It’s Tuesday night – You just got off work, haven’t eaten all day, and now it’s time to face the dreaded question, “what’s for dinner?”
You find yourself faced with two options: Option #1: Pick up fast food or Option #2: Check what you have at home. Let’s go with Option #2.
NOT AGAIN! …you open the fridge just to find last week’s leftovers and a few eggs…looks like Option #1 it is.
If this is a pattern that seems all too familiar, then it may be time to time to try a new strategy…meal planning!
Meal Planning 101
Meal planning is more than just a food trend – rather it is a strategy we can implement to ensure we are properly nourishing our bodies, sustaining our energy levels, and performing optimally in our daily lives.
This strategy is often seen as a daunting task, but with the proper guidance and steps meal planning can be extremely simple and actually make your life a lot easier! Planning meals in advance can help save you time, money, and energy you could be investing elsewhere.
Sounds like a win-win to me!
7 Steps: Meal Planning for Beginners
When it comes to meal planning there is no one size fits all approach. That is likely the reason why meal planning is often deemed so challenging. We often try to follow someone else’s plan that doesn’t work for our individual lifestyles.
The key to success with meal planning is developing a plan that’s right for you!
Here are 7 steps to help personalize your meal planning approach and develop a method you can actually stick to.
Step 1: Choose a Day You Are Going to Meal Plan
The first step is to simply designate a day of the week where you can spend time planning for the upcoming week.
In this step you are going to want to grab a pen and paper and write down the days of the week or simply use a ready-made meal planning sheet like this one:
Step 2: Take a Kitchen Inventory
When beginning to plan your meals, take a look at what you already have in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.
Is there a can of beans hidden in the back of your pantry your forgot about?… frozen ground turkey that has been in your freezer since you bought it in bulk to save money?…or vegetables that are on the verge of seeing their last days?
Assessing what you already have is a great place to start, and not to mention will save you from purchasing ingredients you already have!
Step 3: Review Your Schedule & Designate a Specific Time to Meal Prep
It’s time to look at your weekly schedule and determine what is happening in the upcoming week – social events, work meetings, family dinners, etc.
It may be the case for you that you DON’T have to create a breakfast, lunch, or dinner meal for every day of the week!
Once you have determined how many meals you need to create for the upcoming week, schedule an appointment with yourself in your calendar. Yes, I want you to write down the day and time you will designate to actually prep your ingredients and make your delicious meals.
This strategy will help you avoid falling into the “I just didn’t have time” trap.
I recommend designating 1-2 days out of the week to plan, shop, prepare, and cook your meals.
Remember, meal planning will look different for everyone. For you it may be as simple as grocery shopping and chopping ingredients to have ready-to-cook during the week, while for someone else it may be cooking and pre-portioning all of your lunches for an easy grab and go meal on your way out the door.
One of the greatest features about meal planning is that it is completely customizable to you and your lifestyle.
Step 4: Choose A Meal Planning Strategy
Strategy #1: Choose Meal Themes
Creating a meal template is a great way to create structure. For example:
- Monday: Meatless Monday Night
- Tuesday: Taco Night
- Wednesday: Salad Night
- Thursday: Slow Cooker Night
- Friday: Pizza Night
- Saturday: BBQ Night
- Sunday: Leftovers Night
You can use this template for the month and then rotate if desired!
Strategy #2: Choose Specific Foods
Need something even more basic?
You can simply choose your favorite foods from each of the categories listed below to create a healthy and balanced meal!
- Proteins: Chicken, Fish, Ground Turkey, Ground Beef, Beans, Lentils…
- Carbohydrates: Brown Rice, Pasta, Quinoa, Sweet Potato, Corn Tortillas, Oats…
- Vegetables: Asparagus, Zucchini, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Kale, Mushrooms, Broccoli, Bell Peppers…
- Fats: Avocado, Almonds, Olive Oil, Tahini, Nut Butters, Pumpkin Seeds, Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds…
Step 5: Choose Your Recipes
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to cooking is that we have ingredients but don’t know what to do with them. Thankfully, we have resources like cookbooks, magazines, social media platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram, and websites that can help give us ideas as well as recipes!
The two biggest factors I look at when choosing a recipe is:
- Time: How much time do I want to spend making a recipe?
- Ingredients: What ingredients do I want to use? …whether I already own them or if there is a new ingredient I would like to purchase and try.
RD Tip: If your kitchen is already stocked with ingredients I recommend you check out the website SuperCook. This website is unique in that it allows you to enter in the ingredients you have, or want to use, and it will actually generate recipes for you!
Stumped on meal and recipe Ideas, here are great ideas to get you started:
- Overnight Oats
- Healthy Egg Muffins
- Whole grain toast topped with Greek yogurt, avocado, and smoked salmon
- Southwest Scrambled Eggs
- Protein Pancakes
- Roasted Chickpea Curry Bowl
- Greek Meatball Mezze Bowl
- Spaghetti Squash & Chicken with Avocado Pesto
- Superfood Chopped Salad with Salmon & Creamy Garlic Dressing
- Chopped veggies + hummus
- Boiled eggs + cherry tomatoes and cucumber
- Non-fat Greek yogurt + berries
- Canned tuna + 1 Tbsp Non-fat Greek yogurt + 1 Tbsp. avocado
- Fresh or dried edamame
- Apple + 1 Tbsp. nut butter (i.e. peanut, almond, cashew)
BONUS: Here are my Top 5 Go-To Websites when I’m looking for new and healthy recipes:
- Forks Over Knives
- Oh She Glows
- Nutrition Stripped
- The Minimalist Baker
- T. Collin Campbell; Center for Nutrition Studies
Step 6: Make Your Grocery List and Shop
Now that we have chosen our recipes it’s time to create a grocery list and go shopping!
Creating a shopping list in advance will save you time and money as a result of purchasing items in larger quantities and avoiding unnecessary food purchases.
Step 7: Prep and Cook Your Meals
It’s time to roll up your sleeves, throw on that apron, and get to chopping, slicing, prepping, and cooking for the week ahead! You can even pre-portion herbs, spices, dressings, and sauces in advance for the recipes you plan to make the day of.
Once you have completed your meals, be sure to store them properly. Proper food storage is important in order maintain the freshness and quality of your food. Click here for some of the top storage containers for your meal prep! You can also store foods in Ziplock bags in the fridge or freezer to save room.
The Benefits of Meal Planning
- Healthful and balanced eating
- Time to spend on yourself, your hobbies, and with loved ones
- Money saved
- Portion control
- Stress and anxiety around food
- Food wasted
- Unhealthy eating
Jasmine El Nabli MS, RD
Creating healthy eating and lifestyle habits without the right tools, skills, and knowledge is often seen as a daunting task, but that’s where I come in. I am here to show you that becoming the happiest and healthiest version of yourself can be done!
Through the combination of a whole-body approach and scientific research, I empower and educate individuals on how to implement small changes into their daily life that in turn lead to sustainable and lifelong healthy habits.
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