Meal planning and preparation are important skills to have in your own health and wellness toolbox.
A well-planned meal plan can help you enhance the quality of your diet or achieve a specific health goal while saving you time and money.
Here are 23 simple tips to build a successful meal planning habit.
1. Start small
If you’ve never made a meal plan before or are returning to it after a long break, it might be overwhelming.
Making a habit of meal planning isn’t any different from making any other positive change in your life. Starting small and gradually increasing confidence is an excellent method to ensure that your new habit is long-lasting.
Begin by preparing only a few meals or snacks for the upcoming week. You’ll eventually realize which planning strategies work best for you, and you may gradually expand your plan by adding more meals as you see appropriate.
2. Consider each food group
Whether you’re planning meals for a week, a month, or just a few days, it’s essential to include each food category in your menu.
The best meal plan includes whole foods such fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, high-quality protein, and healthy fats while reducing refined grains, added sugars, and excess salt.
Consider each of these food categories as you explore your favorite recipes. Make a point of filling in the blanks if any of them are missing.
3. Get organized
A well-organized food plan is essential to its success.
A well-organized kitchen, pantry, and refrigerator make menu planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation easier since you’ll know precisely what you have on hand and where your equipment and supplies are.
There is no correct or incorrect way to organize your meal prep sections. Just make certain that it is a way that works for you.
4. Invest in quality storage containers
One of the most important meal prep tools is food storage containers.
If you’re currently dealing with a cabinet full of mismatched containers with missing lids, dinner prep may be a nightmare. Investing in high-quality containers is definitely worth your effort and money.
Consider the intended usage of each container before making a purchase. Choose freezer-safe, microwave-safe, or dishwasher-safe containers if you intend to freeze, microwave, or clean them in a dishwasher.
Glass containers are both eco-friendly and microwave safe. They are widely accessible in stores and online.
It’s also useful to have a range of sizes for various sorts of foods.
5. Keep a well-stocked pantry
Keeping a supply of pantry basics on hand is an excellent method to expedite your meal prep process and ease menu preparation.
Here are a few nutritious and versatile foods to have in your pantry:
- Legumes: canned or dried black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, lentils
- Canned goods: low-sodium broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, artichokes, olives, corn, fruit (no added
sugar), tuna, salmon, chicken
- Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, oats, bulgur, whole-wheat pasta, polenta
- Baking essentials: baking powder, baking soda, flour, cornstarch
- Oils: olive, avocado, coconut
- Other: Almond butter, peanut butter, potatoes, mixed nuts, dried fruit
You only need to worry about picking up fresh things in your weekly supermarket haul if you maintain some of these basic staples on hand. This can help you minimize stress and make your food planning efforts more efficient.
6. Keep a variety of spices on hand
Herbs and spices may make the difference between a great dinner and a mediocre one. For most people, a meal plan that is consistently composed of good foods may very well be enough to establish the meal planning habit.
Herbs and spices, in addition to being excellent taste enhancers, are high in plant components that give a number of health advantages, including decreased cellular damage and inflammation.
If you don’t already have a good supply of dried herbs and spices, pick up 2–3 jars of your favorites every time you go grocery shopping and gradually establish a collection.
7. Shop your pantry first
Take an inventory of what you currently have on hand before you sit down to prepare your meals.
Examine your whole food storage area, including your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator, and write a list of any specific goods you want or need to use up.
This allows you to use the food you currently have, eliminates waste, and keeps you from buying the same items over and over again.
8. Consistently make time
Making meal planning a priority is the greatest way to incorporate it into your lifestyle. It might be beneficial to set aside time on a regular basis for planning.
Making a meal plan might take as little as 10–15 minutes each week for some people. You may require a few hours if your strategy includes making some food items beforehand or pre-portioning meals and snacks.
Regardless of your strategy, the key to success is to make time and to be consistent.
9. Designate a place for saving and storing recipes
Avoid the unnecessary frustration of attempting to recall recipes by storing them in a convenient spot where you can access them at any time.
This may be in the form of a digital file on your computer, tablet, or mobile phone, or it could be in a physical spot in your home.
Having a dedicated space for your recipes saves time and helps to relieve any possible stress involved with meal planning.
10. Ask for help
It might be difficult to feel motivated to create a brand-new meal every week — but you don’t have to do it all alone.
If you’re in charge of meal planning and preparation for a whole family, don’t be hesitant to seek advice from members of your family.
If you’re mostly cooking for yourself, chat to your friends about what they’re preparing or explore internet tools for inspiration, such as social media or food blogs.
11. Keep a note of your favorite meals.
It might be annoying to forget a dish that you or your family thoroughly loved.
Worse, forgetting how much you disliked a recipe, only to have to go through it again.
Keep a running list of your favorite and least favorite foods to avoid these cooking mistakes.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of any changes you’ve made or want to make to a recipe so you can swiftly go from beginner to expert.
12. Always go to the grocery store with a list (or shop online)
Going to the grocery store without a shopping list is a great way to waste time and buy a lot of goods you don’t need.
