Learn everything you need to know to start meal planning! All the best ideas, shortcuts, and time-saving tips to make meal planning a habit that sticks.
Ever heard the expression, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail?”
This couldn’t be more true when you first start dieting or working on living a healthier lifestyle. Just think back to the last time you “cheated” on your plan. Most likely it was due to the lack of a plan - forgetting to pack lunch, feeling stressed at dinner time and opting for takeout, falling back into bad habits because you're starving and just don't know what to eat. The fact is that when you plan out your meals, you are more likely to reach your goals.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help you start meal planning!
Meal Planning 101
- Set Your Schedule: Whether you decide to meal plan weekly or monthly, it is important to set up your meal plan schedule and dedicate time to finding recipes and creating your meal plan. This should also include your shopping day(s) so you can make grocery lists. Personally I like to meal plan weekly. I create my plans Saturday mornings (although I save recipe ideas constantly) and shop on Sundays.
- Create Theme Nights: Starting each week from scratch can make meal planning take forever, so pick theme nights to speed things up and limit your recipe choices. For example, I like to make a slow cooker meal weekly for Sunday dinner and use those leftovers for lunches throughout the week. Monday is pasta night and Friday is takeout food at home – burgers, pizzas, etc. I also always include one seafood dish, one chicken dish, one beef dish, and one pork dish weekly. This speeds up meal planning immensely since I know what recipes to look for. Some ideas for theme nights could include – Taco Tuesdays, Grilling Night, Meatless Monday, Friday Fish, Pizza Night, Sunday Slow Cooker, etc.
- Create an Easy System to Save Recipes: One of the best ways to speed up meal planning is to have a go-to place full of recipes that you and your family will enjoy. That way you don’t spend hours searching online. Pinterest is a great place for this. You could use a binder at home, Evernote, or virtually any system that makes it quick and easy for you to find a recipe. You can also save your favorite recipes right on Slender Kitchen using the Favorites icon (just click on the + sign on any recipe photo and choose the heart icon) if you are a member of the Slender Kitchen community.
- Build Your Calendar: Now you want to build your calendar/meal plan. This can take any format – it just needs to be something that works for you. For a quick dinner meal planner, simply fold a paper in half the long way. On one side write your meals and on the other side build your shopping list. Then save those sheets in a folder or binder for easy access in the future. You can build your meal plans in Word or Excel for an electronic version. Finally you can use a meal planning app or service (like our interactive meal planning) to organize your recipes and meal plans.
- Anticipate: This is one of the most important parts of successful meal planning – anticipation. Be realistic about how many meals you will prepare each week. If you always eat out twice a week, don’t plan for those meals. Additionally, always consider your schedule. If Wednesdays are always incredibly busy, plan on a meal you can make ahead of time or throw in your slow cooker that morning.
- Monthly Freezer Meals: Since we can never fully plan, I like to make 2-4 healthy freezer meals at the start out each month that I can pull out in a moment's notice. Usually this includes things like soups/stews, enchiladas, lasagna, stuffed peppers, and other freezer friendly options. Then when I know a hectic week is coming I can plan on these or pull it out when needed.
- Start Slow: Perhaps the most important tip for beginning to meal plan is to start slow! If you have never meal planned before, don’t start out by creating a full meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yourself. It will take you hours and hours to create the meal plan. Instead start out by planning for 3 dinners and breakfasts weekly. See how that goes and then add on as you begin to get better (and more efficient) at meal planning. The other option if you want to dive right in, consider using a meal planning service (like what we offer at Slender Kitchen) that does the meal planning for you. Then you can just spend a few minutes making any small modifications you need.
Want some help? Instead of spending time meal planning and creating grocery lists every week, why not outsource meal planning to us? Let us take the pain out of finding healthy recipes and figuring out what’s for dinner. We even create a categorized grocery list for you to make grocery shopping faster. Plus you’ll save some money only buying what you need! According to a recent study, shoppers spend 40% more money when shopping without a list.
Here’s how we can help -
- Every week, you’ll get healthy meal plan packed with easy to prepare, delicious recipes. Healthy eating, vegetarian, and low carb plans available.
- You can download this plan in one click or customize the meal plan in minutes by adding/removing recipes, customizing yield, and more so it works for your family and schedule.
- Download your complete meal plan, recipes, and shopping list to make grocery shopping a breeze.
- Save time, save money, and make meal time enjoyable and healthy!
What are your favorite tips and tricks for meal planning?