Meal planning is an important part of ensuring we eat well rounded, balanced meals, but it can appear to be a daunting and time consuming process. Putting in some focused time and energy on the weekend to plan your meals throughout the week could mean the difference between a bag of popcorn for dinner or a juicy pork roast with tons of vegetables. Afterall, the time we “save” by not planning or preparing for something, whether it’s for a test, a work meeting, or a trip, will likely turn up as stress, anxiety, poor performance, doubt, fear. And lack of time spent meal planning translates to extra trips to the grocery store, more money spent eating out, skipped meals, wasted food, intense cravings, overeating, and on and on.
I hope these tips can help you reap the benefits of meal planning: saved money, healthier eats, minimized waste, less stress, saved time and meal variety.
1. Map your Week
Not sure about you, but my eating situations can vary greatly from week to week depending on my work schedule, client appointments, evening commitments, travel plans - the list goes on. Every week before you grocery shop, take a moment to think about what you have going on Monday through Friday. I encourage to whip out your calendar and view your week at a glance. This will give you a rough idea of how many meals you’ll need to plan for and how much mileage you’ll need to get from each recipe.
Ask yourself some questions: Can I bring Tuesday’s dinner leftovers for Wednesday’s lunch? Can I throw a dinner meal together in the morning before work because of parent-teacher conferences at night? Can I have a bigger mid-afternoon snack to get my through my workout instead of tanking out? This will help you make the best decisions about which types of meals you choose to plan, prepare and eat during your week.
2. Insert Descriptions of your Meals
Maybe you use your paper calendar, or an electronic google calendar, or maybe you print a free weekly template from the internet for this step. The point here is to get visual with your meals and start penciling in what fits.
Take note of what food you have on hand right now - frozen assorted proteins, lettuce greens that will go bad soon, tons of canned beans? Using both your vague meal descriptions and the assessment of your current food items, insert meal in your calendar. Vague descriptions like, smoothie, crockpot, leftovers, on-the-go, or quick dinner totally work for this step. Insert them as necessary.
3. Access Your Toolbox and Fill in the Blanks
It’s essential have one place to house recipes and meal ideas to times just like this. You’re bored of your regular meal rotation and you’d rather avoid eating cereal for dinner again - been there. Take some time to invest in yourself: find and collect meals from websites, cookbooks, articles. Insert new recipes into rotation where you see blanks on your meal planning calendar - don’t over complicate yourself though - 2-3 new recipes per week are plenty.
My favorite website is Pinterest - I encourage everyone to sign up for Pinterest and use the online “pinning” functionality to organize recipes that will work well for you and your circumstances. Pinterest streamlines your process of finding healthy food from top Paleo chefs, Whole30 enthusiasts, clean eaters alike and you can house them on your account for access later. Health-conscious cookbooks and food magazines are great but the internet can literally provide millions of healthy recipes at your fingertips.
*Bonus if you are a part of the #KingfieldStrong Challenge you’ll have access to a my private boards - RD tested, approved, certified delicious meals.
4. Create a Master Grocery List
Keep a list on hand that includes things you buy frequently, such as chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, eggs, yogurt. Then add extras so you don’t have to start from scratch each week. During your weekly planning session, add ingredients to your list that appear on your mapped calendar - don’t forget to add items from those NEW recipes you’ve included. Pro tip: organize your grocery list by sections in the grocery store - produce, dairy, frozen, pantry, etc. That way your shopping trip is quick and efficient.
5. Prep Components, Not Meals
There might be a time and place where I explain (and demonstrate?) how to prepare 21 meals and 14 snacks in a Sunday afternoon - but it is not here and now. Instead, prepare main components of your meals such as a few different vegetables, proteins and whole-grain starches in one swoop. When it comes to meal time and you’re in a time crunch, a simple vinaigrette or Marsala sauce can tie everything together.
Reference your calendar of meals and see which food items you can get a head start on. This is the time to hard boil eggs, roast vegetables, bake chicken, cook rice. Make pico de gallo. Chop and dice vegetables. Wash fruit. Divide trail mix into small ziplocs or glassware. Cook yo’ bacon.