Hands down, one of the best ways to take control of your life and be a better/healthier eater is to meal plan, and then, meal prep. If you’re not already meal planning, I would bet a certain amount of money that you make more trips to the grocery store than is necessary, spend your grocery shopping time pacing the aisles not sure what you should or shouldn’t buy, end up throwing food away, and/or are eating out more than you want to be. It’s a waste of time and money, not to mention probably leading you to unhealthy choices, and if that was your goal, I’m guessing you wouldn’t be reading this stuff in the first place.
There are a lot of plans and pre-made grocery lists out there, and those are great, but my issue with them is that none of them are perfect for me. There’s always a meal I don’t like, don’t want to make, don’t want to try, whatever. The first time I tried to follow someone else’s meal plan was a disaster. She had done such a great job of laying out what she had made and how to do it, complete with grocery list. I followed it to a tee, spent a big chunk of money and many hours on it, and I ate almost none of them. I don’t like beef stew and carrots as much as she did. The hard truth is that if I want a plan that is perfect for me, I have to make it. So this post is NOT a meal plan for you. It’s a little tutorial about how to actually sit down and organize yourself so that you too can make your own meal plan that works perfectly for you.
So let’s talk meal planning.
First Things First
Figure out what meals YOU like.
Seems obvious, but maybe not. Sit down and make a list of all of the meals that you and your family enjoy. Throw in all of your staples and add some that are more rare but are still well-liked. Make sure you include breakfasts and lunches if you want to include those meals in your planning. And don’t forget about snacks! Planning your meals out doesn’t matter much if you’re eating candy bars in between. Keep this list handy so that you can access it every time you go to plan out your meals.
It’s ok to accept help.
From anywhere. Some days your breakfast might be a protein bar. Some days, lunch might be a frozen meal. Know when you’ll need this type of option and work it into your meal plan. Of course, the goal of meal planning is to prepare your own food in your own kitchen, but this is real life. NBD. Have them handy so that they’re ready to go, and I also think it’s a good idea to have foods like these that don’t spoil (frozen meals, etc.) on hand in case something comes up (like your husband eats your Wednesday lunch for dinner Tuesday night) so at least you’re not looking at eating out for lunch.
You’re ready to plan
When choosing meals to eat this week, take these things into consideration.
Think about what can be done ahead of time.
If you are out of the house a lot and need to pack lots of lunches (or if you’re in the house but want to have your meals ready-to-go and with no cooking necessary throughout the week) then consider what kind of preparation your meals need. Make a list of what you can do ahead of time to make that meal easier. Maybe it’s making the whole thing, maybe it’s making just the sauce ahead of time.
Consider as many meals as possible that can be made ahead and reheated.
If you are able and willing to prepare each meal on a daily basis, you don’t have to worry about this quite so much, but do consider leftovers and how they will fit in to your plan so that you’re not making more food than you need. I find crockpot meals to be awesome for meal prepping. They usually require little work, can cook throughout the day on your prep day, and then can be used for multiple meals. This also helps me because I can make something for dinner and then can have leftovers for lunch so lunches are easier to plan.
Consider embracing repetition.
The more you do this, the easier your life will be. You can make one recipe or a double recipe and have meals for days. There’s also something to be said for the phrase “you crave what you eat”. Yes repetition can be boring on day 4, but you also might be eating enough veggies that you actually start to look forward to them. Maybe. Ok maybe not on the vegetables thing. But repetition will help you get into a routine and it will decrease the number of meals you have to make on your prep day. You can always make something entirely different next week, so it’s not like it’s forever.
Check the pantry.
Consider what you’ve already got! I often buy extras of things that are on sale but don’t fit into the week’s meal plan, knowing that I’ll have them in my pantry to work into next week’s plan.
Know your tendencies and play to them, don’t ignore them.
If you’re not the type of person who will get out of bed in time to make and eat breakfast before you have to run out the door, then make sure your breakfasts are to-go friendly, like overnight oats (recipe coming soon!). Also, if you know you’re going to be tempted to order pizza Friday night, make sure you plan something that you love and that is easy. For us, that’s usually tacos.
Finally, get your calendar out.
Start placing meals on days based on what you actually have going on on those days. Working through the dinner hour on Wednesday? Make sure that your planned dinner for that night is one that you can put in your lunch box. Will you have a little extra time to whip up something tasty in your own kitchen Tuesday? Use a meal on that day that you wouldn’t be able to transport so easily, like fish tacos (recipe coming soon!). Do you know that you’ll have to eat lunch out for work Friday? Either plan something that you can bring along (yes you can be that person) or skip that meal and use your lunch on another day. I started out using Google Calendar for this, a typical week looked like this:
Now I use Pepperplate, and this is what my week looks like.
Like the looks of that? I’m going to rave about Pepperplate in 3…2…
Make Life Easier!!!
Use this app to put all the previous steps together. I searched high and low for an app that could help me streamline this whole process, and finally found this puppy. I love it so much. Big gushy love. It’s called Pepperplate. Check it out and make an account. Upload all of your favorite recipes (this part will take a little bit of time but once they’re in, they’re in forever, and life is amazing). The app has a calendar built in so that you can plan your meals out using the recipes you’ve loaded. Then, since you loaded the ingredients with the recipe, you can build your shopping list based on your meal plan. And the list allows you to check things off as you go, just like any other list-making app (or real life pen and paper). This is so freaking amazing, it has totally revolutionized my planning and prepping.
Hint: I have a much easier time doing the recipe entry and planning from a computer, and then using the app when at the store with the grocery list or checking on the plan. It doesn’t change anything about my process really, since I’m always sitting down and the computer anyway to search meals on Pinterest and place the meals on my calendar.
Back to Planning
Make your grocery list based on the recipes.
Ok, now you’ve got your meals for the week planned out. Don’t forget to check your pantry again for what you might already have so you don’t end up with duplicates!
Go to the store.
Maybe wear last year’s Halloween costume while you’re there. For giggles.
Meal planning done. Time to prep.
Make a prep to-do list.
This will help you stay organized in the kitchen and make sure you get everything done that you wanted to for the week. Doesn’t have to be fancy. This was mine this week:
If you chose a crockpot meal, get the crockpot going. If shredded chicken is involved, get it cooking (coming soon- the easiest way ever to get your chicken cooked and shredded). Boil your eggs, cook your meats and veggies, whatever it is. Make your snacks as easily accessible as possible and break them down into single servings when applicable. If you embraced repetition, this whole process might only take you an hour or two. When you consider that you’re making your food for the whole week, that’s not much time. Here are the spoils of my hard work. I made everything ahead that wasn’t quick and easy. Now I’m set for the week!
If you’re interested, what I have prepped there is
- Breakfast: overnight oats
- Dinner: homemade chipotle, pumpkin protein pancake batter (for brinner), sauce and dressing for fish tacos
- Snacks: Veggies and hummus, boiled (and shelled) eggs, strawberry froyo.
- (lunch is leftovers)
Be a boss.
Bag it and box it all up and stick it in the fridge and spend the rest of your week worry-free! Well, at least when it comes to what your next meal is going to be.
Stay tuned for some of my personal staples and favorite recipes for meal planning and prepping!
Do you meal plan and prep? What staples and strategies work for you?