At one end of the spectrum there are those of us who plan everything, write to-do lists and seem extremely organised. At the other, there are those who stumble through life in a more haphazard way.
There is no right way, but when you are changing your health habits, it really helps if you make it as easy on yourself as possible. And meal planning really works!
In this blog I will take you through the steps to creating a weekly meal plan which will make your life easier, save you time and money and avoid food waste.
I promise – even the most spontaneous of you will be able to master this!
What is meal planning?
Meal Planning is about taking the time to plan your meals for the entire week. This way, instead of planning lunch and dinner ideas daily, you know ahead of time what you will be eating and will have the ingredients to make those meals.
The benefits of meal planning
Who skips lunch because they don’t have the time to prepare it and then binges on biscuits later in the day? Or orders a take out because you cannot decide what to cook? Maybe you are always throwing away food you did not use?
Meal planning and buying what you need, including healthy snacks for those busy days, takes the pain of this away and stops you making unhealthy choices.
The benefits of meal planning include:
- Reducing the stress of deciding what to cook.
- It saves you time. No nipping out to the shops to get that one ingredient you need.
- No more food waste! You buy and cook exactly what you need.
- You save money! No more buying food which sits in your cupboard or fridge going off.
- It broadens your palate and inspires you to get creative.
- You get to control what you are eating based on healthy choices rather than binging on unhealthy snacks.
- You have one less decision to make in the day.
Meal planning tips for healthy eating
So how do you set about creating a meal plan?
- Set aside a weekend to go through your fridge, freezer and food cupboards and take an inventory of what you have.
- Then start with what you have. Make a list of all food in your kitchen to be used up, including leftovers to be eaten.
- Then move to your pantry. Declutter! We all have those tins and packages which have been in there for some time and are most likely past their sell buy date.
- From now on, only store the items you will use regularly. This saves money and doesn’t allow any food waste.
- Avoid or keep sweet snacks to a minimum.
- Stock the essentials which have a long shelf life: legumes, nuts and seeds, grains and spices.
- Pick a time and day to plan your meals. I would suggest you do this towards the end of the week.
- Ask each family member for a list of their favourite meals to ensure there is something everyone likes each week.
- Try themed food nights, like meat-free Monday, or stir-fry Friday.
- Then, choose a shopping day and write your list.
Plan with healthy choices in mind. Always ensure half of your plate will include vegetables. This is great to load on essential nutrients and trying to eat the rainbow on a plate, by including lots of different coloured vegetables. If you order a regular veg box, then check what’s going to be included so you can plan around it.
Get in some variety and try experimenting with different recipes. Look online or at cook books for inspiration.
Always try to plan seasonally. That way you can buy seasonal and local produce. It is fresher, tastes better and has not been left in cold storage for months. There are some great seasonal veg boxes you can order in advance.
Don’t forget to include some healthy snack options for those days that you are busy, but please read the labels. Not all healthy snacks are what they seem. I wrote a blog about this last week. See my previous post.
Once you have your shop done, batch cook. Choose a day, for instance, Sunday, and do some batch cooking so you have food for the next 3-4 days. Then all you have to do is open your fridge, and the food is there.
You can batch cook brown rice and quinoa. Roast chicken or salmon and even steam enough vegetables for 3 days. This saves so much time and it especially useful if you work out of the home and need to prepare lunches.
Have plenty of room in your freezer as you can store batch cooking in there, too. Meals such as curries are great to freeze.
Use left overs for a next day meal or freeze for future use.
Tips to make the process easier
If you have children, include them in the planning and put the planner on the fridge so everyone knows what they are going to have. They may even like to help you batch cook!
Don’t feel like the meal you have prepared? Maybe you planned a salad, but it’s pouring with rain and you want something more comforting? Add in some flexibility – you can swap meals around.
Work-in a take-away day. Whether this is once a week or month, it’s ok to have a treat or a day off. Just avoid junk food!
For those of you where this feels like just too much – there are some great recipe boxes out there like Mindful Chef that provide healthy recipes and all the ingredients you need to make them. You are not as in control of the ingredients or where they are from but it’s a good starting point and you get to save the recipe cards for future shopping trips.
I hope you have found this post useful. Remember, this may seem daunting at first, but once you have done it once or twice, it gets much easier. If meal planning is new for you, then Let me know how you go!