I have always loved meal planning! It is truly one of my favorite things. Even during my college days, I enjoyed prepping whatever healthy meals I was going to eat for the week. So naturally, this has carried over in my family life today! Without meal planning, using a monthly or weekly meal planner, I think I’d feel a little lost.
Thankfully, meal planning has become an essential part of many family’s lives and there is no shortage of monthly meal planners, meal prep apps, or meal planning ideas. If you’re not sure what the hype is or where to start, then read on! These meal planning tips and tricks will keep you (and your fam) on track for a nourishing lifestyle and remove loads of stress to your weekly routine. You’ll never have to wonder what’s for dinner again!
RELATED: Eating Healthy On A Budget
In this post
- Why is meal planning important?
- Meal Planning Essentials for Healthy Eating
- Quick and Easy Meal Planning Recipes
Why is meal planning important?
- It keeps you within your budget. If you’ve ever grocery shopped while starving, then you know how difficult it is to fight the urge to buy everything in sight! Meal planning helps to keep you in line since you’re shopping with a fixed list that will make certain recipes. No need to stress about purchasing too much or too little of something!
- It reduces food waste. So many times food goes to waste because it wasn’t used in a recipe or we forget it’s even there! Meal prepping eliminates food waste since you’re cooking and eating what you buy. No more random ingredients that gets lost in the back of the fridge!
- It gives you back time. The weekdays are hard, long days and sometimes the last thing you want to think is, “what should I make for dinner?” 20 minutes before dinner time! Meal prepping can give you peace of mind that dinner is done, the decision has been made and you can move on to more pressing matters.
- It can help you eat healthily. When cravings hit hard, meal prepping comes in extra handy! Once your healthy meals are created, it can be hard to let a meal go bad in the fridge to satisfy a random craving. Meal prepping is that safety net for when you would have normally ordered out!
Meal Planning Essentials for Healthy Eating
1. Use a monthly meal planner or meal planning app
There is no shortage of meal planning apps or trackers out there! If you prefer the older school method which means writing your meals on a chalkboard, adding them to a meal planner sheet or calendar, then you’ll find that Pinterest has SO many free downloadable meal prep sheets available. This is where you’ll find the bulk if you want to print, hand write, and archive this type of meal planner. These can be so helpful if you have a master family binder. If you add them to your family whiteboard, this is helpful for all your family to see and know what’s coming up!
>> If you prefer a physical meal planning journal (like I do!), then you’ll LOVE this Meal Planner on Amazon!
If you would like something digital like a spreadsheet, then a google or excel sheet is key. Thankfully you won’t have to come up with any formulas on your own since so many of these have been already developed. Some great tools include this free excel spreadsheet, or this weekly google sheet.
Now for the apps! These have risen in popularity and depending on which you choose, can help you save money, lose weight, and even use up leftovers. Most of them have a fee to use fully, but the easy and accessibility ends up being worth it. Here’s their breakdown:
- Best app for general meal planning: Paprika
- Great app for busy cooks: Mealime
- Great healthy meal prep: MealPrep
- Best for weight loss: PlateJoy
- Great for families: BigOven
No matter if you are going old-school or using an app, starting with a meal planner will get you on track to meal prepping like a pro.
2. Find recipes that are easy to make and keep on repeat
A good recipe that is healthy, your family actually loves, and is easy to make is like finding gold! The simpler it is to choose and create a recipe, the more useful meal planning will be for you. My favorite trick is to rotate through favorites since I know what my family enjoys. This does mean that we eat the same meal leftovers 2 sometimes 3 times a week! That’s why making sure it’s a well-received recipe is so important. Some of my go-to’s include this Healthy Cauliflower Mushroom Pizza, Healthy Chicken Broccoli Pasta Casserole, and Vegetarian Lentil & Sweet Potato Curry. These have been hits and I love to keep them on repeat for an easy week!
>> Here are 30+ BEST Easy Meal Prep Recipes that everyone will love!
3. Use the season for inspiration
Another good trick if you’re trying to save money as you incorporate your meal plan is to shop with the season. Since seasonal produce is cheaper during its peak season, prepping your meals with the seasons can be a fool-proof way to keep costs low and your meals fresh. For a quick way to reference what is in season use the very handy Seasonal Food Guide site! You can also shop at your local farmer’s market for an even easier way to keep your palette fresh and your costs lower. All great ways to create a meal plan that fits your budget and your tastes!
RELATED: The ULTIMATE Guide To Spring Fruits
4. Meal prep Sunday and meal delivery services
Once you get on the meal prep bandwagon, when you decide to prep is up to you. However, I have found that grocery shopping on Saturday and meal prepping on Sunday make for the most prepared week. Since meal prep can seem daunting during an exhausting week, a slow Sunday afternoon tends to be the perfect time to gather your ingredients and whip up your meals.
To make sure I’m ready for my Sunday prep, I love using Instacart to get my items delivered to me either during the week or on Saturday. That way I have time throughout the week to think about what I’ll need and then have it all delivered just in time for meal prep day! It also is perfect for young families since heading out to the grocery with your baby, toddler, and the stroller is probably the hardest thing to do ever. Having items delivered (even from Costco!) has worked wonders for our meal planning.
