As you can see from the long list of benefits in my previous post, meal planning can be a game-changer. I hope you're ready to give meal planning a shot. Good or bad, dinner is something we inevitably encounter day after day for the rest of our lives. Maybe you look at meals as a dreaded puzzle that needs to be solved each day, maybe you want to figure out a way to eat healthier or to save time and/or money preparing them, or maybe you enjoy the process but would like to try a new approach. Whatever your motivation, if you are willing to take some time each week to follow the steps below, I have found it is actually a pretty simple tool that can revolutionize things for you.
I am going to lay out what I believe are the best steps to a successful meal plan. Here you go:
- Start with a Goal
Before you dive into meal planning, ask yourself what you hope to achieve. Is it eating healthier, getting more creative, saving time or money, minimizing wasted food, or all of the above? Your goal will shape your approach. Meal planning is a great opportunity to consciously make your meals healthier as you take time to browse through recipes and strategize meals.
- Check Your Calendar
Look at your week ahead and determine the number of evenings you and your family or roommate(s) will be around to eat dinner at home. Also, think about your days and early evenings and determine which may be extra busy and require an especially simple recipe, a crockpot meal, or even a plan ahead leftover (see Step 5).
- Create a Menu
Begin by creating a menu for the week based on the number of dinners you need to prepare. I like to do my planning and shopping on Saturdays but figure out which day works best for you. When creating your menu, consider the goals you set above, what fresh fruits and vegetables are in season, and your family's likes and dislikes. Your menu doesn't have to be complicated; start with simple meals you enjoy. Remember to incorporate fresh vegetables, whole grains, and proteins (free of nitrates and additives), and try to limit processed foods. For some delicious and healthy recipe ideas, check out hundreds of recipes on our website by clicking here.
- Make a Grocery List and Head to the Grocery Store
Once your menu is ready, compile a list of all the ingredients you need. Trying to remember my list doesn’t work for me. I find it critical to write the list down on a piece of paper or on my phone. Check your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see if you already have any of the ingredients you need on hand. This step is crucial to avoid over-purchasing or forgetting items at the store. It also streamlines your shopping trip, making it more efficient and less stressful. Head to the grocery store and gather up what you need for the week.
- Be Flexible
As we all know, life is unpredictable, so allow for some flexibility in your plan. I like to have a few quick and easy backup meals for those days when I don't have time to cook as planned. Don't shy away from leftovers. They can save you time on busy days and help reduce wasted food. I like to incorporate them into my plan as "leftover nights" or repurpose them into new dishes. I am famous for heating up leftovers and throwing a fried egg on top for breakfast.
It might take some practice to perfect your meal planning skills, but the benefits are well worth the effort. Start small, stay flexible, and enjoy the benefits of organized eating. Happy planning!