In my opinion, meal planning is ESSENTIAL for healthy eating and staying on track. I sit down every weekend and write out the meals we are going to have for the week. I plan what I’m going to eat each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It may seem a bit neurotic, but having the list helps me manage my anxiety because I have a plan and all I have to do is look at the list to tell me what to eat and it helps me stay on track with healthy choices. Having a meal plan posted is also helpful for nights when mu husband is home before me so that he knows what we’re having and can start prepping for dinner. I also find that meal planning helps us create less food waste. I try to make sure we will eat leftovers for lunch or another night for dinner so they don’t go to waste.
I grocery shop every week because we eat a lot of produce, but my trips are short and sweet these days because I meal plan and strategize. There’s not necessarily any right or wrong way to meal plan, but here are a few of my tips for making it efficient and effective:
- Start with what you already have in the kitchen. Do you have a ton of canned beans that can be used or some meat in the freezer? Or maybe some leftover produce from last week? I try to plan most of my meals around things I already have in the kitchen, which cuts down on the grocery bill for sure. If I’m not feeling very inspired, I’ll head over to Pinterest and type in whatever ingredient I have a lot of to see if I can find new ways to cook with it.
- Keep it simple. I am not the type of person who wants to be cooking a new meal every single night. If that’s you, kudos! But if it’s not, read on. I usually have eggs or a protein smoothie for breakfast, a salad or leftovers for lunch, and I plan to make around 3-4 different dinners per week. I plan fewer dinners than days in the week because sometimes we have something from the freezer that’s been meal prepped, sometimes we make last minute plans with friends or family and go out, and sometimes I underestimate how much a recipe makes and we need to eat up what’s left.
- Make a list. I’m sure you’ll be totally surprised to hear that I’m neurotic about how I make my grocery list too. I divide it up by section of the store, so I’m not wandering all over the place trying to remember what I needed. I also really try to stick to the list and not add unnecessary things to the cart. One exception is if something we use regularly is on sale, like olive oil, grass-fed beef, chicken breast, or frozen fruit. Anytime our grocery has grass-fed ground beef on manager’s special, I buy as much of it as my budget allows (last time I got it on sale for $4.99/lb and I bought 6 to store in the freezer!) Before I was grain free, I bought a ton of Udi’s gluten-free bread for $2 each and froze it all (because that stuff is expensive).
- Shop bulk bins. I try to buy our beans, nuts, seeds and grains (rice and popcorn) from the bulk bins. It’s way cheaper and its a great way to avoid additional packaging (I bring my reusable produce bags with me for produce and bulk goods). I also try to purchase larger bottles, jars and boxes of items when our budget allows. The cost per ounce is almost always lower (sometimes less than half!) so I’m not only saving money in the long run, but also saving multiple boxes or bottles from going in the trash.
- Prep what you can ahead of time. Meal prepping has become wildly popular, and for good reason. When I come home from the store, I try to prep as much of our food as I can. I chop veggies to be sautéed or steamed, I brown ground meat for tacos or burrito bowls, I make soups or chili to store in the fridge or freezer, and I cut up fruit for easy mixed fruit bowls. If I don’t prep my food when I get home, I almost always get busy and never get around to it, which equals food waste (I’m looking at your pineapple- has anyone else ever wasted a whole pineapple because you forgot to cut it up? No, just me? Okay great.) Meal prepping means minimal cooking when it’s time for dinner, and that’s something I can get on board with!
Here’s a weekly meal plan I drew up a few weeks ago. I created a template that I use each week and print to put on the fridge (I’m linking below so you can download a copy to use for yourself). I like to keep my meal planner clean and simple. You can find all kinds of fun ideas on Pinterest for something more jazzy if that’s your jam, but I prefer simplicity and functionality. You’ll notice I have a spot on my meal plans to make notes, which I use to note when I’m working and any other activities going on for the week that may effect meals:
For the Weekly Meal Plan Template PDF, click here.
I like to list out snack options too because snacks are a tough one for me. If I’m hungry between meals, I tend to wander into the kitchen and take bites of a ton of different things while trying to decide what snack to have. Having a list makes it easier; I just look at the list and make a choice. Easy peasy.
In the future, I’m going to try and share my meal plans with you all, along with links to recipes and downloadable shopping lists. Let me know in the comments if you think you’d find value in that!