If you are unsure what meal planning is, the name should give you an idea. In the simplest terms, meal planning is the act of deciding what to eat in advance. Its opposite is eating whatever food is available when you get hungry. This is usually prepared food from an establishment such as fast food, grocery store, or a restaurant. Read more on the pitfalls of eating on the run.
Meal planning can be done a day, week, month, or any timeframe in advance with a week being the most popular. For example, if I wanted to plan my week’s meals, I would sit down on Sunday and plan each meals. For each meal, I’d check what ingredients are needed and which need to be bought. Anything I don’t have on hand, I would place on my shopping list.
Then I either have an option of prepping all your meals at once, or each day. Either way, I have all the ingredients and the recipes to make my meals happen. With my plan in place, I’m on the road to success. Here are some tips on how to enhance your plan:
1. Make Something You Will Enjoy
This should be a no brainer, but many people fail at this first point. Because we are so worried about making healthy, well balanced meals, we forget our audience: ourselves. If we make meals that are not appetizing, it doesn’t matter how nutritious it is. We probably won’t enjoy eating it.
Meals have to be something we look forward to, instead of dread. The more positive thoughts we have about our meals, the more likely we are to stick to our plans. So make yourself delicious meals.
2. Pick a Planning Style Suited for You
Do you enjoy cooking and would enjoy making meals every day? Or are you a cook once for the week kind of person? Both ways work great, so it’s just a matter of finding the method that works best for you. With either planning style, we recommend a once a week planning session. This way you only do the following once:
- Coordinate your meals
- Create a shopping list
- Take one trip to the store
Coordinating your meals is helpful because you can plan for the leftovers from one meal to be part of the next meal (tilapia tonight becomes fish tacos tomorrow). You can also plan to use the same ingredient in multiple recipes. This is especially helpful when a certain ingredient only comes in mass quantities.
The shopping list is a very effective tool. Not only does it help you remember all the items you need, but it can also keep you from purchasing items that you don’t need. The list is a map for where you are going to travel in the store, preventing you from walking down every isle, preventing you from seeing all the goodies a store has to offer. It’s the simple “see no evil, do no evil.”
3. Don’t Allow Yourself to Get Lazy
Once we find something we like, we tend to want to eat it all the time. But with repetition comes blandness. Each time we eat the meal, it loses a little flavor. It’s the same reason the first bite of any food tastes better than the last. This is called diminishing return, and we can’t have that in our meal planning.
With millions of recipes at your fingertips, there is no reason to eat the same meals each week. Repetition will leave you bored and craving something new. We want to keep cravings to a minimum, so let’s plan those out of the equation. Even a small tweak to a solid favorite will add a little variety to your meals.
4. Freeze, Forget, Find, and Relish
This is probably one of my favorite meal planning tips. I’m what you might call lazy when it comes to cooking. The less often I cook, the better. So I have a tendency to cook in large batches. I’ll get a lot more food for only a little more effort.
Since I don’t want to get bored of my meals, I will freeze half. Then I will find the forgotten meals from last month when I put my recent cooking exploits in the freezer. I’ll pull out the frozen meal and relish in the lack of cooking that it took to pull that meal from the freezer. It’s like buried (or frozen) treasure!
5. Seek Advice
Again, there is a lot of information online. Let someone else’s success help you. Review a few meal plans and decide on one that fits you. Or merge a few plans together to create your own. The idea is that you don’t have to create your whole meal plan alone. There’s lots of creative and delicious ideas to borrow from.
There are also a plethora of meal planning applications. Some of them come with templates to start from, recipe ideas, or even links to your local grocery store. You can see what is on sale in your local market and build a meal plan off that.
Lastly, ask friends and family. This is especially true if you enjoyed a meal a friend cooked. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my mother, is that people love it when you ask for a recipe. It shows you enjoyed their cooking, so they’re happy to share.
If you struggle to find the time and energy to plan an entire weeks’ worth of meals, supplement your plan with an established meal delivery service. A meal service can take some of the burden off by delivering healthy, well rounded meals. Search for a plan that fits your flavor preferences, health requirements, and budget. Plus, it will give you the variety you need to stay on track.
One word of caution: really look at the nutrition on these meal plans. There are many that will offer low calorie, but are packed with additives to compensate. And low calorie is not always the best option because it may leave you hungry. A meal plan is not going to keep you on track if you’re always hungry.
We recommend looking for these key features:
- Balanced Macros – protein, fat, & carbohydrates
- Natural Ingredients – you should understand the ingredient label
- Sufficient Calorie Level – evaluate your daily needs a find a plan that matches. Less is not always more.
7. Appreciate Your Effort
You’re making an effort to eat right by creating a meal plan, so you deserve a little treat. This doesn’t have to be food. It could be a fun activity or a desired item. But if you are a sweet tooth like me, it can be a piece of chocolate or glass of wine. By planning for it, you will be able to withstand temptation along the way. And these treats help positively reinforce what you are trying to achieve.
Self-appreciation is another way to treat yourself. Meal planning is an easy concept that’s hard to successfully execute. Why do you think so many people fail at it? So take a minute each week, each day, or each meal to give yourself the gratitude you deserve. You are making a conscious effort to improve your life…one meal at a time.
If reading this article has made you never want to touch a stove again, check out our Meal Plans to save yourself time, money, & stress.