I thought for my first real post I would tackle the topic I get asked about the most: how do you have time to make all these yummy looking meals all the time? Or alternatively, “I want to eat healthy, but I never know what to make when I get home” and “I try to eat healthy, but I just don’t have time to cook”. Well, barring some very specific life circumstances that really and truly make your life “too busy”, you probably have time to do something in the way of eating healthier. That something might be a teeny, tiny change in your life towards making healthier choices. But hey, that’s better than nothing and can certainly help you start moving towards making healthier choices. So what’s my trick for making healthy eating happen consistently? Honestly? It’s really just a small amount of planning.

 

The Info:

An example of meal planning that involves prepping all of your meals at once.

An example of meal planning that involves prepping all of your meals at once.

Assuming you have even a few minutes in your day to watch TV, browse the internet, or read a blog (yes, this means you), you probably have time to do some version of meal planning. What meal planning means to each person is completely variable, and can encompass entirely different processes for each person depending on their work, schedule, diet, and health goals. Generally, meal planning involves some level of planning out what you will eat for one or more meals during the following week. For some people, this means planning out every meal for the week, grocery shopping for all the ingredients, and then prepping, cooking, and pre-portioning those meals. See, for example, the meal planning and prep by @krysmarie81:

For someone else, meal planning could simply mean deciding what they will have for one meal and making sure that they have the needed ingredients on hand. Meal planning and prepping can be whatever you want it to be so that it suits your life and health needs.

Why bother adding meal planning into your life?

1. Meal planning can help you eat healthier.
I say can because meal planning to have beer and pizza every night doesn’t exactly achieve any health goals, but it certainly falls into the definition of meal planning. Assuming you plan your meals with the intention of improving your health and diet, meal planning can provide the opportunity to build more healthy meals into your diet. Deciding ahead of time that you’re going to have a delicious healthy dinner for one night, means you’re probably getting in many more healthy foods than you likely would have gotten if left to your own devices on the day of. What are the odds that hangry-you would decide on your own to pull out all those good ingredients and throw together something healthy and tasty after a long day? What are the odds that you’d even have the needed ingredients on hand come dinner time? Maybe you really would make it happen, and if so, keep up the good work! I know in my world, more often than not, when faced with this situation I say screw eating healthy, that sounds like too much work so let’s just order delivery food! And of course, this delivery food invariably consists of some questionable ingredients and cooking methods (I’m looking at you, fried egg rolls…).
2. Meal planning takes some of the effort out of trying to eat healthy.
When you sit down on the weekend and plan out the meals you will be having for the week, it takes some of the mental work out of eating healthy. It’s a lot less effortful to just know we’re having stir fry on Tuesday night than to the play the “what-should-we-make-for-dinner-that’s-still-healthy” game each night. Meal planning lets you know exactly what delicious thing you are about to cook and that you already have the ingredients for the whole thing in your kitchen.
3. Meal planning will probably save you money.
When you plan your meals, you make a grocery list that encompasses everything you will need for your as many meals as you have decided to plan out. This means when you walk into the grocery store, you can buy just the items you need for the week. I find myself adding in random items just because something sounds good much less frequently when working from a list for my weekly meal plan. Additionally, in the process of meal planning, you can assess what you already have at home and only buy the necessary extra ingredients. You’re not alone if you’ve ever gotten something at the store only to get home and realize you already had some of that ingredient at home. This saves you money by only buying what you need and saves you from the curse of shriveled extra produce at the back of your fridge. Lastly, the cost of buying ingredients to cook at home will almost always come in lower than the cost of eating out at a restaurant or ordering delivery food. That cost may not be apparent initially (delivery pizza and dollar burgers seem like the obvious cheaper choice at first), but if you do the math on buying whole ingredients, you generally eat better for equal or less money. I should note that I still eat out or order in sometimes, and there’s certainly a place for that in a healthy lifestyle. The difference is that when you meal plan, you can decide when to eat out instead of falling into it out of hungry desperation.
4. Meal planning can let you test out new recipes and have fun eating healthy.
This one depends on the style of meal planning you do; for people who pre-plan and prep all of their meals in one go, you’re often doing the same recipe for the whole week, and it generally follows a pretty similar recipe pattern. This can still be fun and enjoyable for many people, and can take off some of the performance anxiety of having to make new recipes all the time. For others, though, the best part about meal planning is the built-in opportunity to play with making new recipes and using new ingredients. This makes eating healthy fun and interesting, and take away that feeling of “depriving” yourself in the name of healthy eating.

 

The Tips:

Get your friends and family on board!

Have kids? Let them help you pick a dish or two to serve during the week. Maybe let them pick from a few healthy options and tell then that it’s their “night” each week. Get them excited about eating the meal they picked for their “night”. Have a partner or spouse? Get them on board and ask what they’d want to eat during the week. Live with roommates? Pick one or two nights a week to cook together and have some time to hang out while you make food together.

Check the weather for the week

If you’ll be having 90-degree weather one day, that’s probably not a great day to plan for soup–maybe pick a hearty salad or grilled meat and veggies. But if it’s going to be rainy and cold another day, maybe that salad doesn’t sound as good as a piping hot bowl of stew. Pick meals that will still sound appealing on the days you’re going to eat them.

