When you’re already balancing a hectic schedule that includes work, family, and social obligations, trying to figure out what you’re going to eat every day may be a stressful experience in and of itself.
People are forced to scramble to put together meals at the last minute or resort to throwing caution to the wind and ordering takeout or delivery.
Be reassured that there is a more effective way to provide food for you and your family, and that method is meal planning. By taking this method, you will never be in a position where you are unsure about what to eat for dinner.
What Is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is the process of making a weekly menu that fits an individual’s dietary needs.
It can take the guesswork out of making dinner, help you stick to a budget, and make it easier to stay on track with your nutrition goals.
Some people stick to a healthy meal planner in the hopes of getting a certain result, like losing weight or lowering their cholesterol levels.
Or, an athlete might plan their meals in a way that makes sure they get the right amount of the nutrients they need to perform at their best. Some people plan their meals to stay within a certain budget for food, while others plan their meals to feed a whole family.
You can choose from many different kinds of meal plans for health. Some may be made to help with a certain health problem, like type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
Most of the time, a licensed dietician or another expert in health care is involved in making these meal plans. People with type 2 diabetes, for example, often follow a meal plan that is good for people with diabetes in order to keep their blood sugar levels stable. On the other hand, people who are worried about getting heart disease because it runs in their family may follow a meal plan that focuses on heart health.
People who don’t have a health problem to deal with often make their own meal plans by choosing healthy foods that their families want to eat.
Reasons to meal plan
Getting your meals ready ahead of time can help you in many ways. Meal planning is a great way to get organized and have a plan for the week, so everyone can benefit from it, no matter what they are trying to do.
It takes a little bit of work at first to figure out what you will eat the next week, but once you have a plan, you don’t have to worry about making and cooking meals every day.
People who work long hours, who have to take care of a health condition like diabetes, or who have to feed a family may find this especially helpful.
You don’t even have to follow your meal plan to the letter. If you just use it as a starting point, it can take some of the stress out of shopping for groceries and making dinner every week.
You might also be able to keep a healthy eating pattern if you plan your meals ahead of time. “ If you don’t have a plan, you might be more likely to order pizza on a busy night, even though this won’t give you the satisfaction you’re looking for.
But if you know you have a healthy and tasty meal waiting for you at home, you might not be as interested in ordering pizza or going through a drive-through.
Eating healthy is good for everyone, but it’s especially good for people who have to be careful about what they eat, like those with type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
If these people have a healthy meal plan to follow, it may be easier for them to eat healthy. You don’t have to worry about figuring out which foods go well with others, and you already know that your doctor or dietician has given the green light for certain foods to help you manage your condition.
If you plan your meal diet ahead of time, you will not only eat fewer meals away from home, but you will also waste less food. Food waste takes up the most space in landfills. Each family of four in the United States throws away more than 20 tons of food every year. The average family of four spends $1,500 a year on food that they don’t eat and throws away.
When you go to the grocery store without a plan, you end up buying random things based on what interests you at the time, even though you don’t know how to use them.
You will eventually throw out the food that has been sitting in your fridge or cabinets for a long time. But if you plan your meals, you’ll know exactly what and how much food to buy. This means you’ll waste less food and money.
Meal Planning Considerations
You don’t have to eat the same thing every day, but it will make things easier if you don’t have too many different meals during the week.
Picking (at most) two or three different breakfast options and two or three different lunch options for the week, and then adding variety with different dinner and snack options. You could even eat the same meals for a few weeks before trying something new.
Keeping a few staple meals on hand each week will help you feel less stressed and give you enough variety.
For example, you could have fish for dinner once a week, tacos on another night, and burgers on yet another night.
You are free to try out different ways to cook fish, fill tacos, and make burgers, even if you don’t eat meat. The recipe can be changed.
Set aside some time on a day that isn’t too busy to cook a lot of meals at once so you don’t have to worry about it during the week.
