CONFESSION! I LOVE MEAL PLANNING!!!
I schedule time on Saturday or Sunday (depending on my plans for the weekend), pour myself a cup of coffee, spread out my recipe printouts, open my calendar and make sure I will not be interrupted and begin strategically planning what my family will be willing to consume and what I will be willing to make for dinner during the upcoming week.
I am a total meal planning geek, but I also know that not many follow in my passion for pre-planning and prepping. However, taking a quiet hour one day a week can free up time later, save money and reduce waste. My meal planning start came from wanting to lose weight and track portions but I now enjoy the benefits of fewer leftovers being tossed in the garbage and quick grocery store runs. Sound good? Check out my 4 steps to successful meal planning and maybe you will join my meal prep tribe!
Grab a pen and notebook and let's get started...
STEP #1: Check Your Calendar
There is nothing worse than getting home a little later than usual, pulling out the ingredients for tonight's dinner and realizing your recipe takes one hour to marinate and another hour to roast. Prior preparation could have prevented this frustration that may result in an unhealthier food delivery fix.
Step one of meal prepping is to know how much time you will have to cook a healthy meal each night. Some days you will have time to try that new recipe you printed from your favorite foodie while other nights it will be a crock pot dump and go so dinner is ready when you get home.
Start with a notebook or print my Meal Plan Worksheet, and write down the days of the week. Under each day, list appointments and their times so as you plug in your meals, you will choose meals you can create given your time and stick to healthy eating.
STEP #2: Browse Your Recipe Stash
In addition to being a meal planning geek, I am also a recipe hoarder. I have Pinterest pages, printouts and have been known to quietly tear a recipe or two from the magazine in a waiting room now and then. I have a nifty little system to categorize them too, but that is a whole other blog! I am sure you, too, have a library of recipes including family favorites and recipes you are dying to try.
It is time to pull out your stash. Open your Pinterest and grab your cookbooks. Start browsing. Begin plugging in meals each day that will fit your schedule also keeping in mind the energy necessary to create the meal. Will you be too tired for all those steps? Maybe hold it off for the weekend. Include all your side dishes as you plan entrees. Remember what the purpose of dinner is, to fuel your body and provide it the nutrients it needs for good health. Don't skimp on the veggies and whole grains as you create your weekly menu.
Once your list is complete, I suggest posting it somewhere visible. This step will help hold you accountable to healthy meals and quiet that voice that tries to influence you to just call for a pizza. Check out my Dry Erase Menu Board displayed in my kitchen pictured here. (Total geekiness!!) If you are looking for something similar, try this framed menu board or maybe something a bit more discreet like this magnet menu board for the refrigerator. You can also print a copy of my meal plan worksheet or use a simple notebook and pen. Just make sure you post it where you will see it and be reminded of the game plan!
BONUS: Having your meals for the week visibly posted keeps your kids from constantly asking "What's for dinner?"
STEP #3: Make a List
As you plug in each meal, create your grocery list including the ingredients you will need to make each meal. This is also a good time to take inventory of staples like herbs and spices, pantry items and sauces you already have on hand. Knowing what you already have avoids spending money mindlessly and prevents waste. Keeping an organized pantry is a great strategy to healthier eating, but alas, it is another topic for another day. You can obviously jot this down on another page in your notebook or use my printable grocery list that helps organize your list by department, saving you from traveling aimlessly through the grocery store (and yes... I do have strategies for grocery shopping too. I did mention I am a geek, right?)
When you head out to the store, go with a mindset of sticking to your list. You have taken time to plan healthy meals, do not sabotage your efforts by falling victim of marketing strategies that hope you will throw those temptations into your cart. Plan your visit accordingly during non-peak hours, don't go hungry and remember your reusable bags (environmental health is part of your wellness journey)
STEP #4: Prep
OK, so this step isn't really part of the meal planning, but I recommend you do this extra credit step. Upon your return home as you unpack, consider what items you can pre-prep to save time during your week. Wash and chop fruits and veggies, throw together the ingredients for the slow cooker, separate meats into portions to marinate and seal and store ingredients by meal in your pantry and refrigerator. Yes, this step does take a little more time but it I promise it will save time, energy, frustration and falling off the healthy eating wagon later in the week.
Remember to store your foods in glass or BPA free plastic, label meats with the date you packaged them and refrigerate opened goods that require refrigeration after opening (beans, sauces, etc).
Got a Strategy of Your Own?
Listen...meal planning takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, you too will geek out with your own special dry erase board, favorite pen and notebook and secret stash of stolen magazine recipes. Need a little extra support? Let's chat and talk prep! Drop me an email and let me know where your struggles are when it comes to planning meals.
Got your own personal strategy to planning your week and staying on the healthy eating band wagon?
Want to share a picture of your meal plan board?
Have a go to recipe that every week should include?
Comment below and share your ideas!
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I'm Liz. Mom, wife, teacher, Health Coach. My passion lies in everything health and wellness. When new research and trends pop up, you can bet I am finding the best resources to information, weeding out the not so good and making the great easy to digest. From meal planning and recipes to exercise and mindfulness, wellness touches upon so many dimensions. Your path to optimal health is out there and I can help you find it.