A guide to successful meal planning
We all know eating healthily can be a challenge, especially around maintaining a busy lifestyle. Having a meal plan at hand is a great way to stay on track – read on for our top tips.
A meal plan is a pre-planned schedule of what meals you’ll make and when. It also includes all the prep work needed to stay on track of your schedule. Whilst helping you reach your health goals it can also save you time and money.
Meal planning can be daunting, but less so once you break down the process like we have done below. We will provide you with some key tips on how to incorporate meal planning into your lifestyle.
If you’re fairly new to cooking meals we recommend starting small: maybe start with planning one meal per week, then try two or three, and keep adding on as you build your confidence. It’s also a good idea to start with ‘trigger meals’ – ones that you often struggle to make healthy choices for.
Once you become more confident you can aim to put together two or three weekly plans and rotate them.
- DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS
- Do you need a plan for every day of the week? Or just a few days? For only breakfast, suppers, or lunches, or all of the above?
- Do you need to cater for family and food preferences?
- How much time can you put aside for food prep?
- What are your goals with a meal plan? Healthier eating? Saving money? Preventing food waste? Answering the perpetual question “what’s for dinner?”.
Being clear on your intention will help keep you motivated and can guide the choices you make in your plan.
- CONSOLIDATE FAMILY SCHEDULES
- For the plan to work well it needs to work for your whole family and be sustainable. Getting the family involved in the process is a good way to get everyone on board and can also instil good planning and lifestyle habits.
- Draw up a schedule of weekly errands, meetings, and commitments to see where you’ll have time to do the shopping and food prep, you can also check who will be home for which meals.
- START WITH PROTEIN
- It makes choosing recipes a little easier. Whether it’s chicken, fish, meat, beans/ lentils, or Quorn, knowing your protein will make it easier to choose the starch and/ or vegetables to plan with it.
- CHOOSE YOUR RECIPES
- Start with easy recipes or ones that you know and like. Recipes that make good leftovers are helpful for time saving or if you need to prep for dinners and lunches.
- WRITE DOWN YOUR INGREDIENTS FROM ALL THE RECIPES YOU’VE CHOSEN
- Remember to make a note of quantities, too.
- MAKE A MASTER INGREDIENTS LIST
- We’re combining all the ingredients from the list in step five. So, where an ingredient shows up in more than one recipe, combine the quantity of that ingredient and add it to your Master ingredients list.
- USE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
- We want to limit the waste and save money! If you already have some tinned tomatoes there’s no need to buy more, unless you don’t have enough as per your Master list…
- GROUP INGREDIENTS ON WHERE YOU’D FIND THEM IN STORE
- Grocery shopping isn’t always the most pleasant chore, so let’s try to make it as easy as possible. Group together all your vegetables and fruits, dairy products, meats, tinned foods, grains and so on.
- Having a meal plan can help us avoid buying unnecessary and less-healthy foods. If we have nothing on the list from the sweet’s aisle, we may be less likely to go there!
- PREP DAY
- If it works for you and for some of your meals, try to do some meal prep the day before a busy day, or at the start of the week: things like washing and chopping the vegetables (and storing in an airtight container in the fridge), dicing the onions or making and freezing dough ahead of time. Some recipes have specific ‘prepare ahead’ tips.
- Variety and colour are good to consider when choosing your recipes.
- Choose recipes with common ingredients to what you already have.
- Choose your recipes and ingredients by season – there will be more chance the vegetables will be available and this cuts on costs.
- Meal planning takes time, but one of the benefits is that it saves time in the long run. Putting your plan together in the first instance will probably take a little bit longer, but you don’t need to do it often. Ensure you set aside some time to follow the process through all the way.
- Start the process three days ahead: Friday to plan, Saturday to shop, Sunday to prepare and start afresh on Monday.