sunday, you’ll find me at the kitchen table with my third cup of coffee and a pen and paper.
Why? Because I’m meal planning.
Every Sunday, without fail, I plan out every dinner we’re going to have that week. Then I look up the recipes for each, make the grocery list, and head to the store.
It might sound like a lot of effort for a weekend, but it’s actually a calming routine that saves me time, energy, and stress during the workweek.
So much so that if you’ve ever worked with me, you’ve heard me sing the praises of meal planning. Once you try it for yourself, I doubt you’ll go back. It’s one of those simple things that’ll make a remarkably positive difference in your life.
I eat out 1-2 times each week, but otherwise, I’m a homemade meal kinda girl. Of course it’s easier to grab takeout or get a meal delivery service, but studies have clearly shown that homemade meals are healthier than eating out.
We all know this, too. We’ll almost always add less sugar, butter, salt, and additives than restaurants or meal delivery services will.
Ready to try a new way? Let’s dive in.
What is Meal Planning - and why do it?
Meal planning is simply the act of mapping out and writing down the meals you’re going to eat ahead of time.
You can do it daily, weekly, or monthly. You can do it for all meals and snacks in a day, or just the meal that’s toughest to come up with ideas for.
Meal planning is designed to help you eat healthier and take stress out of your week. I know I’m not at my best when it’s 7 pm and I’m staring into the pantry, hangry and impatient, with no clue what to make -- and I’m sure my fam would agree.
So let’s avoid that scenario altogether. Let’s make sure you’ve got a plan of what to make and all the ingredients to make it with.
How to get started with meal planning
I recommend starting out with weekly meal planning, rather than daily or monthly. If you grocery shop once a week, you can pick up all the ingredients you need for the meals that week.
How many meals a day you plan out ahead of time is up to you, but if you’re looking to make healthy changes, I’d start by planning out all of your meals and snacks every day for the first few weeks.
Once you’ve built a solid breakfast and snack routine, you can switch to only writing out your lunches and dinners, as those tend to be the toughest to figure out.
The idea here is to eat habitually for breakfast and some lunches, pulling from 3-5 healthy go-to recipes for each. That leaves the creativity and excitement for dinners.
STEP 01: Write out your meals
I meal plan the old fashioned way, with a pen and paper stuck to the fridge, but you could also use apps like Plan to Eat that build your grocery list as part of it. Some of my clients like to put their plan in their Google calendar, so it fits alongside their weekly work meetings and family events.
Whichever way you do it, make sure you’ve got the upcoming week in front of you. Start by filling in any meals you’ve already got plans for, like dinners out, so you’ll know how many meals you’ve got left.
Then, pull up your stash of recipe ideas, whether it’s in that stack of cookbooks or online. I use my collection of bookmarked favorites on my Pinterest recipes page, which is my go-to every week. It’s like having my own personal menu to choose from!
Like the true Type A I am, I’ve got them all sectioned out by type of meal, like “Asian food,” “Grain bowls,” “Salads,” and more, so it makes choosing them super easy.
Write down a recipe for each meal, making sure you keep it super simple. Breakfast can be the same thing every day. Lunches can almost always be leftovers from the night before, if you make enough. Snacks can be fruit, trail mix, or popcorn. Don’t get too crazy here!
STEP 02: Add foods to your grocery list
Next, look up each of the recipes and compare the ingredients to what you’ve got in your kitchen.
If I’m making shrimp tacos, I check to see if there’s frozen shrimp in the freezer and tortillas in the pantry. If not, they go on the list. I’ll make sure we’ve got the right number of bananas for breakfast smoothies and fresh veggies for Thursday night’s giant salad.
Hans and I use the OurGroceries app to make our grocery lists. You can make separate lists for each store, like Trader Joe’s and the local farmstand. Since we’ve synched our accounts, if one of us adds something to any list, both of us can see it. This works like a dream when Hans is on his way to the store and I think of last minute additions (or vice versa); it’ll instantly sync to both of our phones.
STEP 03: Shop!
Now it’s time to grab your food! If you’re a fan of online ordering, you now have a super specific list of what you need. If you’re headed to the store, you can walk through the door with a clear plan for what to buy.
This helps you steer clear of those unhealthy foods you may have otherwise grabbed if you were aimlessly wandering the aisles (been there!).
There you have it! My 3-step meal planning process will have you easing your weekday stress, eating healthier, and reducing food waste. So go ahead and give it a shot!
If you’re looking for an example of a one week meal plan, I’ve got you covered! This is straight out of my own meal plan and contains healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options. Download your free meal plan here.