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Meal Planning 101

Are you looking for more time to spend with your family, while also enjoying delicious and nutritious meals? Meal planning can make our lives less stressful while making mealtimes healthier and more enjoyable. It can also save you time and money! Read to learn the 101 on meal planning.

Why Do We Meal-Plan?

Between work, family, and life, planning a healthy meal often falls at the end of the to-do list. Near the end of the day, there’s that panicked thought about what to make and whether you have the right ingredients to prepare it.

Before I started planning my meals out a week in advance, this used to be my normal, too. My husband and I kept a frozen pizza, deemed our “emergency pizza” in the freezer in case we arrived home to find that we really couldn’t craft anything out of the food we had in the house. Certainly, one night of frozen pizza or take out wouldn’t significantly impact our health (or yours), but as someone who was interested in a healthier self, weekly frozen pizza was not a recipe for success. It’s not a time saver, either, as frozen pizzas can take up to 45 minutes to cook in the oven! Health negatives aside, no one enjoys that stressful feeling of wondering what to make for dinner after a long day.

Benefits of Meal Planning

Once you start to get into a routine, you will start to reap the following benefits of meal planning:

  • You can plan healthier dinners and ensure that your whole week leads to a healthy balance of nutrition. For example, you can see whether you have too many days of pasta, or that you are lacking on fish dinners throughout the week. You can plan rationally for what you want to serve your family. (Getting them to eat it is of course an entirely separate matter, ha!)
  • Making dinner with a plan is a much less stressed, more enjoyable affair. You won’t have the anxiety creep up about what to make that evening while on your drive home from work. You won’t be concerned about whether you have enough beans or peppers to make the taco Tuesday dinner you thought up as you approached your home.
  • You can let your kids be a part of the planning process around food, which leads to improved acceptance by your kids when it comes to dinnertime. This makes for much easier mealtimes because your kids aren’t surprised by what’s on their plate!
  • Meal planning can save you money! Taking a grocery list to the store means no more impulse purchases. Later, it means no more rotting vegetables in the fridge that you forgot to use. Take out is no longer an expensive necessity. Also, you can plan meals around what you have left in your food budget. Budget tight towards the end of the month? You can plan more vegetarian meals and save recipes that call for fresh fish and meats for the next month.

How to Get Start with Meal Planning

  1. Print out a fun weekly calendar, or use a reusable one to keep track.
  2. Pencil in evening activities including kids’ sports, music, or art lessons, work deadlines, or other days when you might benefit from leftovers or quick and easy meal to prepare.
  3. Include any holidays or nights when you may want to plan something special.
  4. Take inventory of the foods you currently have in your home and start your meal ideas using the ingredients that you already have on hand.
  5. Start adding meals to all the open spaces! The fool-proof way to ensure well-balanced nutrition and zero stress is to plan out all three meals (and potentially snacks). If you are just getting started, planning main meals like dinner and school lunches is a good place to start.
  6. Put together your grocery list and head to the store. Most families find that allotting time for meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prepping all in one day works best for them, while others like to break it up by meal planning one day, grocery shop the following day, and meal prep the next – choose what works best for you and your family’s schedule, there is no one right or wrong way!

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Create a balance between your meals. Aim to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the week, and incorporate whole grains, legumes, meats, and fish as protein sources.
  • Vary how much work and preparation are involved. Cooking a gourmet meal every night is not a viable idea for most families. Keep things as simple as possible, especially in the beginning.
  • Make leftovers work for you! If you cook in double batches, you can enjoy a meal on another night and not have to cook at all. Or you can eat leftovers at lunchtime, saving you money and time. Plan this into your week.
  • Think about the meals that you and your family enjoy, but don’t forget to also explore new foods too! Take your kids grocery shopping with you and have them pick out one new vegetable to explore that week. Research shows that eating a wide variety of produce is the healthiest choice, so be conscious about choosing a variety.

Grocery List:

Once you have your calendar filled out, it’s time to get your grocery list together. Make sure you look at all the ingredients in each meal to ensure that you have everything you need. Don’t forget to take inventory of the foods you already have at home too. This can be the most tedious part of meal planning, but also the most important, so give yourself some time to get the list together. Having a grocery list will make shopping a breeze, as well as cut down on impulse spending. In the end, it’s all about saving time and money (all eating delicious and nutritious meals)!

How We Can Help:

If you love the idea of meal planning but are having a hard time getting started, or you want to be assured that your nutritional needs are optimized for you and your family, let us take the guess-work out of your meal planning experience!

Check out our Mediterranean Meal Plans created by our dietitian Jamie with you and your family in mind. While incorporating the Mediterranean Diet Principles throughout each week to provide a well-balanced diet, the meals are kid-friendly, super delicious, and super done-for-you! Each meal plans comes complete with a grocery list to save you time.

Do you or a family member have specific dietary restrictions? We offer a variety of options, including dairy-free, gluten-free, or fully customized. More info here.

Don’t forget to check out our meal planning workshop here