When learning how to meal plan it’s easy to end up with more questions than answers. There’s a wealth of information out there, and it can be difficult trying to wade through it all while still being able to make sense of it. That’s why we decided to create our ultimate guide on how to meal plan for you. Everything you’ll need to know on how to be a successful meal planner can be found here.
Before the fun begins there are a few things you need to establish. There is so much more to learning how to meal plan than figuring out what to eat and when to eat it. Because it’s personalized to meet your needs and lifestyle, there are other things you need to take into consideration first.
Why Am I Doing This?
Having a clear goal in mind makes it easier to get started, and to stick with it. Do you have special dietary restrictions or needs and don’t want to keep eating the same foods everyday? Are you trying to lose weight but still want to satisfy your sweet tooth? Do you want to start a new diet, like paleo or keto? Maybe you just want to eat a little healthier? Do you suffer from a chronic illness, such as migraines, and want to create a diet that cuts out trigger foods?
There’s also the financial incentive- learning how to meal plan will help you save time and money in the long run. Perhaps it’s not the food itself, but rather your unhealthy spending habits? You don’t need to create a vision board or write down a vision statement, but having an honest conversation with yourself about what you intend to get out of this is very important.
Having a regular ‘cheat meal’ or entire ‘cheat day’ can lead to multiple days, then a week, and then you’re back to the beginning. Instead of allowing yourself the occasional indulgence (which, let’s be honest, always becomes an overindulgence) in a restricted food, find something similar in taste and texture. ‘Dessert’ and ‘healthy’ don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Who Am I Doing This For?
Meal planning is often associated with working parents who have to balance family, school, and extracurriculars. They barely have any time to cook a healthy meal every evening and are quick to reach for a take out menu. And while it’s certainly useful to big families it can also be a solo endeavor. But if there are other people involved they might want different things out of it than you do. Perhaps someone in your household has dietary needs that you’ll have to accommodate for, or has strong aversions to certain foods. Maybe they have a health goal in mind. If you’re not the only person who’s going to be eating the food, you will need input from the rest of your household.
This serves a secondary purpose of knowing how to scale proportions and serving sizes during the prepping and cooking itself. Speaking of which…
Do I Have What I Need?
This doesn’t mean the food itself, recipes, planners, etc. Take a look around your kitchen. Even if you aren’t sure what you’ll be making yet it’s always a good idea to have an adequate number of measuring cups and measuring spoons, a mixing bowl or two, good knives, a cutting board, and tupperware of various sizes. If your knives are dull either have them safely sharpened or replace them. Don’t splurge on fancy gadgets because you think you might need them, because there’s a chance you’ll never touch it, but it wouldn’t hurt to start comparing prices on a food processor. They are very useful to have in any kitchen.
Having these kitchen staples handy will be invaluable to you when you start looking at recipes. About that…
What Will I Make?
This is probably the most exciting part. Finding new recipes can be a lot of fun, especially with recipe generators and social media platforms dedicated to showcasing some of the tastiest and most aesthetically pleasing dishes out there. Before you fall down that rabbit hole though, you’ll want to establish a consistent source for your recipes. The fewers books, notebooks, and sites you have to use then the less clutter (physically and mentally) you’ll have. Whether it’s a personalized recipe finder or a special cookbook, try to keep all of your recipes together while occupying as little space as possible. Remember that meal planning and prepping is supposed to result in organization, time management, and saving money. Even if those aren’t the goals you identified they’re still things to strive for. Not doing so will sabotage your efforts at meal planning.
Have a few recipes in mind before you get started. Think of things you’ve always wanted to try and dishes you already have ingredients for. Looking for recipes should never be a hassle, nor should it be left to the last minute.
Once you’ve gotten a better idea of what your personal motivations are for meal planning you can take that first step forward. But don’t get carried away right at the start or you’ll burn yourself out. Meal planning can be a fun and exciting thing when you’re beginning, but it’s important to pace yourself. Look at the ‘logistics’ if you will, to make this transition into becoming a meal planner as seamless as it should be.
What Should I Make First?
Earlier it was said that you should consider dishes you already have ingredients for. Go around your kitchen and take inventory. Is there anything expiring soon? Something you have just enough of left to make a side dish? Again, less clutter is supposed to be a natural result of meal planning. This means clearing up room in the fridge and pantry before buying new groceries. The real question you should be asking isn’t what to make first but ‘What can I make with what I already have?’. If you’re not sure there are recipe generators you can use that will find something for you based on what ingredients you have at home.
You may not find enough in your kitchen to pad out the entire week so you can reverse engineer the process. Find a few recipes you want to start with and make a list of everything you’ll need. Go around your kitchen to see what you already have (and how much), and cross it off. When you’re done you’ll have a grocery list.
When Should I Do My Meal Prepping?
The short answer isn’t Sunday, but it also isn’t not Sunday. The long answer? Many people mistakenly believe that doing prep work ‘the right way’ means having it all done at the beginning of the week on Sunday. But that’s not a reasonable expectation for preppers worldwide to meet. For example if someone’s work week isn’t a typical Monday-Friday but rather a Tuesday-Saturday, then Sunday is the beginning of their weekend. No one wants to use their first day off doing more work unless absolutely necessary. In that case it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to do their prepping on Monday instead. Having all of the prepping done at the beginning of the week isn’t always possible either. Sometimes prep work is done the night before or the morning of. You can experiment a little to find the rhythm that’s right for you.