If you're trying to eat healthier meals and resort to takeout less often, consider meal planning as a new way to think about your eating routine. Meal planning doesn't have to be complicated, but it does mean that you need to think about what you'll eat ahead of time-and that doesn't mean figuring out dinner as you walk in the door to your house after work. Instead, you'll plan everything out for the week ahead of time and even do a little prep beforehand. This makes meals a no-brainer throughout the week. You'll be healthier by avoiding dining out, fast food and takeout while cutting back on waste and saving money on food costs.
Meal planning clearly has a lot of benefits, but how can you get started? Use this guide to learn the ins and outs of meal planning and find out how to make a 7-day meal plan you and your family will love.
Step 1: Pick Your Meals
If you're new to meal planning, try to keep it simple at first by just planning out a limited number of meals. A great way to start is to do five dinners for the week. As you get more accustomed to meal planning, you might also want to plan out breakfast and lunch. However, starting with five dinners makes it less overwhelming to take on this new task.
Now it's time to choose your meals for the week. The most important thing is to choose meals you know you want to eat. Don't force yourself to try complicated new recipes. Instead, pick one of two of your go-to favorites, like spaghetti and meatballs, burgers or tacos. If possible, try to go with healthier options when you can, like swapping regular pasta for shirataki noodles or beef burgers for turkey burgers. You can also look at meal planning websites to get ideas for a new meal to try if you're feeling adventurous.
Step 2: List the Ingredients
Once you've selected your meals, it's time to list the ingredients. Go through each recipe and write down any items you need to get from the grocery store in order to make the meals you've chosen. You can leave out pantry staples like spices or olive oil that you already have on hand. Over the weekend, stop at the grocery store to pick up everything you'll need. It may seem like you're spending extra time to figure out all the ingredients you'll need in advance, but making just one trip to the grocery store for the week helps make up for it.
Step 3: Prep Ahead of Time
Meal planning is not the same thing as meal prepping, where you make all your meals ahead of time and portion them out for the week. However, doing a little bit of prep will make it easier to actually whip up the meals you're planning to eat. This should include some simple steps like chopping veggies, washing fruit or putting meat into a marinade. To figure out what you need to do, just look at your recipes for the week and see which steps can be completed in advance in order to speed up the cooking time on the day of.
Step 4: Stick to the Plan
It can be tough to make meal planning work if you're used to just winging it on most days when it comes to what you eat. However, sticking to your plan can help you discover just how much easier it is when you don't have to worry about whipping up dinner at the last minute. You'll also be able to skip rushed trips to the grocery store on your way home from work. Look for evidence that your meal planning efforts are worth it. Notice how much less food ends up wasted since you shopped for specific ingredients in advance. Compare your spending on dining out and takeout to that of the previous weeks to see just how much money you're saving. When you see that meal-planning can make life much easier and more affordable, you'll be more likely to keep doing it in the future.
Tips to Make Meal Planning Easier
Here are a few more tips to use for more effective meal planning:
- Choose at least one slow cooker meal you can make during the course of the week. For example, you can use a slow cooker to prep shredded chicken for taco night. Just place the ingredients in the pot in the morning and when you get home from work, the meat will be ready to go for assembling your tacos.
- Make extra with your meals and eat the rest as leftovers. This can provide lunches for the next day or can be enjoyed for dinner again the following night.
- Plan for pizza night. It's easier to stick to your plan if you know you'll be rewarded with some delicious takeout or a meal at a restaurant on your "night off" from the plan.
Follow this guide to make meal planning work for you and your family.