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.
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.
2. Meal planning takes some of the effort out of trying to eat healthy.
3. Meal planning will probably save you money.
4. Meal planning can let you test out new recipes and have fun eating healthy.
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 levelDon’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 offThis 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 weekIf 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 planningWill 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 ingredientsSave 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:
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,