If you have never tried meal planning for yourself, you may see it as an overwhelming practice. You may even incorrectly believe that it will take your entire weekend to complete and that it will leave you more frustrated and strapped for time than ever before.
However, once you get the hang of it, meal planning is sure to save you time and may even be able to save you money. Plus, you will be able to eat healthier meals, improve your overall health and wellness and feel confident when you head to the grocery store.
How Can Meal Planning Help Me?
If you already eat at home most of the time and stay within your budget for grocery shopping, you may be wondering how meal planning can possibly help you. Those who dedicate themselves to meal planning each week and who take the time to hone their meal planning skills over several weeks to months find that they experience numerous benefits:
- They are eating healthier foods than ever before and may even be able to see their physical health visibly improve. You have probably noticed that when you do not have a plan for lunch, you are tempted to grab whatever you can find once your blood sugar drops and you experience hunger. When you feel as if you are starving, you do not have the self-control or the time to create a well-balanced meal. Meal planning will help you say no to highly processed convenience foods, which are incredibly harmful to your health when consumed frequently.
- Regular meal planners decrease their overall stress throughout the week while saving time. They no longer have to wrack their brains at the end of each busy day as they attempt to create a healthy meal out of whatever they happen to have in their cupboards. They also save time on fewer shopping trips over the week.
- They can actually save money even while shopping for healthier foods. While processed foods are often cheaper than healthy whole foods are, people who meal plan find that they do not have to spend as much money on eating out or grabbing snacks from vending machines or fast food restaurants while they are busy and away from home.
- They stop wasting so much food. Meal planners know exactly what they need to buy at the store to last them for a week. Everything they buy has a purpose, and they rarely waste any food.
- Finally, they have a simple way to practice portion control. By planning out what they will eat for a week, they are less likely to overeat or to head to restaurants where portions are notoriously too large. They also eliminate mindless eating by decreasing the likelihood that they will grab whatever is nearby when they are ravenous.
Now that you know just how helpful meal planning can be, it is time to learn how to do it for yourself. By following these three simple steps, you can easily make a change for improved health in your own life and in the lives of family members living with you.
Step 1: Choose Recipes That Are Both Healthy and Personally Enjoyable
To begin, you will need to determine what exactly you are going to cook for the week. Ideally, you will plan all of your dinners for the week at once, along with breakfasts and lunches if needed. However, you may want to simplify your breakfast and lunch routine by relying primarily on supper leftovers along with some extra vegetables for a nutritious start to your day or a healthful lunch break.
Focus on recipes that contain diverse ingredients that are minimally processed or primarily whole foods. Remember that your body needs protein at every meal to help you power through your day. While you should try to mix up your meals to give your body a diverse blend of micronutrients from different vegetables and other ingredients, it is also good to choose recipes that focus on common ingredients. This will help you buy in bulk and save money.
Be sure to include a mixture of proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats throughout your day. Keep half of your plate filled with vegetables or fresh fruit at each meal to ensure you are getting the vitamins and minerals you need. Steer away from added sugars, and try to sweeten your homemade foods with fruits or raw honey. Keep your meals from feeling boring by adding unique spices.
Besides the well-rounded nutritional aspect of the recipes you choose, you should also be sure to pick recipes that you and your family members find enjoyable. Choose ones that make you excited to cook and eat. You may want to make a list of family-favorite meals that you can rely on for the majority of your meals while also cooking one new recipe every week to spice things up.
If you have not spent much time cooking in the past or are not sure what healthy recipes spike your interest, you can turn to the Internet where you will find literally thousands of recipes at your fingertips. Some of the best sites for healthy recipes include Skinnytaste, 100 Days of Real Food, Oh She Glows and Eating Well.
Step 2: Shop for Quality Ingredients
Once you have your menu for the week in place, you can create your shopping list and head to the grocery store. Shop your cupboards first to see what you have. Then, write everything else down in the order you will see it in the store. This helps you cut down on impulse purchases.
As much as possible, search for unprocessed, organic foods. Even if you are on a tight budget, you should still purchase what is known as the Dirty Dozen produce in organic varieties to limit your ingestion of insecticides, herbicides and other chemicals. In addition, try to shop for locally grown produce to reduce your environmental footprint and for seasonal produce, which will have incredible flavor and high nutritional value. You may have the best success at a local farmer’s market if you live near one.
In addition, keep some healthy ingredients on hand at all times so that you have ready access to healthy snacks or meals, especially if you do not have time to get to the grocery store on time or are surprised by an unexpected guest. Always have fresh fruits and vegetables on hand along with eggs, whole-wheat pasta, lean meats, olive oil for sautéing and nuts and seeds for added protein.
If you feel that you are unable to get all of your vitamins, minerals and micronutrients from the foods you are eating, consider adding a daily natural supplement. This is especially important if food allergies or food preferences keep you away from certain foods.
Step 3: Prepare Meals for the Coming Week
Now that you have all the ingredients that you need for healthy meals throughout your week, you can start preparing them in advance. Most people find that it is easiest to work on this over the weekend when they are not working. As you begin, try to work one to two days in advance so that you do not overwhelm yourself. However, as your meal planning skills improve, you may be able to plan farther out than this.
Start by considering what you can prepare ahead of time and store in your refrigerator. Think about what you can accomplish in an hour or two so that you do not burn yourself out. For example, you may be able to cut raw veggies and fruits for lunches or create a pasta dish or casserole that only needs to be baked for supper. You could also chop veggies for a sauté, pre-cook ground meat and bake homemade bread over the weekend. Do not worry about meal planning every single meal for each week. Instead, leave yourself a little space to order in or go out to eat once in a while. Simply make sure that your choices fit the health goals that you have already set for yourself.
You may not get the hang of meal planning the first time or two that you try it. However, do not give up as you are sure to find that the process becomes simpler and less time-consuming the longer you work at it. Soon, you may find yourself preparing raw ingredients with very little thought, and you will find ways to enjoy this time, such as by turning on your favorite music or podcast as you chop, dice and cook.
As with any changes you make to your diet or lifestyle, you will want to start slow. This plan for incremental growth will set you up for the best possibility of long-term success. Over time, you will find that meal planning is fun, and you will love the health benefits you gain from it. By following these three simple steps, meal planning will eventually become simpler than you ever could have imagined.