Meal Planning is scheduling your meals ahead of time. You can plan your meals for the day, a week, or even more ambitiously, for a month. It is healthy, it is fun, budget-friendly, and time-saving as well.
And best of all, it saves you from thinking about “what to eat for lunch/dinner” every day.
The meal planner is not a diet program. It is a self-made schedule of your weekly meals, so you should make one that you will enjoy.
After all, a happy life comes from a happy tummy.
Starting a meal plan might seem exhausting and expensive at first, but once you start doing it, it’s like a game with few interactive levels.
How to Start Meal Planning
Step 1: Schedule It In
You have to make a meal plan that fits your schedule otherwise it will be hard to do it consistently.
Think in terms of slow-cooked dishes vs. fast and easy prepared meals, homemade, take-away vs. ordered meals (oh yes, meal planning is not limited to just home-made meals.) You can and should enjoy a meal from time to time at your favorite local restaurant.
Once you know how much time you want to spend cooking your meal, you can start looking for recipes that fit your schedule – slow cooker recipes, or easy ones when you lack the time for experimentation.
Step 2: Choose Your Meals
Brainstorm Favorite Meals
You can simply brainstorm about food recipes. Everything that you want to eat. Be creative. Think of all the meals you would like to cook (it would be the best opportunity to experiment with new recipes), and of every dinner place you would like to visit.
Then simply add them to your weekly meal plan (if you thought of too many, even better, simply leave them for another week). If you thought of let’s say, Panang curry, write it up, for example in the Tuesday row, and Lunch column. Try to make your weekly food schedule as diverse as possible.
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If you are on a budget, another starting point might be to save money. You can still have tasty, healthy, and diverse meals over the week, even on a low budget.
You can keep an eye out on weekly specials in your grocery stores. Most of the stores have online weekly promotions that you can receive via email which will save you time. That way, you can rely on their discount offers to create your meals.
For example, if cheese is on a discount, you can plan for example grilled cheese for Wednesday lunch, and cheese enchiladas for Thursday night.
Step 3: Make the Grocery List
After you plan a meal, you need to do a shopping list.
Having a meal plan will save you from running to the grocery store often because “you forgot to buy flour or lemons”.
After you decide what you are going to eat each day for the next seven days, you should make a grocery shopping list with all the ingredients you need.
First, check what you already have at home, and then go to the grocery store to buy the rest. For example, if you have Chicken Vincent on Monday, and Fried Rice for Tuesday, write up the ingredients on the grocery list. Having the ingredients you need will help you stick to the meal plan.
Meal Plan Example
Three meals per day over seven days equals 21 meals per week. That’s a lot so planning 21 meals for the week might be too much for start. In the beginning, try making a schedule for only seven meals for the next week and increase the quantity and diversity of meals over time.
Chose your favorite recipes, calculate the time for the meal prep, the cost of ingredients, and see how they fit best in your schedule. Once you get used to the seven-meal-plan, you would feel more comfortable planing more. You will discover more recipes based on time, budget, or leftovers.
When you get used to your meal planning, you can focus on certain things that are important to you such as preventing food waste, saving money, eating healthier, or trying recipes you haven’t tried before.
Here is an example, of how your menu for the week can look like:
- Monday: Italian Meatballs
- Tuesday: Lentils Soup
- Wednesday: Roast Beef with salad
- Thursday: Pizza Night
- Friday: Mashed Potatoes and roasted broccoli
- Saturday: Chicken Pad Thai
- Sunday: Quinoa salad with vegetables and mozzarella
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When you get used to the planned meals, you can try to add more. You can add breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For example:
- Monday: Breakfast – Cereal; Lunch – some food place you prefer; Dinner – Spaghetti in Bolognese sauce
- Tuesday: Breakfast – Cereal; Lunch – Pasta with leftovers from the Bolognese sauce; Dinner – Pumpkin soup and salad
- Wednesday: Breakfast – Scrambled eggs; Lunch – Baked potatoes with cauliflower and carrots; Dinner – Tacos
- Thursday: Breakfast – French Toasts; Lunch – Chicken Wings; Diner – Pinto Beans Chili
- Friday: Breakfast – Fruit Salad and Yogurt; Lunch – Leftovers from the Beans; Dinner – Garlic Butter Rice with Sea Food
- Saturday: Breakfast – Waffles and Fruits; Lunch – Leftovers from the rice; Dinner – Sushi Night
- Sunday: Breakfast: Boiled eggs, bread and butter; Lunch – Grilled Meat; Dinner – Lunch leftovers
This just a sample. There are thousands of dishes for each meal that you can have each day. Therefore, first of all, think of the food you enjoy and the recipes you prefer. That’s the easiest way to start meal planning.
In the beginning, it takes time to make a list of all you want to eat, to make the grocery list, to calculate the prep time for the recipes but it gets easier and more fun as you go. Try to put different meals every week, discover new recipes, and don’t forget to enjoy the food.
Family Meal Plan
Many people wonder whether it is possible to make a meal plan for the whole family. Of course it is. The easiest way to do it is to write up every family member’s favorite meal in the plan. Make the plan colorful, print it, and put it somewhere where everyone can see it every day. For example, stick it on the fridge.
You can also do the planning of meals and recipes together. There are between seven and 21 meals you can plan for the week, which is enough chance to make everyone in the family happy.
First, make the menu, then make sure that everyone agrees with it, and do the shopping together, to make sure that everyone gets what they want.
Once you all agree to stick to the family meal plan, you can also start experimenting and adding different recipes to the menu. Keep on planning meals in accordance with everyone’s preferences about what they want to eat.
And don’t forget to treat yourselves with a mean in one of your favorite places to eat. Put that also on the list so that everyone can join.
Also, everyone from your family can participate in the process. Somebody will help making the grocery list, others will participate in the cooking or buying, but they will all take part in the eating.
Sharing a meal is one of the best moments to spend with your family. Meal planning will only make it more fun.
The Bottom Line
Always remember that “You are what you eat”, but also bear in mind that happy tummy evolves into a happy life.
In the end, it’s important to find what works for you. It might take a few tries and experiments but you will get there.
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