Are you new to meal planning and trying to make it a habit? Or are you a seasoned professional who relies on a meal plan to get dinner on the table each week? No matter which end of the meal planning spectrum you're on, it's clear that meal planning is essential to eating healthy at home. To make meal planning easy, today I’m sharing 10 tips to streamline your process.
1 | Make a List of Favorite Meals
Before even looking up a recipe or cracking a cookbook, make a list of your family’s top five to eight meal types. Ours looks something like this: Pasta and Zoodles with Sauce, Tacos, Bowls, Stir-fry, Soup and Salad. Once you have a list of the types of meals you prefer you’ll have a framework for your plan, which will make finding specific recipes easier.
Related: Healthy Real Food Meal Plan--use these plans as inspiration for your list.
2 | Bookmark Favorite Recipes
Create a folder in your Internet browser to keep track of bookmarked recipes from your favorite blogs so you can quickly find meal inspiration. Keep the number of recipes bookmarked reasonable so that finding one for your plan doesn’t become overwhelming.
Related: Subscribe to Real Food Whole Life and you’ll get an email with a link to a free Real Food Meal Plan to make your process easy.
3 | Create a Pinterest Board, Keep it Minimal
Pinterest is a fantastic way to collect recipe ideas in one easily accessible place. If you’re a Pinner, create a separate board and pin weeknight friendly, easy meals to that board. I find limiting the total number of recipes pinned allows me to quickly reference the board to make a meal plan.
If you make a recipe from your board and it’s a dud make sure to delete it promptly. Similarly, if I make a recipe and it’s a hit, make a note or move it to a "favorites" board.
Related: Find meal planning and recipe inspiration on the Real Food Whole Life Pinterest page.
4 | Decide on Total Number of Meals.
Don’t feel like you have to plan seven meals just because there are seven days in a week. Do you eat out once or twice a week? Do you often end up with leftovers that can be repurposed or eaten another night? Are there nights you just cook whatever’s left in the fridge and pantry? Does planning five-seven meals just seem too arduous?
Plan the number of meals that works for you and that’s realistic, keeping in mind your own unique needs. I usually plan four specific recipes, leaving three nights open for cooking with what we have, eating repurposed leftovers, and eating out.
5 | Add at Least One No-Brainer Meal
No-brainer meals are those you can cook at the end of a long day without too much effort. It’s easy to get carried away with planning complicated recipes during the weekend, only to find you’re not up to it once the day to make them rolls around.
Related: Use Top 10 Real Food Recipes of 2015 to find popular, quick & easy real food recipes to add to your "no-brainer" list.
6 | Add at Least One Slow Cooker Meal
Slow cookers are a life saver when it comes to meal planning. Take a look at your calendar before planning to determine if you have nights you’ll be home late to start dinner, then slot a slow cooker recipe for that night. Alternatively, plan a slow cooker meal for a night you know you’ll be tempted to hit the drive-through or order takeout. Knowing dinner is already cooked and waiting for you will help to avoid the temptation.
I use this slow cooker because it has a timer that I can set in the morning for a specific time. Once the meal is cooked for the specified time, it switches to warm so my dinner is warm and waiting for me, without overcooking, no matter what time we get home.
Related: Use Top 10 Real Food Slow Cooker Recipes to find popular, quick & easy slow cooker recipes.
7 | Write and Post your Plan
Once you’ve selected your meals, write them down and post the meal plan in a place where everyone can see it. Curious kids can check the plan if they want to know what’s for dinner, and it allows the person who gets home first to know what to start for dinner.
Related: Download the Real Food Whole Life free meal plan printable, then print out several copies to keep on hand to use each week.
8 | Make a Grocery List
Use your meal plan to create a master grocery list for the week, creating a separate section on your list for each department within the store to make shopping easier. Having all the ingredients on hand will make weeknight meal prep simple.
Make It Work For You
9 | Cook and Note what Works
As you cook through your meal plan, make a note of the recipes and meals that work best for you and your family. Which recipes did you look forward to making, which were doable on a busy weeknight, and which were popular with everyone at the table? Make a note of those recipes that worked and make them again!
10 | Save your Plan and Use it Again
There is no reason to create a brand new meal plan every single week unless you really love the process. Consider creating four plans and then cycling through them each month. You can always add a few new recipes in here or there, but for the most part having a few “go-to” meal plans on hand will streamline your process and make your life a little easier.
What's missing from my list? How do you make meal planning easy?