Other great options for meal delivery include:
- Thrive Market – It’s like Costco prices on healthy, whole foods!
- Butcher Box – Have healthy, sustainable, organic meats delivered right to your doorstep every month!
- Smoothie Box – Take breakfast planning out of the equation by having nourishing smoothies delivered every week. 🙌🏻
- Splendid Spoon – Great for having on hand anytime you need a nourishing meal that’s ready-to-go!
5. Start with what’s already in your pantry
A newbie meal planning mistake is to assume that you have to start from scratch. This is not true! To get started, just start with what you already have and build from there. This might mean that you only have to purchase 1 or 2 more items to complete a meal.
The best way to do this is to take inventory of what you have against the meals you are thinking of producing for the week. Your first week might involve finally using that can of beans in the pantry versus purchasing something new. It will help ease you into the meal planning method, eliminate food waste, and help to not overwhelm you at the grocery store. Take inventory! You’ll find that you might have had more food in your pantry or fridge than you thought.
RELATED: The Best Healthy Pantry Essentials
6. Use a master ingredients list, then modify
Once you have the basics of what you use weekly down, you can create a master list. If you know that mostly every week you use a bag of spinach, add that to a master ingredients list so that you know you’ll be purchasing it weekly. Then the additional ingredients that change weekly by recipe can just be added separately. By keeping a master list, you free up time to create a whole new list every week, and you zip through the grocery store that much quicker.
Pro tip: Add this to your saved list on your grocery delivery app and you’ll cut down even more time!
7. Batch cooking is key
Batch cooking your vegetables in a large sheet pan or roasting chicken in advance will help keep your time in the kitchen low and assembling your meals a breeze. Proteins are my favorite to batch cook, but grains like rice or quinoa and vegetables come in handy too. If you love a good casserole, chili, or soup, then batch cooking and freezing will be your friend!
Another great thing about batch cooking for meal planning is that you actually use less energy. By using your oven or stove at once on your meal prep day, you spend less time during the week firing it up which means less energy (both for you and your stove)! If I can, I try and place several dishes into my oven to cook at once. Once it’s all done, assembling is simple and comes together easily!
8. Invest in the right food saving tools
Speaking of batch cooking, there are several tools you’ll likely want to invest in to keep your meal plans moving along. Batch cooking might require the use of a sturdy sheet pan, a trusty food processor, a blender, and either a slow cooker or an Instant Pot. All tools that most of us have at hand already, but they make such a difference when it comes time to prep the meals!
Besides that, the next best investment is in your food containers! You can get really creative with meal prep containers depending on what recipes you are creating. The options nowadays are quite endless and vary from stainless steel to glass to jars with spoons.
Here are some of my favorite meal planning containers
- Wide Mouth Mason Jar– Favorite for overnight oats, or salads in a jar.
- Rubbermaid Brilliance Leak-Proof Food Storage Containers with Airtight Lids – Love these for their larger sizes and keeping my fridge clean!
- Flex Bento Food Storage Container– Love the ability to add the small dividers for snacks and small hands.
- Stainless Steel Food Container With Leak Proof Silicone Lid – These are so great for throwing snacks into a bag and getting out the door!
- Pyrex Simply Store Meal Prep Glass Food Storage Containers – You can’t go wrong with a simple set of glass containers.
The options are endless but whatever you choose, make sure you have the right sizes for your meals and that they are airtight!
9. Involve the family
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a solo venture. When you incorporate the whole family around the prep, it can become a fun weekly activity. Take a poll, let your little ones choose one recipe a week, or give specific meal prep jobs! The best way to feel motivated is to incorporate the family into the schedule. Try adding a whiteboard or family calendar so that everyone knows what meal is coming up.
If your children are small then you’ll know the challenge of creating recipes that they’ll actually want to eat! The best way to combat this is to involve them in your decision making, then helping them prep the meals. Washing the potatoes? A perfect way to get those little hands busy. Counting out the carrots for each container? Great use of those skills! In addition, adding one fun meal like a homemade pizza night can keep everyone happy. Just make sure you cut and pre-make the dough during meal prep day so that all you have to do is assemble toppings and bake!
10. Add one new recipe each week
If creating new recipes each week sounds intimidating, then start with just one! No one truly has time to cook 3-5 new recipes each week. Keep your tried and true recipes and incorporate one new recipe to explore. This is a fun way to keep you exploring new flavors, pushing you in your meal prep, and giving a little excitement in the kitchen. I love to save this for when I feel like trying something completely different from my normal routine. Adding one new recipe a week helps me rotate out older recipes and getting my family into new concepts!
11. Plan your eat-out day!
Lastly, this is one that most people forget to plan for: an eat-out day! The weekdays can be long and busy, but come the weekend I love to have an eat out day. Depending on your budget this could be two nights a week or less however, I know that my meal planning feels fresh when I incorporate this into our routine.
Meal Planning is exciting and so helpful when you finally get the routine and settle in. I know it has done wonders for many families out there, even if just to provide a little more time with family and less time stressing about what to cook! Whether you’re looking to eat healthier, cut down time in the kitchen, or find ways to save money, meal planning is essential!
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