 

Find recipes at your cooking skill level

Don’t pick recipes that are for experienced cooks if you’re just starting. There’s nothing more disheartening than starting a week of meal planning and realizing your first meal is beyond your skill level. Sad, failed food is not a great inspiration to keep going. But if you pick a recipe that is at your skill level, you’re more likely to succeed and have a great, delicious meal to keep encouraging you to go on. And the more you practice making food at home, the more your skills will increase and allow you to try out those more difficult recipes later on.

Optional: Prep ingredients or meals on your days off

This isn’t ideal for everyone, and there are some specific considerations to keep in mind if you want to go this direction (I will be talking about these in a later post). Some people find that prepping their ingredients or meals for the week ahead of time alleviates some of the time and effort needed during the week. Other people find that it takes too much time or that their prepped ingredients don’t taste as fresh by the time they cook with them. Use this tip if it makes sense for you, skip it if it doesn’t.

Plan to only have one or two new recipes each week

If you plan to make something brand new every single night of the week, you’ll probably end up burnt out and not energized enough by the end of the week to stick to your plan. Alternate in some known recipes that are easy and don’t require a ton of mental work to make.

Look at your (or your family's) schedule for the week while meal planning

Will you will be working late one evening? Kids have late practice one afternoon? Need to have a meal on the go between events? Plan accordingly: have something easy and fast planned for dinner that night, or plan to have food that you can bring with you; maybe you can use a slow cooker to have food ready for you when you get home; maybe you can make extras of a recipe earlier in the week and have the leftovers for dinner. 

Pick recipes that use some of the same ingredients

Save yourself some money and the frustration of leftover produce gone bad by getting some ingredients you can use in several meal recipes. As an example, carrots usually come in larger bunches, so find two or three recipes for the week that use carrots so you can get through the whole bunch in the week. If you can’t find a few recipes that use up the excess ingredients, consider turning the extras into your snacks for the week. Carrot sticks with some dip, celery and peanut butter, apple slices, blueberries in yogurt–all simple uses for the extra produce you may end up with.

What I Do:

I may do a more in-depth explanation in a later post, but here is the general outline of what I do every Saturday or Sunday:

I start by looking at our calendar and the weather; I have somewhat of an idea about what things I’d want to cook for the week, but leave the details up to after I see what’s at the market.
I go to the farmer’s market to get whatever looks good and in season, or whatever the vendors suggest is a good choice for that week. Based on those ingredients, I start coming up with recipes that will feature those items.
I always get certain staples at the market: eggs, yogurt, some fruit to go in the yogurt, some greens, onions, garlic, and some meat. Generally, I plan for one night a week of beef, chicken, salmon, vegetarian, and sometimes lamb or goat (or a repeat of one of the other types). I usually end up with enough leftovers to cover the 6th day, and I leave the 7th day free for eating with friends, going out, or eating up a meal I have stored in the freezer.
Once I have the bulk of my ingredients from the farmer’s market and have an idea of my meals for the week, I either find actual recipes for the meals or think of what else I would need (if I’m making up a recipe). I make a quick list of the things I need to complete these meals and get these at the market or at the grocery store (if the market doesn’t have them).
I usually freeze any meat that I won’t be using in the next two days, and put the rest in the fridge. I write up the meal plan on the wall so I can easily see what’s happening each day and prep anything that requires more time than I want to spend on it during the week (like making bone broth, sourdough bread, or a new batch of kombucha).
This is what works for me at this point in time. It is certainly a lot more time and effort than many people are ready to put into the meal planning process, and absolutely much more developed than when I first started meal planning. For me now, this is a fun and relaxing way to get out each weekend, walk around, talk to my local farmers and vendors, and enjoy the weather and the process with my partner.

How to Start in Your Life:

  • Start small and work your way up. If you have never done any meal planning, consider starting with just planning one or two meals for the week. Or maybe plan out only what you will have for breakfast every day.
  • Or maybe, do what I do, and go all in because you’re crazy–meal plan for the whole week, but at least start with simple, known recipes for the first week. Just know what style works for you and find a way to keep it simple at the start. You’re less likely to end up feeling overwhelmed and give up if you start slow and work your way towards your end goal.
  • Look at Pinterest, search online, or flip through some cookbooks to find a few recipes that inspire you. Find a few healthy and reasonably easy recipes that can kick start your meal planning process. Finding recipes that you’re excited to cook will make it much more likely that you’ll actually follow through with your plan to make them.
  • Make an ingredients list for those meals and make sure to bring this with you the next time you are at the store!
  • Find out if there is a farmer’s market near you and test it out on a day off. Take your family or friends and make it a fun outing! Grab a few things that look good and decide how to work them into a meal or two during the coming week.
  • Keep playing and experimenting: see if adding more planned meals each week works for you or not. Try new recipes, or try a new way of planning your meals to see what works best for your life.

Give it a try and comment below with what you did and what worked for you!

Keep it real,

L