Meal planning is just like it sounds. It is taking the time to think ahead about your meals, plan out your menu, shop for the ingredients and do the prep work. The benefits are that planning ahead saves you time and money, is better for your health, and reduces stress. Studies show that individuals who frequently plan their meals have healthier diets and are less likely to be overweight or obese. If you tend to wing your meals or meal planning is not something you regularly do, here are some tips that can help you get started.
11 Tips To Get Started With Meal Planning
1. Start Simple: Pick just a few nights per week to start with. If Meatless Monday is already part of your routine or one weekend night is always take-out, stick with it and maybe add one or two more nights into your plan.
2. Survey Your Household: Start with meals everyone in your family enjoys. If you have picky eaters or lots of meal preferences adding in a taco night or a PastaRx night is a great way to make one meal that can be tailored many ways.
3. Check The Weekly Ads: We often have a routine to our eating but checking to see what is on sale for the week or using seasonal produce is a great way to add some variety to your meals and also save you money.
4. Look At Your Week Ahead: Looking at your schedule for the week can help guide what meals you choose and when. If you know certain nights are later than others make that night your easiest meal that involves minimal food prep or make that your leftover night.
5. Make Extra Food For Lunches And Dinners: Buying in bulk can save you money and making foods in bulk can save you time too. If chicken is on your menu make some extra that can be used in salads for lunches or dinners. Cook or prep extra vegetables the night before as an add on for a quick Zone Pasta meal or to go with another protein choice.
6. Breakfast For Dinner: This is an easy meal that can be healthy too! Veggie omelets, oatmeal, or even protein pancakes for kids with fruit are healthy and quick options. Zone cereal and Zone Shakes also come in handy as they are fast, convenient, and already Zone balanced.
7. Don’t Forget The Snacks: Make sure to have plenty of healthy snacks on hand. Keep fruit, cut-up veggies, cheese sticks, nuts, ZoneRx bars and shakes and other grab-and-go options on hand. Keep the non-perishable items visible on your counter, in your purse, gym bag, car, or office, as something to have when hunger sets in.
8. Don’t Try A New Recipe Unless You Have Time: Keep the tried-and-true recipes to the weeknight meals and save the new recipes for a weekend or a day when you have time. The first time you make a new recipe always takes longer than expected. Save yourself the stress and frustration and only do new recipes when time is on your side.
9. Don’t Throw Out Your Weekly Menu: Use your meal plan as a jumping off point for the following week. This will be a guide so you know what worked and what didn’t and to save you time. This is a great way to know which ingredients you are running low on, which meals you should you make more of and what you might tweak next time.
10. Plan Ahead: Meal planning takes time so designate in your calendar what day and time you plan to make your menu, what day you want to shop, and when to do you food prep. Just remember all this planning and prepping ahead will make your weeknights go so much smoother.
11. Be Flexible: Things come up during the week, plans get canceled, events get rained out and if you have to push something or move things around don’t stress it. You’ll actually feel more comfortable changing things up knowing you have everything you need on hand.
The key with meal planning is to keep it simple. Even if you are using pre-packaged healthy foods to plan, that counts. Take it one meal or one day at a time and work your way up. As you get more accustomed to planning you will find you spend less time doing it and will reap the benefits that come from it; cost savings, weight control and improved health.
- Hayes JF, et al. Greater Average Meal Planning Frequency Predicts Greater Weight Loss Outcomes in a Worksite-Based Behavioral Weight Loss Program. Ann Behav Med. 2021. PMID: 32301494
- Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, Ibanez G, Allès B, Kesse-Guyot E, Hercberg S, Péneau S. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017 Feb 2;14(1):12. doi: 10.1186/s12966-017-04617.