Meal planning is a fantastic way to save you time, money, encourage healthy eating, reduce stress around cooking, and find more ease in the kitchen. If you’re a beginner, here are 6 easy steps to get you started.
I haven’t always been big into meal planning. I generally have a rough idea of what meals I’m cooking for a few days, but nothing overly structured. This has partly been due to living downtown. Since we don’t have a car, doing large grocery shops hasn’t been very feasible, so I’d stick to picking up bits and bobs every couple of days.
And while I enjoy visiting the store on a regular basis to have fresh foods throughout the week (and sticking to my list of grocery staples), the lack of structure meant it was easy to fall into the notorious trap of not knowing what to cook, feeling uninspired in the kitchen, or resorting to some kind of takeout from a local restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, we love going out for dinner (it’s one of our favourite things to do living in the heart of downtown Toronto). But it’s easy to lose your groove with cooking when you simply aren’t prepared.
But along came meal planning. Part of my reason for beginning to do it in a more structured way was the pandemic and how it (drastically) changed the way we shopped. It was no longer convenient to pop into the store a few times a week, nor was it encouraged. Spacing out our trips to the grocery store and planning for it accordingly became almost necessary. As a result though, we came up with a little meal planning system that ended up working really well — even better than before.
What is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is simply planning out the meals you’re going to eat for the week and grocery shopping based on the ingredients you need. That’s basically it.
It doesn’t need to be super rigid. In fact, some of the most important things when it comes to proper meal planning is designing it in a way that suits your lifestyle, and making sure that you give yourself wiggle room. By wiggle room I mean, y’know, a night or two eating out (or ordering in), and not putting pressure on yourself to cook some kind of elaborate 3-course meal seven days a week. Keep it simple.
Meal planning is a fantastic way to save you time, money, encourage healthy eating, reduce stress around cooking, and find more ease in the kitchen.
It helps take the “ugh” factor out of those Wednesday nights when you’re standing in your kitchen staring at a potato on your counter trying desperately to find the energy and will to cook something. When your meals are planned out and you’re stocked up on ingredients accordingly, life is so much easier. Promise.
Are ya ready to learn how to meal plan? It’s super easy. Let’s get started.
Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning
1. Make a Recipe Master List
This “master list” is a list of recipes that you know how to make easily and that you love and your family love. You can do this on paper, in a notebook, on your computer, or on your phone. Brainstorm and write down any and all recipes that you love cooking.
You can always add to this list. In fact, I encourage you to add to it every time you learn a new favourite recipe. This gives your meal plan variety, or else you’ll end up eating the same things all the time. Get inspiration from blogs and books. Some of my favourites include Joyous Health, The Healthy Maven, Danielle Walker, and Downshiftology.
This master list is what you’ll refer to when you’re planning out your meals. It makes it a lot easier than sitting down and trying to think of recipes randomly off the top of your head.
It’s also important to include some general breakfast, snack, and lunch ideas. I’m usually more flexible with these and don’t plan them too strictly. Just have a list of some favourites so that you can include them as part of your grocery shopping, and so that you have the ingredients stocked up for the week.
2. Choose Your Grocery Shopping Day
Take a moment to think about the best day and time for you to do your grocery shopping. For most people this is Saturday or Sunday. We do our shop on Saturday mornings. Regardless, this should be a day where you’re not rushed and you can take your time. Having this day in mind will give you a sense of routine and consistency.
3. Look At Your Calendar
What’s coming up this week? Plans, events, outings? Do you have an “order in” night that you enjoy with your family? For us, on Fridays or Saturdays (or both) we often like to go to a restaurant (or order in, as is the case with the current state of things). This is a big part of our lifestyle. It’s something we look forward to each week.
While cooking at home is one of the best ways to support our health, you don’t have to cook homemade meals every day of the week. You might not even need to depending on what’s in your calendar. Adjust your meal plan as per your lifestyle and schedule.
4. Write Out Your Meals
This is the fun part! It’s time to actually meal plan. I usually do this on a Saturday morning while drinking my tea. Sean and I sit down and brainstorm what we’d like to eat. This is when you want to grab that recipe master list!
It’s pretty likely you won’t stick to an exact plan through the week, so it can be helpful to write down an extra meal so that you have flexibility with changing things up if needed. On Thursday you just might not feel like eating a stir fry. You can always play around with what you’ve got.
Tips: Try and keep variety in your meals. For example, try not to plan too many tomato-based dishes like spaghetti, chilli, and pizza. Also, try and include a couple recipes that make lots of leftovers, like soups, stews, stir frys, or oven roasts. Here are some examples:
- Veggie stir fry
- Salmon, steamed broccoli, and potato salad
- Lentil or Potato Leek soup
- Roasted chicken, sweet potato and veggies
- Cabbage casserole
Remember that these meals don’t have to be set in stone on specific days, you can always jiggle things around.
5. Make Your Grocery list
Step 5 is to write out your grocery list based on what you need for your chosen recipes. Make sure that you check to see what you have on hand already in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
I recommend organizing this list by headings that correspond to sections of store, e.g. produce, freezer, eggs/meat, dried goods, organic section. This will help you navigate the aisles and shop so much more efficiently.
6. Get Cooking!
Now that you’re all stocked up, you’re ready to get started with cooking! Make sure you keep your meal plan handy by posting it on your fridge or keeping it on a convenient and visible spot in your kitchen. This way you can refer to it when you’re choosing what to make though the week, since you likely won’t be memorizing those meals for each day (and because you may want to move things around).
If you want, you can also take 30-60 minutes to meal prep a little bit after you’re home from grocery shopping, but this is optional. Sometimes I like to chop up kale or melon and have it stored in my fridge in containers so it’s ready to go, but again, optional.
And that’s it! By the time your grocery shopping day day approaches, you’ll be low on groceries again and ready to stock up again and start the cycle over. Woohoo!
Do you meal plan? What method do you use? Do you do any of the things I mentioned? Let me know!