Let me set the scene: It's 5:30 pm, and you're leaving work. You're hungry, but you have no idea what's for dinner (or if you even have food at home at all!) I've been there. You think "A quick stop by Chipotle will give me dinner AND lunch for tomorrow. surely that makes more sense than going to the store and then cooking." I completely get it. But once you start adding up those Chipotle and Panera runs, your wallet thins out pretty quickly!
Meal planning and prepping often gets a bad wrap because it seems overwhelming, but I'm here to share my best tips and tricks for those of you who are looking to make progress on your nutrition goals this year. I'm calling this a go-to, grace-filled guide to meal planning. So what's the point of meal planning? It's two-fold, not only will planning and prepping your meals give you control over what you're putting in your body (goodbye weekly Chick-fil-a trips!), but it is also much more economical. I'm sharing my best tips below, but it isn't an exhaustive list. I'd love to hear from you in the comments.
If you follow my #TendingListTuesday updates, you'll know that "Plan and Prep Meals" has been a weekly goal for months!
Set realistic expectations. It wouldn't feel fair to write this post without starting with this tip. One of my best pieces of advice is to set realistic expectations as you start meal planning and prepping. There are going to be times when you rock your week–you'll do all the organizing, prepping, cooking, and come in under budget to boot! But there will also be times you eat an entire pizza instead of saving some for lunch and you find yourself at Food Lion the next morning buying Spaghettio's for lunch...🙈 Give yourself grace, and remind yourself that you can and will make progress each week.
Invest in the right containers. I've found that having the right containers and tools is essential to meal planning and prepping. There is nothing worse than making a batch of quinoa, putting it into a Tupperware container, and then ransacking your kitchen looking for the lid. I used my recent move as an opportunity to throw out my old plastic containers and invest in some new glass containers. I'm able to easily divide leftovers into lunch or dinner portions for the upcoming weeks. I recommend starting with a set to see which sizes you use most frequently, then buying a few extras individually. My favorites are from Ikea (here, here, and here), but there plenty of other options out there, too! Budget tip: Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals are a great time to stock up!
Create a bank of easy, go-to meals. Pinterest and your favorite blogs are a great starting point, but I like the idea of crowd-sourcing, too! Use your social feeds to ask for your friends' favorite meals, and ACTUALLY RECORD THEM SOMEWHERE. Whether it's a cute recipe box or digitally on your Pinterest board or Google Drive, make sure these are all aggregated in one spot so that when it comes time to choose recipes you can be efficient. If you aren't a recipe follower (ahem, me!), then create a typical shopping list for the week, and bookmark it somewhere. This is my favorite shopping list template, and I use it week after week to avoid overbuying.
Here's this week's meals for me. You'll see that it's pretty simple and there are a lot of leftovers. I didn't add breakfast since I'm eating the same thing–yogurt, homemade granola, and berries.
Know yourself, your family situation, and your lifestyle. I'm a notorious meal-repeater. I typically eat the same breakfast and lunch for two reasons. It saves me from decision fatigue, and it saves me money because I'm only cooking for one person. If I want to mix things up, I'll split a Hello Fresh delivery with my boyfriend for some variety. Depending on your family situation, your meals will likely look very different than mine, and that's okay! Budget Tip: Email me if you want to try Hello Fresh, and I'll share my referral code for $30 off your first Hello Fresh box.
Schedule a weekly meal planning session. Take 30 minutes one day per week to plan your meals and shopping list. I spend time Sunday afternoon planning my meals, and it's a breeze and prepares me to go grocery shopping. My typical agenda is below, and while it might seem long, it rarely takes more than 30 minutes:
- Look at your calendar or planner and decide how many meals you need for the week. Consult with your spouse, a roommate, or children's calendars to make sure you on the same page. For example, some weeks I have my book club and won't need to plan for dinner. I typically write out my weekly meals in my Simplified Planner, and from there I can see any gaps. Tip: don't forget about snacks here! I plan for two snacks during each workday.
- Check your freezer and pantry. Are you out of staples? Do you have food that is about to expire and you want to use? Figure those things out now so you can choose your meals accordingly.
- See if there are any sales at your typical grocery stores. I do all of my shopping at Trader Joe's (there are no sales), but this can inform your meal planning for the week. Tip: You can easily view your local flyer for most stores online.
- Plan out your meals. Using the recipe bank you created above and starting with breakfast (it's the easiest!), plan your meals and snacks for the week and write them down. Whether it's in your planner or on a notepad on your fridge or in your calendar app, make sure you can see what's on the menu.
- Make your shopping list from the meals. Write down everything you need for the week, and be sure to stick to it. Tip: If you're prone to forget your list or aren't heading to the grocery store until later, go ahead and take a photo of it, too.
Head to the grocery store. Grab a snack, your reusable shopping bags, and get to shopping! This isn't required, but I like to add a rough estimate of prices beside each item so I don't have sticker shock when I head to the register. When I get home, I immediately unpack my groceries and start chopping, prepping, or roasting things as necessary.
Incorporate these steps into your PowerSheets. If you're starting from scratch, add "Create a bank of recipes" to your monthly goals next month. Maybe you add "Meal plan and prep" to your weekly goals. Whatever it is, writing it down will help keep you accountable! Tip: Use the grocery cart sticker from our sticker book to add some color to your PowerSheets!
Whew! That was a long post, but I hope it was helpful. Now it's your turn; I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share any tips or favorite recipes you have! I don't claim to be an expert in meal planning and prepping, and I'd love to learn from you!