- Dina Cohen
Top 5 Meal Planning Tips
Fall is around the corner, and for many, that means getting back onto a schedule. You might be looking for ways to streamline your routine, and meal planning is a great way to do just that. Having your meals planned in advance can reduce stress, save time and money, and improve your nutrition.
If the thought of planning (or prepping) meals in advance intimidates you, that's totally understandable. It can feel like a lot. After all, we need to eat every day, multiple times a day, and if you're responsible for other family members, you'll be planning for them too. Here are some ways to enjoy the benefits of meal planning without getting stuck in overwhelm.
1. Choose A Goal
It's easy to get bogged down when you are trying to do too many things at once. If you're trying to plan a week of meals that are easy, inexpensive, unique, and practically perfect in every way, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, think about your week and what will be going on. If it'll be a particularly hectic week, then you might want to prioritize "easy". If you have time to spare and enjoy cooking, maybe you want to try more gourmet ideas. If saving money is important to you this week or month, then you can base your plan on budget-friendly ideas. And if you've been wanting to include more nutrient-dense ingredients, then selecting dishes that include those ingredients can keep you focused. While it would be lovely if every meal checked off all your boxes, that's not always possible, and prioritizing one aspect can make meal planning a lot more doable.
2. Bite Off Only What You Can Chew
True, it would make grocery shopping easier if you had every meal planned for an entire month, but that can be too much of a task for most of us. Instead, think about where you'll get the most bang for your buck. If you have no problem planning dinner spontaneously but get overwhelmed packing lunches, then planning and shopping for lunches might be more advantageous for you. If the reverse is true, then you'll benefit most from planning out your dinners. There's no need to do it all. You can still make your life much easier by planning just one aspect of your week.
If you're bored of your own meal rotation, keep in mind that to your friend, it's a treasure trove of new ideas. Swapping ideas with a friend (or with multiple people) can inject a dose of freshness into your meal planning. Simply asking a friend what she had for lunch or dinner the previous week can provide you with a plan for the following week.
4. Set Yourself Up For Success
Pick a time, place, and pretty meal planning template. (There are many free printable ones online). Meal planning is more likely to get done when it becomes a predictable part of your week and when the process is as attractive as possible. Choose a time when you have 15 minutes (preferably undisturbed) and that makes sense in your week (before you do the bulk of your shopping).
5. If Relevant, Include Your Family
You know what they say: you can't please everyone all of the time. But you will want to please most of them most of the time so that meals are a pleasant experience. One way to do this is to ask family members to list their favorite meals (or parts of meals) and create a master list. Then you can ensure that there is something for everyone to enjoy at each meal and that everyone's favorite meal is featured with some regularity. This helps family members feel considered and respected while teaching them to acknowledge other's preferences as well. It also contributes to fewer tantrums and makes your life easier.
I hope this was helpful to you! If you have any of your own favorite tips, I'd love to hear them!
Please note that when I reference meal planning, I am talking about a process in which you're at least one step ahead so that your nutrition is predictable rather than haphazard. The idea is to help you take better care of yourself and your family rather than limiting you to whatever you put down on your plan. Planning what you're going to have doesn't mean you must have it; it just means that you're not left floundering. If you choose to swap what you planned for something more spontaneous, that can be perfectly fine. In the absence of a medical recommendation, a meal plan is there to support your nutrition rather than dictate your intake.