How do you build the habit of planning out your meal planning for the busy weekday? Nutrition Expert Dianna Sinni Dillon gives you the 5 pro tips you need to start now!
It can feel overwhelming to begin meal planning, but over time it becomes just like any other habit, a routine part of your week. With these five simple tips, you’ll be planning meals in no time!
Step 1: Assess your calendar and eaters.
Before you even put pen to paper, it’s important to check out what’s going on for the week. Do you have meetings after work? Soccer practice and swimming lessons to take the kids to? What about that weekly date night? Take these things into consideration, especially if it means you’ll need to prepare meals on-the-go or plan on eating out.
Additionally, think about what your eaters like, or if there are any others that you’re cooking for. Are your vegetarian neighbors coming over for dinner on Tuesday? Plan for a meatless meal that night.
Are there any food allergies to account for? Does your family love bold flavored meals? Is there a fun theme you can implement like ‘Taco Tuesday’ or ‘Pizza Night’? This can be a quick way to assess what kind of meals to add to your weekly meal plan.
Step 2: Pick your recipes and write them down!
This can seem like a daunting task – so many recipes to pin, clip, dog-ear and compile! If you’ve followed Step 1, you already have an idea of what you like to make or what your fellow eaters enjoy.
The biggest piece of advice here is to simplify the process – don’t feel like you have to come up with 21+ different recipes for the week to account for 3 meals and snacks. Don’t be afraid to duplicate and alternate days on the calendar that you might eat the same meal. Repurpose those leftovers into something entirely new, which can be great for turning last night’s dinner into tomorrow’s lunches!
Here’s a general formula for a 7 day meal plan:
- Plan 2-3 breakfasts
- Plan 4-5 entrees for dinner, and make extra to pack your leftovers for lunch.
- Plan 2-3 snacks.
Step 3: Make your grocery list.
After you make your list, make sure to do a quick inventory sweep of the pantry and fridge so you don’t duplicate and accidentally buy unnecessary extras – that’s extra $$ spent! Tweak your list accordingly and then it’s time to head to the store, farmer’s market, or even your backyard garden.
Pro Tip: Check out your grocer’s sale ads for deeper discounts on similar ingredients. You can always go back and revise your meal plan. Is tilapia on sale instead of salmon – swap the salmon in your meal plan for tilapia! Are canned beans running on special? Pick up a few cans of black beans to add into chili night instead of the more expensive ground meat.
Step 4: Prep what you can.
This is one of the most important time savers that will make weekday prep time less stressful. Spending even just 30 minutes batch cooking brown rice, quinoa, and prepping common recipe vegetables (like chopping onions or washing greens) can be a huge timesaver later on in the week. No one wants to come home after a busy day at work, only to realize that the meal is going to take 45 minutes from prep to table – make it easier on yourself! You’re also more likely to stick to the plan rather than run out for takeout if some of the prep has already been done.
Hard boil some eggs, bake chicken or tofu, or even roast a pan of veggies! This will seriously make your life so much easier and help put meals on the table quickly.
Step 5: Be flexible!
Don’t hold yourself super strict to your meal plan, because let’s face it, life happens and sometimes the dinner we planned for on Tuesday night is going to get pushed to Thursday night. That’s OK!
Let your meal plan be fluid, but don’t let it mean that you will put it off entirely – remember, the main goal here is to make healthy eating the easy choice and to simplify your week! Plus, it can’t hurt to also save a few bucks without relying on going out to eat…
Dianna Sinni Dillon, RDN, LD is a Registered Dietitian based in Kansas City, MO with a passion for all things whole grain, green, and homegrown. She focuses on empowering and inspiring others to take charge of their wellness through simple plant-based recipes and science-powered advice at Chard in Charge.