Meal planning can seem so burdensome and overwhelming. But when we plan meals, it helps us eat healthier and stay on a budget.
So how do we do it?
First questions to ask: Who’s eating? What dietary restrictions do they have? I’m gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free, so when I start to think about and look for recipes, I start there. What’s your budget? It is possible to eat healthy on a budget. And another resource worth bookmarking is the Environmental Working Group’s “Good Food on a Tight Budget” shopping guide.
Next, which nights of the week do I need to serve dinner? Write those down. If you project having leftovers, include that on one night as well. Maybe one night you plan to eat out; include that and work around it. (Look up restaurant menus and choose healthy options ahead of time, to stay on track with your goals.)
So how many nights are left that you’ll need to put fresh meals on the table? That’s how many recipes you need to go in search of, whether something new or an old-standby. Write down what each night’s dinner will be, including any side items.
Then, check ingredients used in each recipe and create a grocery list. What items do you have already (I love finding recipes with lots of those!) and what items need to go on your grocery list? I’ve been using an app called Wunderlist to keep my grocery list updated and sometimes create my meal plans. But my friend Debby recently told me about one she uses called Paprika, which helps you organize recipes, make meal plans, and create grocery lists.
Remember to include on your grocery list any items you’ll need for healthy breakfasts and lunches. I try to keep those simple and routine, revolving those around a few healthy possibilities – eggs for breakfast and a fresh, non-processed option for lunch, such as salad with protein on top.
So dinner is the only meal of the day that I really have to put much thought around.
Once you determine your meals and make your grocery list, you have a few more steps.
When will you go to the grocery store? Personally, I prefer to go 2-3 times during the week to pick up fresh foods for the evening meal and maybe the next day’s. But I also have flexibility in my day, most weeks. So, think through your typical day and plan when you will go to the store. Put it on your calendar.
Some people prefer to shop and prep everything on the weekends, so they can quickly grab it from the refrigerator and pop it in the oven after work. So what’s your style?
Meal Planning Resources
If the pen-to-paper way of planning frustrates you, we can take a look at some additional meal planning resources. I’m not an affiliate for any of the fee-based services. Click the links for more information on each one.
Cooking Light magazine offers a weeknight meal planning site in which you select a category – five-ingredient, clean eating, vegetarian, low-cal, quick and easy, or grilling – and click and drag your choices onto each day. Then, you can print out the recipes all at once. It’s free.
Real Plans offers fully customizable meal planning for as low as $6 per month.
I mentioned the Paprika app earlier. It’s $4.99 to download, and if you want to use it on your PC computer, your iPad, and your iPhone, you need to purchase it for each device. But then your information would transfer between those platforms.
Obviously, these are just a few. Do a search of “meal planning apps” and see what comes up that strikes your fancy, has good reviews, and that you can see yourself using. In the long run, meal planning will save you time, energy, and money.
So how has meal planning worked for you in the past? What’s worked? What have you learned? Comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
Welcome! I’m Amy, an integrative health coach, offering grace and space for a healthier you. This article is Step 22 in the “31 Steps to a Healthier You” series. You can access all posts in the series here. And I hope you’ll want to stick around for a while. If so, please subscribe at this link so you’ll get updates.