How to Start Meal Planning like a Pro
I’m the kind of person that likes to always have a plan, because I love structure. Having a plan takes the guesswork out of when I’ll workout, go food shopping, and even when I’m taking the dogs for a walk. However one of the most beneficial changes I have noticed is when I have a plan for my weekly meals.
From understanding exactly what to buy in the grocery store, to knowing my recipes for the week, and having most of the components of my meals made ahead of time, meal planning allows me to eat healthy, spend less, and save time.
But in the beginning, when I first started I was a mess. I had no structure.
Showing up to the grocery store with no plan was not out of the ordinary, nor was coming home with amazing ingredients, but having no idea what I was going to do with them. But thankfully, I took a step back, pulled myself together and made it a point to step up my meal planning game.
For those of you that want to also save the time, money, and stress that comes from cooking, check out my tips for hassle-free meal prepping to reap the benefits for yourself:
Check the Deals
Who doesn’t love to save money? Personally, getting a great deal is one of my goals in the grocery store, unless I am in a rush.
Make it a point to see what is on sale in your local grocer. Knowing what the deals are can serve two purposes:
- Saves you money, which is great on it’s own
- Allows you to know what foods to focus on, getting rid of the overwhelm with seemingly unlimited options
Once you know sweet potatoes and broccoli are on sale, you’ll know exactly what kind of recipes to search for, which takes us to our second step.
Get Down the Recipes
Once you know the foods you’ll be focusing on this week, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get reading.
Dust off all of those cookbooks you have unopened on your bookshelf, visit the amazing world of Pinterest, check out your favorite blog. Find recipes that share similar ingredients, sound delicious, are within reason for your cooking level, and inspire you.
Pick the 3-4 recipes you’ll be making for the week, unless leftovers really aren’t your thing, then choose more. Once you’ve identified your recipes we’re moving on to the next step, making your list.
Make Your List
There are few things more frustrating than missing an ingredient for a recipe. This is why your list is crucial.
Once you have your recipes identified, make your list. Normally, I actually have 2 lists, one with all of the ingredients for my shopping trip and then a second where the ingredients for each recipe are separated, so I am prepared in both instances.
This is the part where being mindful of the serving sizes will also come into play. If you know you want to also make enough leftovers for lunch, double the recipe, unless the recipe already calls for 2 servings. Need enough leftovers for you and your partner for lunch for the next day? Quadruple it.
I’ll also share be wary of upping the serving sizes of recipes you are making for the first time. Incase it doesn’t turn out how you’d hoped, in my household though, the dogs love it, especially when my recipe fails include sweet potatoes- their favorite!
So, now you’re ready to get shopping. But before you do, eat something! This way you don’t end up with goodies in your cart that weren’t on your list.
Aside from saving money from not eating out, meal planning allows you to save money by not indulging in those spontaneous purchases.
With your reusable bags in tow, stick to the items you wrote down, which should really be concentrated in the outer perimeter of the store. This is where you’ll normally find your fresh produce and bulk items, like nuts, seeds, grains, and beans. The plant-based essentials.
Check your items off as you purchase them, and sometimes I even take it a step further during checkout. Where I bag my purchases myself based on the recipe they will be used in. So when I get home my ingredients are already together and there is even less work for me!
So now we’re home, and ready to get our hands, and counters dirty! I normally start with the recipe that is the staple of my menu for the week, which is usually a soup.
Once that first recipe is going, I’ll prep my salad, simply cleaning the lettuce, and cutting up the leaves as well as the other toppings for it. Peppers, onions, tomatoes, beets, and cucumbers are all chopped up here.
I’ll also rinse canned beans if I am not making any from scratch, and once drained, add them to their own container. Making it even easier when I am ready to have my side salad for lunch and dinner. I’ll also use this time to make my grains for the week, like quinoa. And cook those vegetables that take a little longer, like sweet potatoes and collard greens.
Once the main components of my other recipes are fully prepped, like my tofu steaks, I am set. So only the basics are left on the day I’ll be eating them.
Meal prepping can be very overwhelming the first few times you do it. So some pointers I have for you are:
- Stick to recipes you are comfortable with
- Make sure you have enough containers for your meals
- Keep in mind a balanced meal includes grains, vegetables, and legumes
- Start with at most 2 recipes for the week
- Don’t be scared of prepared foods, like salsa, healthy sauces and canned beans to save you time, just be mindful of their sodium content
- Try to get as much done as you can in one day, which is usually the shopping day for me
- Save your lists, so you can rotate through them and not have to recreate the wheel
Do you have any go-to tips for your meal planning days? Or think any of the ones mentioned here will help you to get started?