Meal Planning: A Guide for Beginners

Meal planning is a process of creating an organized schedule of your daily, weekly, or monthly meals that will help you save money and time, and will also save you from the daily, sometimes dreaded question of”what to eat today?” It is not simple, but it is fun.

You should start with discipline rather than ambition. With baby steps – simple meal recipes that you like and that are quick and simple to prepare.

Sometimes cheap and healthy is a challenging combination, especially when it comes to food, however, not impossible. You can often save money by cooking and eating at home. Therefore, you should start your meal planning with simple recipes.

How to Start Meal Planning

Your meal planning depends entirely on your taste, time, and budget. So it would be best if you organized it accordingly. Planning a week of meals, cooking, and spending time in the kitchen may seem chaotic at first, but we promise, it gets fun and addictive.

Take a paper and draw a table or a picture with your weekly meal plan. Add the days of the week, and try to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day at the same time. Put that in the schedule.

The Recipes You Love

The best way to start is to write down every meal that makes you think “Yummy”. You might think of sushi, a burger, or low carb meals. Whatever you think of, write it down. Later you will see whether it fits your budget, your schedule, and healthy nutrition.

Also, do research on the internet to find recipes you like or sign up for a weekly meal plan. If you get a meal plan delivered to your inbox weekly, you will save a lot of time and also would be more likely to stick to the routine.

Start With a Schedule

Make a schedule with all your activities, and see how much time you have to dedicate to each of three daily meals. Then start to plan meals for the week. The best way to start is to think of every meal that you like, every meal that you feel confident enough to prepare it, and also whether it is a healthy one. If you still can’t think of enough recipes, check out some simple meal planning ideas.

Make a list of all the meals that you would like to include in your weekly meal plan and start to give them “appointments,” and stick to those appointments. Once you have the discipline to follow your meal planning regularly, it will be easier to start including new, diverse recipes.

Prepare your meal planning by writing up the recipes that you plan to cook, and next to them, the ingredients you will need. Then make a grocery list, and go shopping. Once you have everything you need, start cooking and enjoy your meal.

Budget

The best way for a budget weekly meal plan is to check the daily and weekly promotions of products in your store. Once you decide what recipes you would like to prepare in the following week, make a space of exception – if there is some food that you really like and is not on your weekly meal plan is on promotion.

For example, expensive products that you enjoy may be on promotion next week. Find a way to fit them in your schedule, and use the opportunity to eat what you like every day. Favorite meals first!

Have a back-up plan in case you can’t find the ingredients you need. Have a plan-b-shopping-list with one or two additional meals with different ingredients.

Also, another tip to save money at your grocery shopping is for your meal plans to consist of similar ingredients. For example, think of how many ways you can use potatoes as the main dish and as a side dish, or just as an ingredient in some weekly meal.

How to Choose Meal Plan Recipes

You should enjoy meal planning because it’s something you need to do long term. The best way to ensure this is to choose recipes that you like. In order to improve the quality of your food, you should always rely on the 6 principles of good meal planning. Those are adequacy, balance, calorie control, nutrient density, moderation, and variety.

Adequacy

It means that you should always adequately consume the 6 essential nutrients that the body needs to function properly: Carbohydrates, Lipids (fats), Proteins, Vitamins, Minerals, and Water [1].

Balance

You should make sure that you carefully include all nutrients sufficiently. That means that the healthiest meal planning is a well-proportioned diet with a proper amount of grains, proteins, vegetables, fruit, and dairy.

Calorie Control

This is the management of food energy intake. You must include both, foods with low and high energy in your meal plans. Only you know how much calories is enough for you – how much you need to feel good, whether it is different if you exercise, and how it affects your activities.

Nutrient Density

Besides knowing what to consume, it is equally important to establish the quantities. Your body should be satisfied and energized but not too full so that it will spend all energy to process the food.

Moderation

Although there are thousands of diets that will tell you not to eat bread, or meat, or sugar, or something else, the truth is that almost nothing edible will harm you if you consume it moderately. And if you consume the 6 essential nutrients regularly and moderately, you will soon notice the positive health effects.

Except if you have allergies or intolerance to some products, and can’t consume them. Luckily, the stores offer a variety of products that might act as a replacement for certain foods.

Variety

It is very important for your weekly meal plans to be diverse. You can start with only one meal daily in your meal planning, but make sure that you eat something different each day. Even when you eat leftovers, try to include something in your meal plan, that you didn’t eat the previous days.

Grocery List

This is important. You should always have everything you need, in order to save you the trouble of an additional running to the store. So, once you have your meal plan for the week, it is easy to see which ingredients you will need and in what quantity. According to many cooks, these are the most common ingredients in every diet:

  • Eggs (High in calories, eggs are great for breakfast. You can have them 3 times per week and always prepared in a different way. Also, there are many sweets and pastries that include eggs in the recipes. So, it is always good to buy some extra eggs.)
  • Pasta (The greatest food savior of all times. Needless to mention that besides being tasty, there are many quick-to-make pasta recipes that will save you when you lack time.)
  • Cereal (Always a great idea to have cereal at home for breakfast, once or twice a week, depending on your meal plans)
  • Canned Tuna (It is healthy, low-priced, quick-to-prepare, lasts long and there are various recipes you can prepare with it for a healthy meal.)
  • Rice ( It is cheap and just like pasta, rice can be prepared with meat, vegetables, and sauces. You can cook it one day with meat, and the next day you can add vegetables to the leftovers.)
  • Onions (Almost every meal that you cook in your kitchen will require an onion.)
  • Tomatoes (You may use them in salads, in sauces, or just eat them plain. It is always great to have tomatoes in your kitchen)
  • Potatoes (They can be fried, baked, boiled, or made into chips. They are low in calories, and a great antioxidant. And also, they are usually low-priced)
  • Black beans (If you buy a can of black beans, you may use half of it to make a burrito and the other half to make a salad some other time)
  • Vegetables (In order to save money buy vegetables that are on promotion and which you can add in your cooking even if the recipes don’t include them)

When to Cook Your Meals

There is that famous proverb Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. There is also another version of the proverb which goes: Eat your breakfast, share your lunch with a friend, and give your dinner to your enemy.

It means that you should never skip breakfast, and always dedicate time to make it rich and tasty. Even if you have to get up earlier to prepare poached eggs, or omelet, or cereal with fruit salad on the side.

At lunchtime, we are usually at work or at school, so it is hard to get back to your kitchen only for cooking your lunch. So, it is best if you prepare it the previous night and take it in a box with you. Or, for example, if you are having a tuna salad for lunch, you can prepare it in the morning before going to work so that it would be fresher.

Or, you may also eat leftovers from the previous dinner.

And dinner, it is great if you can dedicate time for slow cooking, and enjoy it in your kitchen. In fact, dinner is often the only meal that you can spend the most time on cooking, without being in a hurry to get up or go to work. It is good to eat as early as possible and at least two hours before sleeping.

The Bottom Line

Meal planning is fun scheduling of your meal plans, cooking, making a shopping list, doing a grocery shopping, and enjoying your time. Once you get into your discipline with planning meals, you will be happier and healthier.

Food is the only art we all enjoy. Even when we lack the time for it, we should pay attention to our eating habits, and planning of meals is a great start for that.

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