A few months ago, I shared how having a plan is the ONE thing that can really make your habits stick.
Planning – what you’re gonna do, when you’re gonna do it, and how you’re gonna overcome the inevitable obstacles that’ll try to stand in your way – is the key to successfully achieving all of your goals.
So, it should come as no surprise that the single best strategy to start eating better and preparing healthy, home-cooked meals, is meal planning.
When you plan your meals, you’re essentially answering the question: “What’s for dinner?” – at the start of the week, rather than every night. You sketch out what you’re gonna make, when you’re gonna make it and how you’re gonna handle the week’s potential obstacles.
Knowing this information – in advance – keeps you on a healthy track and eliminates stress, while saving you time and money.
Meal planning isn’t hard, but it can be overwhelming – especially if you’re a newbie. To help simplify things, I’ve broken the process down into three basic steps:
These steps are pretty straightforward, but there are critical components within each one that makes them so effective. Today, we’re focusing on the first one – the planning – or choosing your meals and selecting your recipes.
I usually like to do this step on a Friday afternoon (with a glass of wine in hand) and I use these three questions to help me craft my meal plan for the week ahead:
Question # 1: WHAT AM I GONNA MAKE?
This is probably the most intimidating question in the entire meal planning process because the choices are virtually limitless. But you can easily stop your brain from swirling and successfully choose your recipes with these three tips.
If you’re a beginner, my first recommendation is always to start small and keep it simple. Burnout is real, so instead of cramming in a week’s-worth of big, complicated and elaborate meals, just focus on two or three quick and easy dinners. Once you’ve got those down, then you can add more recipes and/or include breakfasts and lunches into the mix.
Streamlining your week not only helps you decide what to make, but it also helps reduce the amount of time you’ll spend meal planning, shopping and prepping.
You can streamline your week by having designated days like Taco Tuesday or Soup/Salad Sunday (depending on the season) – then each week you’re simply looking for one taco recipe and one soup or salad recipe.
Another great way to streamline your meal plan is to choose recipes that share common ingredients and that leave you with ample leftovers. This tactic will save you money, reduce waste and prevent you from having to cook from scratch every night.
For example, if you’re making a Fiesta Quinoa Salad on Tuesday, use the leftover salad as a filling for stuffed peppers on Wednesday.
Search For Inspiration
Once you know how many recipes you’ll need for the week, and what type of cuisine or ingredients you’re looking for, it’s time to get inspired. Pull out the cookbooks, comb through Pinterest, search your favorite cooking blogs and select a few recipes that look and sound delicious and do-able.
Question #2: WHAT DOES MY SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE?
Now that you’ve selected your recipes, it’s time to check your calendar and determine what type of meal you’ll need for each night of the week.
How do you do that?
Busy Tuesday night? Make sure you have leftovers from Monday ready for when you get home. Yoga after work on Thursday? Go with a slow cooker meal for a more hands-off dinner. Going out with friends on Saturday? Don’t assign a recipe to that day.
Pencil It In
There’s only one way to remember all of this and that’s to write it down. Add your dinners to your planner, calendar or a magnetic whiteboard so that you know exactly what days you’re cooking what.
Here’s an example:
Sunday – Soup
Monday – Leftover Soup
Tuesday – Chickpea Tacos
Wednesday – Power Bowl
Thursday – Quinoa Burgers
Friday – Veggie Pizza
Saturday – Dinner Out
And always plan at least one no-cook night that’s reserved for eating leftovers or having a fun dinner out.
Question #3: WHAT’S MY BACK-UP PLAN?
Even the best meal planners face unexpected obstacles – sick kids, traffic delays, meetings that go long. On nights like this, you need a back-up plan with a few “emergency” meals to help prevent a dinnertime disaster.
I’ve discovered that the best back-up plans usually include:
A Good Go-To
A good go-to recipe is one that you know, love and turn to time and time again.
Ideally, it should be:
- Quick and easy to whip up (15 minutes or less)
- One you know by heart
- Made with ingredients you almost always have on hand
- A basic formula that allows you to swap in different veggies, grains, proteins and sauces to keep it interesting. Think tacos or my Go-To Power Bowls.
Having Your Favorite Basics On Hand
Something as simple as having a pre-washed package of arugula in the fridge and a can of chickpeas in the pantry can quickly become a delicious salad that makes a fresh and healthy dinner possible on those hectic nights.
Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go perfectly as planned. Know that they wont, trust the process and adjust your plan accordingly. There’s always tomorrow to get back on track.
Okay, so there it is! Part one of the meal planning process. I know this might seem like a lot, but just remember that – like anything – the more you do it the easier it becomes.
I’ll be expanding on steps two and three (the shopping and the prepping) in future blogs, so keep an eye out for those.
AND, as always, you know I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do you meal plan? If so, what’s your best strategy? Conversation sparks inspiration, so share your thoughts in the comments below.
Happy Planning! 🙂