From tips to resources to a specific how-to, I’m sharing 12 Tips for Meal Planning Success. If you’re in need of some motivation to keep up (or start) your meal planning endeavors, look no further!
For most of us, the return of August means the return of school, schedules, and getting back into some sort of routine. For many, the return of August also means the return of meal planning, food prepping, and healthy eating.
Chances are you know of at least one person or family that utilizes some aspect of meal planning. Maybe that means throwing together a few pre-portioned baggies of smoothie ingredients for a quick breakfast throughout the week, making enough dinner to have leftovers for work the next day, or, heck, piecing together an entire week’s worth of meals. I’m constantly inspired by the meal planning abilities of my friends Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean, Katie of Mom to Mom Nutrition, and Jessica Levinson as well as numerous others quoted below.
“Food prep is probably the most under-rated, under-utilized healthy living tool. Making it a habit to spend even one hour on the weekend to prep food can make a huge difference in your food choices during the upcoming week.” – Lindsey Livingston, The Lean Green Bean
Is Meal Planning Right for Me?
Have you ever entertained the thought of incorporating meal planning into your routine but shied away because you’re just not quite sure where to start? Maybe you’re intimidated by how much perceived effort it will take or you’re scared that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to meal plan. Cast those misconceptions to the side!
I’m a firm believer in meal planning but I’m terrible at it! I’m not even going to sugar coat it. I really, really try hard to do it and it never fails that life happens. Life is often filled with fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants meals or restaurant takeout. While we do all sit down together to eat our chaotic, thrown-together meal, the nights when I do plan, make such a difference in how the rest of the evening goes for my family. That’s why I called on the best meal planners I know to share their top tips to inspire not only me but all of you too.
I reached out to nutrition professionals and expert meal planners to provide you with these Top 12 Tips for Meal Planning Success. These 12 nuggets of knowledge will help steer you in the right direction for a smooth, successful, and satisfying meal planning experience.
Meal Planning Success
- Make a Weekly Menu
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We all knew this tip would probably show up, but it really is the driving force behind a successful meal planning technique. It doesn’t have to be intricate and include every last detail, but it should offer you a basic framework of meals you intend to have throughout the week, whether it be typed up on a fancy chart, or scribbled on a scratch piece of paper.
Take a tip from Amanda at Nutritionist Reviews and carve out a specific chunk of time on a certain day of the week to put your plan all together. She usually uses Thursday or Friday, but find a day that works for you! Or, try keeping a running list of ideas hanging on the fridge that you piece together at the end of the week.
2. Plan Meals With Leftovers in Mind
Dena from Back to the Book Nutrition reminds us that leftovers can be a legitimate dinner! Leftovers can come to the rescue better than the pizza deliveryman any day of the week. Whether you use leftovers for lunch the next day, or as dinner round 2, they’re a great way to minimize cooking time while still providing you and your family with quality, nutrient dense meals.
Need some ideas? Bridget Swinney of Eat Right Mama suggests shredded chicken that can go in tacos one night, then top a southwestern inspired salad a few days later. Or, grilled steak or salmon can be great alone, or included in a quinoa salad or wrap.
3. Incorporate Versatile Ingredients
Similar to planning with leftovers in mind, have a few ingredients or foods that can fit into various meals and dishes. Baked chicken can be eaten on its own, chopped up in a salad, or stuffed in a quesadilla. Hardboiled eggs can be a quick breakfast item, or be included in a Cobb salad for dinner.
4. Start Small
Overwhelmed by the thought of planning every meal all at once? You don’t have to map out a whole week with every meal right off the bat! Kati Mora and Jessica Levinson both suggest starting off by planning just one or two meals and gradually working your way up.
And remember, there’s no one right or wrong way to meal plan! If you only want to plan breakfasts for the week and wing the rest, that’s okay!
