If you’re new to meal planning, deciding what to make can be one of the most daunting and overwhelming parts.
Do you need to plan for every meal, make each one from scratch, and how much time will you need to spend in the kitchen to make it all happen?
The idea that meal planning has to be a big, time consuming and all encompassing chore is also a big reason why so many people feel frustrated and quit, often turning to convenience food shortly after they've started.
But meal planning can be simple, save you valuable time, energy and dollars!
And to help set you up for meal planning success, I've compiled a short list of powerful steps to help you score simple meal planning wins.
Step 1: start with a plan.
First, have a good look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer, taking stock of what you already have on hand.
Do you see anything that needs to be used in the next week before it goes bad? Great! You’ve got an idea of at least one ingredient you'll be using using in your upcoming meals. It’s easier to create some structure to your weekly meal plan when you have a few items in mind to base some of your meals around. I like to start with fresh ingredients first, using up any produce and proteins that are sitting in my fridge.
Next, it’s time to get planning. Your meals can be as simple or complex as you like. For some of my clients who prefer not to cook, planning dinner might look like grabbing a rotisserie chicken and bag of frozen veggies at the store, for others who enjoy cooking a bit but don't want to spend hours in the kitchen it might look like batch cooking chicken or ground turkey to use as a base in several upcoming meals, and for others who have more time and energy, it might look like prepping several meals at once and placing them in meal prep containers for easy grab-and-go during the week.
Take a moment to consider your schedule and lifestyle. How many meals do you want to create from scratch versus using helpful premade shortcuts? What meals will be most helpful to have prepared ahead of time versus those you'll have a bit more time to create in the moment?
As you begin the planning process it can be especially helpful to stock your kitchen with a few healthy staples that can be used in a variety of meals. This should include lean meats, fresh and/or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and oats, and canned goods such as beans, legumes, lentils, corn, green beans and diced tomatoes, as well as other supplementals like herbs, spices and seasonings.
Some of these ingredients you'll need to purchase more regularly and others you'll be able to purchase less often, especially when you buy in bulk at a warehouse store like Costco for example.
Pro tip: keep a running list on your fridge or kitchen counter of any items you may need to stock up on to make throwing together quick and simple meals a snap. For me that's often foods like a variety of fresh fruits and salad kits, dairy products like Greek yogurt, unsalted nuts and almond milk.
Step 2: what to make?
A simple way to help you narrow down weekly meal ideas is to use Theme Nights!
The concept is really simple: pick a day of the week and then a theme to go with it. It can be anything from a particular type of cuisine, to a rotating weekly meal that includes a specific ingredient. For example, maybe every Monday is Mexican night, Tuesday is leftovers, Wednesday is chicken, and Thursday is pasta, for example. The key is to pick cuisines and foods you like!
Once you’ve nailed down a few fun theme nights, you can get creative with the types of meals you want to make. This will also help you make good use of the ingredients you already have on hand in your pantry, fridge and freezer! Have some black beans? Use them in your Mexican dish. Got lots of fresh veggies to use up? Pair them with your chicken. Have pasta on hand? You've got your staple for pasta night.
This is also a great way to get others in your household involved. If you have kiddos in the home, have them help you come up with fun weekly theme ideas. What will they look forward to eating and can even help you create? Can you ask your significant other to take one of the weekly meal rotations and can divvy up the meal prep? Getting buy in from your household not only takes the pressure off "what's for dinner?" but also makes it easier to stick to your new healthy habit too!
As you begin to fall into a meal planning rhythm, you can explore new recipes to reduce boredom and infuse new fun flavors into your foods. Pinterest searches are great tool for breathing new life into your breakfast, lunch and dinner -- you can search by ingredient, cuisine and more! And of course our Mind + Body Elite blog is full of simple eat better recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and sweet treats too. The goal is to make meal planning simple, satisfying and fun!
Takeaway: remember meal planning is a tool that can make your life easier! The key is to tailor your approach to what works best for you and your lifestyle. It might take some trial and error, but with practice, you'll become more efficient at planning and preparing your meals, saving you valuable time, energy and money.
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women like you who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.