People who plan out their meals and snacks for the week, and then hit the grocery store, spend 33% less on food and get 75% more nutrients than those who don’t. OK, we made up that statistic — but here’s one that really is true: You’re 100% more likely to do something if you remember to do it. You’re also more likely to eat a healthy meal if you have one already planned and the foods to make it in the fridge and pantry.
We TOTALLY get it, planning your meals out for the week seems a bit overwhelming and time consuming. But we’re not talking about planning out elaborate menus for each day. In fact, we recommend you DON’T do that. Here are some of our best tips for making meal planning successful, not stressful!
Step 1 — Make a list of you/your family’s favorite meals. This list will be a work in progress, so keep it on a document on your computer or in a notebook where you can continually add to it as you add more meal ideas/recipes. Do you always make tacos on Tuesdays? Pizza on Fridays? Factor this into your weekly plan. If you don’t currently have anything to add to your list, just make sure to start the document and have it ready to add to once you’ve been meal planning for a few weeks.
Step 2 — Consider your schedule. Sit down for a few minutes to write down your week’s upcoming plan. Factor in days you have plans to dine out, busy nights when a frozen or super easy option is necessary, dinner leftovers for workweek lunches, and nights you might have time to try out a special recipe. Not only can planning save you time and money — you won’t be making multiple last minute trips to the grocery store or opting for dining out as much — but it will also help your waistline and your health, since you’ll be preparing more meals at home.
Step 3 — Write an outline. This will be the skeleton for your meals for the week — the basic starting point that will determine some of the ingredients that can multi-task for the week (think protein choices, veggies, and any perishable condiments.) We call this an outline because the exact details can be determined based on what’s available, in season, or on sale at the grocery store. If you have certain meals already picked out, write those on your outline first. For example, you know you’ll be having turkey tacos on Tuesday, so you can count on having extra whole wheat or corn tortillas and taco meat for a salad for lunch the next day. Next you’ll want to write in a few types of proteins you’ll have for the week. We recommend planning a fish dish into at least two meals per week, and having at least two other protein sources (at least one vegetarian) for main dishes. For example, frozen shrimp, white beans, and ground turkey, and canned tuna or salmon.
Step 4 — Make a list. Using your outline, make a list that is divided up by the main categories you’ll shop for: Fresh produce (fruits and veggies), proteins, milk (or milk alternative) and eggs, bread/bakery/cereal items, frozen veggies and/or fruit, convenience items/meals (frozen meals, canned or boxed soups), and condiments/extras (olive oil, salsa, nuts/seeds, etc.)
Step 5 — Shop and prep: Remember to be flexible while you’re at the store — you can exchange most ingredients within the same major food group for others if they’re on sale or in season. For instance, if there’s a sale on chicken breast, but you where planning to buy turkey for the tacos, it’s easy enough to switch to chicken fajitas. Or, if one particular veggie is on sale, stock up on that one instead of another.
Step 6 — Eat and repeat! It’s important to remember that everyone is going to find slightly different tactics for meal planning that work best for you and/or family’s needs. Experiment with different variations and be flexible while making sure to stick with it. Record what worked and didn’t in the first weeks of meal planning so that you can remember what you’ll want to keep and what you want to ditch.
Have you tried meal planning on a weekly basis? What works/doesn’t work for you?