Meal planning doesn’t have to be rigid or boring. Here’s how you can add more flexibility and organization to your weekly meals.
There was a time when my ‘clean eating’ way of life and meal prepping had me living by the motto of: “If you failed to plan, your plan failed.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that this message was leading to negative self-talk. It led me to believe that if I failed to shop, meal prep, and portion out each meal ahead of time, then I was a failure.
Talk about setting myself up for a stressful weekend.
What I have learned since is that I can plan ahead loosely without rigid rules, and still have success. I’m still able to eat well, save some money, and limit food waste without having the stress of sticking within pre-portioned monotonous meals.
Here are 6 steps to help you organize meal planning so you can easily prep for the week and have a plan when things get busy.
1. Identify your staples and take inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
Write it all down if you are able to. Look at what you have all in one place, such as on a single sheet of paper, to inspire you to put together a meal or use a certain items in a new dish.
2. Fridge and pantry staples.
Create a list of items that you don’t want your fridge to be without. This is like creating a par for items in the fridge you love and can ‘always eat.’ For example, arugula or lettuce, eggs, butter, nut butter, or cheese can always be paired with almost anything and enjoyed.
Similarly, create a pantry staples list, which can be longer because these items stay good for much longer. Some examples include: nuts, canned beans, soup, granola bars, grains (quinoa, rice, oats), bread, canned fish, dry cereal.
3. Pick your recipes for the week.
Start with one all-in-one recipe per week. This a great place to start, especially if you’re new to meal prep and don’t know where to start. An all-in-one recipe is something that includes a balance of proteins, carbs, fats, and greens, such as chilis, casseroles, and soups. Often times, you can make one pot and have leftovers for the week or some to freeze.
If you wish, start adding more recipes by browsing your cookbooks for inspiration, or make that recipe you’ve been wanting to try. Don’t overwhelm yourself with complexity, it doesn’t need to be a crazy recipe. Look at new side dishes, get inspired to cook sweet potato in a new way, or try something new with your greens.
4. List and shop.
No matter what, always make a list and select a day to grocery shop after you’ve taken inventory on what you have and selected the meals you want to cook.
5. Loosely meal plan and let go of the food rules.
Assess when you have time to cook and how long thing it takes. Use it to create a loose meal plan for the week by jotting down lunch and dinner picks for each day of the week that you’re home. This can help you think about how far a recipe might stretch and pre-select quick options to help you get through the last days of the week.
And always remember, the more nutrient-dense and delicious a meal is, the more likely it will keep you full and satisfied.
There’s no need to restrict when it’s so nutritious!
Adapted from the original article.
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Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life, visit Courtney at the RealFoodCourt.