Think about the fact that you want to eat oatmeal three times a week. You can make overnight oats in a big enough batch for three servings at once. You could also make a big frittata with eggs so that all you have to do in the morning is reheat a single serving and you’re good to go.
Make sure that your meal plan takes into account any surprises that might come up. Write down on your schedule the day of the week that you order takeout or delivery so that you know you don’t need to cook a meal for that day. Or, if your office provides snacks and drinks, you might not need to bring anything.
If you or anyone in your family has food allergies, dietary restrictions, or strong dislikes, try to make the meal work for everyone so you don’t have to make multiple meals. You will save time and money by doing this.
For example, if you’re making lasagna and one of your guests can’t eat gluten, you could use gluten-free noodles to make the dish so that everyone can eat it and you only have to cook it once.
You could also serve the same main dish but let each family member make their own meal based on their dietary needs and food preferences. For example, if it’s taco night, you could have a few different kinds of tortillas and separate bowls of toppings like avocado and onions.
You can always talk to a registered dietitian if you are still confused and overwhelmed or if you need help planning meals for a specific goal (such as weight loss or control of blood sugar). For example, you might want to control your blood sugar or lose weight.
Tools for Meal Planning
You don’t have to fix up your entire kitchen to start planning meals. You only need a few things to help you stay on top of things:
Containers for storing food
Get a range of sizes so you can store both small amounts of food and a lot of it. Find containers that can go in the freezer and the microwave to make it easier to store and cook your food.
A box for food
If you want to take your food with you, you need a lunch box. “
Even though it sounds simple, a lunch box makes it easier to eat the foods you worked hard to make.
A Meal-Planning App
You can keep track of your meal plan with dozens of free and paid mobile apps. For instance, lets you make meal plans, organize your recipes, and make shopping lists.
The software will even put the items on your shopping list in order of where you can find them in the store.
When it’s time to cook, you can use the app to keep track of your progress by checking off parts as you finish them and adjusting the size of the ingredients to your liking.
Journal for planning meals
If you like to write things down, you can use a meal-planning journal. Bloom gives you a lot of choices, like a pad that you can put on your fridge.
First, write down what meals you have planned for each day of the week. Then, go to the “shopping list” section and make a list of the ingredients you will need.
There are holes in the grocery list, so you can easily tear off each item and bring it with you when you go shopping.
Putting the name of the recipe and the current date on your food labels will make it much easier to keep track of your meals in the fridge and freezer.
If you’re going to freeze a lot of different kinds of food, it’s especially helpful to label the containers.
If things start piling up in your freezer, you won’t have to guess what’s in each container because you’ll have organized them this way. Simple labels will work, but you can look online for meal-prep labels if you want something more specific.
Step-by-Step Instructions for Simple Meal Planning for Beginners
- Get a piece of paper with the days of the week written on it so you can plan your meals.
- Look at your schedule for the week. What do you have planned? Do you have to work late tonight? Are you meeting friends for dinner? Would you like to go to a party?
- Mark each day that will make it hard to plan meals with a “X” in the corner of the page.
- For the first few weeks of your new meal planning routine, set your breakfast and lunch to cook themselves. Write down two or three options for breakfast and lunch (bagels or cereal for breakfast, leftovers or sandwiches for lunch). Prepare most of what you need for dinner.
- Choose easy dinners
- Make a list of the ingredients and other things you need to make the meals on a separate sheet of paper.
- Plan to eat meals early in the week that require fresh ingredients so you can get them throughout the week.
An important part of meal planning is making a plan for the week’s meals. By not having to make decisions about meals during the week, you can save time and reduce stress.
If you plan your meals ahead of time, you might be less likely to want to order pizza or go through a drive-through after a long, stressful day. This will help you eat well and stay healthy.
You should set aside some time during the week to plan your meals, go shopping for what you need, and cook some of the food you will need.
Use an app or just a pen and paper to write down your recipes and meals. This will help you stay organized.
You can keep your meals organized by putting them in clear containers with labels that say the name of the food and the date it was either cooked or bought.