Does it ever seem like figuring out your next meal takes up way too much of your headspace? It shouldn’t be a hassle to eat healthfully and plan your meals ahead of time! Chances are you're too busy to make 21+ different sensational dishes a week, and that's where meal planning comes into play.
To begin with, you need to determine what your goals are for meals during the week. Do you want to cut down on meat? Use all of the veggies in this week's CSA box? Rely mostly on ingredients you already have in your fridge and pantry? Figuring this out will determine what type of planning you need to do.
Don’t let meal prep freak you out. There are so many great ways to simplify it! You can start today, and you'll be thanking yourself after a busy day at work. We’ve identified the starting tasks that will help lead you to meal planning success. Read on!
7 Ways to Simplify Your Weekly Meal Plan
1. Start Off with Only A Couple of Meals
The last thing you want to do is become overwhelmed with menu planning. After all, healthy eating is a lifestyle! If you're someone who is used to eating out the majority of the time, start with only planning dinners and work your way up to lunch and then breakfast in subsequent weeks.
Your mindset to meal planning should be similar to anything else you do in life. Start off slowly and work your way up.
2. Repeat Meals
Theme nights? Count me in! Not only does meal planning help you save time, but it can also keep you in a routine. Did someone say Taco Tuesday?
Buying the same ingredients each week can be easier on you and you’ll become more accustomed to it. Going to the grocery store and buying food is the most important part of the process. But go "shopping" in your refrigerator first to save money and use the ingredients you already have.
Tip from FitJoy: Foods that can work well across multiple recipes and cuisines are basics like eggs, onions (or scallions), bell peppers, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, snap peas, carrots, and avocados. Just right there you've got the makings of a bomb omelet, a hearty salad, and a nourishing stir fry. Always keep oil, salt, and your favorite spices or sauces on hand. Is there anything Sriracha doesn't go with??
3. Keep It Really Simple
Like I said above, getting ingredients for meals can be easy. You don’t need fancy or expensive spices to be successful with meal planning.
If you’re anything like me, busy, I love to grab things and go. Usually, I try to find the easiest and quickest thing I can find before I head out the door, like an apple or a FitJoy protein bar.
Tip from FitJoy: If you're just starting out with meal planning, look for things with wrappers (or natural wrappers, like a banana peel!) so you don't have to go hungry when you're in a hurry.
4. Look for New and Easy Recipes
Whether you are scrolling through Facebook or see a new recipe on Pinterest, save it! This will save you time and energy later when you're looking to incorporate more meals into your repertoire. Sometimes it's hard to know which recipes will be hard or easy. Look for ones that don't include multiple from-scratch parts (like an ingredients list for both a filling and a dressing), and for instructions that are short and clear, and that tell you how the food should look at each step.
Don’t forget, meal planning doesn’t always have to mean home cooking. Don’t be afraid to give yourself some space and plan a takeout dinner. It’s about learning, so don’t be so hard on yourself.
5. Keep A Journal
Writing down your goals and planning your week is a great start to holding yourself accountable. I also like to take advantage of my journal and create a grocery list for the week. You can now get groceries delivered or picked up—a major time saver!
Saving your past recipes can also help you out when you are drawing a blank. It can even allow you to remember how long the prep time for a certain meal is if you're on a time crunch, or whether you felt needed to add more of something.
Tip from FitJoy: Make a cheat-sheet of items you often cook, the temperature to cook them at, how long they go in the oven or on the stove for, and other quick tips. Put the cheat sheet on your fridge or tablet for easy access next time you make that salmon, boiled egg, eggplant, or tofu. That way, you'll eliminate the frustration of having to look up the same thing every time!
6. Cook in Bulk
Maybe you have extra time on Sundays when you can cook and prep food. Try cutting up vegetables or grilling chicken for the week. Doing everything in bulk will help simplify your meal planning process tremendously. One of my favorite things is repurposing throughout the week!
Remember, you don’t have to do everything from scratch. Take a look at your pantry and refrigerator and work with what you have. Slowly introduce new foods into your meal planning and you will be a pro in no time!
7. Don’t Forget to Freeze
You’ve heard it before, freeze your food so it doesn’t go bad. The same goes for meal planning because you're cooking in bulk. Whenever I've made something that freezes well, like casseroles or lasagna, I like to throw a few portions in the freezer for later. It’s the best whenever I open my freezer to remember I have a meal to heat up instead of having to order takeout!
Meal planning can be fun and save you money. Make sure to never be too hard on yourself. We’re all human and sometimes we want to get home from work and immediately put on comfortable sweatpants and start binge-watching Netflix. Ordering that pizza is okay, I promise!
Meal planning shouldn’t feel like a chore, so give yourself some slack and enjoy discovering new food and ways to eat. Start by checking out these bars and snacks that will also help you simplify your meal planning process!
Kali is a freelance writer and social media manager. She is passionate about health and wellness and you could probably find her at the gym! When she’s not writing, Kali enjoys spending time with her dogs, traveling, and online shopping.