A list helps you stay focused and resist the temptation to buy food that you don’t intend to use just because it’s on sale.
Depending on where you live, several major grocery stores allow you to purchase online and either pick up your groceries at a predetermined time or have them delivered.
These services may be charged a cost, but they may be a wonderful way to save time and avoid the lengthy lines and distracting promotions you’re likely to face at the shop.
13. Do not go shopping if you are hungry.
If you go to the grocery store when you’re hungry, you’re more likely to make impulse purchases that you’ll regret later.
If you are a bit hungry before going to the supermarket, don’t be afraid to take a snack first, even if it’s something out of your usual meal and snack routine.
14. Buy in bulk
Use the bulk area of your local supermarket to save money, buy only what you need, and remove unnecessary packaging waste.
This section of the market is ideal for stocking up on pantry basics such as rice, cereal, quinoa, almonds, seeds, dried fruits, and beans.
Bring your own containers to avoid using plastic bags to take bulk items home.
15. Plan for and repurpose leftovers
If you don’t want to spend time cooking every day of the week, prepare ahead of time to have plenty for leftovers.
Making a few extra portions of whatever you’re cooking for tonight is an easy way to have lunch for the next day.
If you dislike leftovers, consider how you may reuse them so they don’t feel like leftovers.
For example, if you roast a whole chicken with root veggies for supper, shred the remaining chicken and use it the next day for tacos, soup, or salad toppings.
16. Batch cook
Batch cooking is the preparation of large quantities of specific foods in order to use them in various ways throughout the week. This strategy is very helpful if you don’t have a lot of time to cook throughout the week.
To begin the week, make a large amount of quinoa or rice and roast a large tray of veggies, tofu, or meat to use in salads, stir-fries, scrambles, or grain bowls.
You could also create a batch of chicken, tuna, or chickpea salad to go with sandwiches, crackers, or salads.
17. Use your freezer
Cooking particular foods or meals in bulk and freezing them for later use is an excellent method to save time, avoid waste, and extend your food budget all at the same time.
This method may be used to make simple staples like broth, fresh bread, and tomato sauce, as well as whole meals like lasagna, soup, enchiladas, and breakfast burritos.
18. Pre-portion your meals
Pre-portioning your meals into separate containers is a great meal prep method, especially if you’re attempting to eat a certain quantity of food.
This strategy is popular among athletes and fitness fans who keep a tight eye on their calorie and nutrient intake. It’s also a terrific way to promote weight loss or just get ahead when you’re short on time.
To use this strategy, make a huge meal that serves at least 4–6 people. Place each dish in a separate container and place in the refrigerator or freezer. Simply reheat and serve when ready.
19. Wash and prep fruits and vegetables right away
If you want to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, try washing and preparing them as soon as you come home from the farmer’s market or supermarket.
When you open your refrigerator and see a freshly made fruit salad or carrot and celery sticks ready for munching, you’re more likely to reach for such things when you’re hungry.
Anticipating your hunger and preparing yourself with healthy and handy options makes it simpler to avoid grabbing for a bag of potato chips or cookies simply because they are quick and easy.
20. Prep smart, not hard
Don’t be hesitant to admit that you need to cut costs.
If you’re not great at cutting veggies or don’t have time to batch cook and pre-portion your meals, your local grocery store is likely to provide some healthy, prepared alternatives.
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables and ready-to-eat meals are normally more costly, but if the convenience aspect is what it takes to relieve stress or persuade you to eat more vegetables, it may be well worth it.
Remember that not everyone’s meal planning and preparation methods are the same. Knowing when to cut back and enhance efficiency might help you keep to your goals in the long run.
21. Use your slow or pressure cooker
Slow and pressure cookers may be lifesavers when it comes to food preparation, especially if you don’t have time to stand over a stove.
These tools provide you greater freedom and hands-off cooking, allowing you to meal prep while doing other tasks or doing chores.
22. Vary your menu
It’s easy to become trapped in a rut when it comes to dieting and eating the same meals day after day.
At best, your meals will become boring, leading to a loss of culinary creativity. In the worst-case scenario, the lack of variety may contribute to vitamin deficiencies.
To avoid this, make it a point to experiment with different cuisines or meals on a regular basis.
If you always eat brown rice, consider replacing it with quinoa or barley. If you usually eat broccoli, try cauliflower, asparagus, or romanesco as alternatives.
Consider allowing the seasons to adjust your food for you. Consuming seasonal fruits and vegetables allows you to change your diet while also saving money.
23. Make it enjoyable
If you love doing it, you’re more likely to adhere to your new meal planning routine. Instead of viewing it as something you must do, try to reframe it as a kind of self-care.
Consider making dinner preparation a family event if you’re the family chef. Allow your family to help you in chopping veggies or batch cooking soup for the week ahead so that these chores become valuable time spent together rather than simply another duty.
If you prefer to meal prep alone, listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook as you do it. It could become something you look forward to before long.
Meal planning and preparation are excellent ways to make better food choices while also saving time and money.
Though it may appear daunting at first, there are several ways you can use to build a lasting meal planning habit that works for your specific lifestyle.
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