5. Take Inventory
Jessica Levinson and Sally Kuzemchek of Real Mom Nutrition both agree with taking a look at what you have in the fridge and pantry and start from there. This can help eliminate food waste while also help to save money! Try to incorporate some ingredients you already have into meals for the upcoming week to cut back on food waste.
6. Cook in Bulk
Freeze, freeze, freeze! When buying and cooking, double the recipe. Use half during the week and stick the other half in the freezer to have on hand for those inevitable busy weeks that always seem to pop up out of nowhere.
Not one to freeze meals? Even cooking grains in bulk at the beginning of the week can help cut back on prep time throughout the remainder of the week as well.
7. Keep Your Plan Visible
Whether you have your plan written down in a planner that you look at every day, or have it hanging on the fridge, having it visible will jog your memory during the week and keep you focused on the meals you have planned waiting for you in the fridge – it works for Kati!
8. Chop and Cut Once
Cutting and chopping can take up a lot of precious time. Looking to “cut” out some of that extra prep time like Dixya of Food Pleasure and Health? Do all of your veggie and meat chopping and cutting at one time at the beginning of the week, rather than each night of the week. She also suggests having a big bag designated to food scraps sitting near you – this makes cleanup easier, and you don’t have to keep going back and forth to the trashcan.
Bonus, you only have to clean up knives and cutting boards once!
9. Know Your Schedule
Mandy of Nutrition Nuptials makes it a point to look at her calendar and note any appointments, workouts, meetings, or other engagements that could potentially cut into dinner time. Makes sense! If you know your kid has baseball practice every Tuesday until 7, you might decide to have leftovers, or having something that can be heated up in a matter of minutes, rather than a meal that requires a longer cook time in the oven.
10. Keep Things Simple
You don’t have to throw together elaborate dishes to put on the table each night. Focus on including a balance of ingredients and food groups, even if that’s just baked chicken with a different marinade than you usually use, steamed broccoli and quinoa with a squeeze of fresh lime.
11. Get the Kids Involved
Rebecca Clyde, founder of Be Truly Nourished, suggests allowing older kids to help wash, cut, or prepare some food items. Giving younger kids the opportunity to help choose between meal ideas can make them feel like they took part in meal planning too. Who knows, they may be more likely to try a new food, knowing that they had a part in making it!
12. Keep a List of Successes
Have a meal that went over well, was easy to prepare, and that your family loved? Rebecca also suggests having a designated place, whether it be a recipe box or a note on your phone, where you keep a list of these meals. It’ll come in handy when you’re drawing a blank on new meals to prepare, or when you are low on motivation to plan a full week of new meals.
Meal Planning Resources
I’ve covered the top 12 tips for meal planning success, but do you still feel like you could use a little extra support and guidance moving forward? If you answered yes, fret not! I also asked some of these nutrition professionals and meal planning experts for some of their resources they use in effective meal planning. Below, I compiled a number of printouts, charts, and other resources they’ve created to help organize your next attempt at meal planning.
Meal Planning Worksheet via Real Mom Nutrition
SCALES Process for Planning Meals, from My Menu Pal
Weekly Menu Planner & Grocery List via Nutrition Nuptials
Top 10 Healthy Convenience Foods via Mom’s Kitchen Handbook
Time Saving Ingredients List via Nourish Breathe Thrive
If you’re looking for an even more comprehensive guide that will provide in-depth details and tips for meal planning success, then you MUST check out The Ultimate Guide to Food Prep, an ebook created by Lindsey Livingston of The Lean Green Bean!
A special thanks to each of the contributors that offered their advice, experience and tips for meal planning success. Check out these additional posts for an extended look at meal planning ideas!
More Meal Planning Advice
Preparation: The Key to Success via Shaw’s Simple Swaps
Ready, Set, Meal Prep via Nutrition Nuptials
Menu Plan Monday via Jessica Levinson
Meal Prep Tips via Hungry Hobby
Tell me…have you ever meal planned and prepped before? How did it go? What were some tips for meal planning success that you found helpful?