Have you ever felt super stressed around dinner time, because you didn’t give it a thought until 30 minutes ago? Have you ever wished that ordering a pizza was the HEALTHY option?
I certainly have. It’s a real struggle. When you’re trying to eat healthy, and don’t have a fortune to spend, it takes a little effort.
That’s where meal planning and food prep days come in. This concept has been around for a while, and it has truly been a lifesaver for me. Read on, to create the best meal plan and prep strategy for YOU (and to download the free meal planning sheets I’ve included)!
Even though I’ve known ABOUT meal planning and food prep for a while, that’s not to say that I haven’t struggled with it…finding that perfect plan, and putting it into action.
For one, it’s hard to consistently sit down and spend time on it. And what about those last-minute wrenches that get thrown into your well-thought-out plan? It seems that all of that hard work and brain power was a waste…not to mention that head of lettuce rotting in your vegetable drawer.
Yes, you know you need a plan. The trouble is, figuring out what kind of plan.
The best meal plan and food prep strategy is the one that is right for YOU. If it helps you eat healthier and be less stressed, while saving time and money, then that’s the system you need to implement.
“Okay”, you may be thinking. “But, how exactly does this help me practically? What if I’m having trouble figuring out that plan?”
For starters, take some time to create a system.
You may not be much of a planner, but trust me, it will save you time, stress, AND money.
Number two, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and try out different things.
We go through different “seasons” of life, and every week may not look the same. Especially, if you’re just starting out, try a few different things. It won’t be a waste at all. The most important thing I’ve learned, is that there is no ONE right way to do your meal planning and food prep. This has allowed my food prep to be way less stressful, and more valuable to ME.
For this post I created a “blueprint” to help you create a system that’s organized, and works for your needs. To make it even more helpful and practical, you can also download my FREE printable meal planning worksheets. This includes the system I use to stay organized, and keep it all in one place, in case you need a little inspiration. 😉
Meal Planning Tips
- Frequency of planning– consider how often you need to make a plan. I used to plan every two weeks, but recently once per week has worked better for us. Find what works for you.
- Monthly (honestly, any sort of monthly plan will have to be really flexible. Unless you follow a strict eating plan, take your own food everywhere, and don’t care about finding things on sale)
- Freezer and pantry inventory– there may be a few forgotten items that you can put to good use, or a freezer meal hiding in there.
- Grocery store ads – checking to see what produce is on sale will help you eat seasonally, and also save money, if you include what’s on sale in your meal planning
- Farmer’s markets and CSA – factor these into the equation. Example: It might help to make your meal plan AFTER your trip to the farmer’s market.
- Pair meals for the week – find different meals that use at least one of the same ingredient. And find ways to repurpose leftover ingredients..soups, salads, and stir fries are great for this. Example: Make a meat with a sauce/gravy in the crockpot, and serve over “cauli-rice” with a veggie; later that week, you can use the meat in a lunch salad, and the cauli-rice in a tasty soup for dinner (I love this texture, by the way!), or seasoned with your scrambled eggs. Or, bake extra potatoes when you fix stuffed sweet potatoes for dinner, and they’ll be ready to eat with a quick lunch or post-workout snack.
- Plan for flexibility– I don’t know about you, but sometimes you get a dinner invite that wasn’t on the meal planning schedule, or you get home too late to fix the dinner you had planned for…*freak out time!* Just kidding. Leave one or two nights a week unplanned (or with a rough idea). Example: What works for us right now, is leaving one dinner a week open, since we usually are with our family, or have plenty of leftovers for a least one night. If we end up needing a meal that night, I have a few quick go-to options.
- Plan ALL of your meals – This kind of goes with what I just said; even if it’s better for you to not worry about EXACT planning for every meal, you’ll find that it helps to at least have a rough idea or favorite go-to options. Example: I know that we eat eggs and veggies for breakfast most mornings, but I don’t always plan WHAT veggie I will cook with the eggs. I just make sure I have a few extra veggies on hand to choose from. And sometimes I’ll plan a few specific combinations so that we don’t wind up eating the same thing, or run out of ideas.
- Pinterest– this is great for recipe inspiration, and even searching for a specific item. Example: You have a ton of broccoli, so you search “dairy-free broccoli soup“; you get a ton of broccoli soup recipes, which are all dairy free!
- Keep track of what fresh ingredients are needed for each meal – Write down what ingredients (produce) you need, next to each meal, so when you’re shopping, you know what to buy for just that week (or even part of the week). This will help reduce waste.
Food Prep Guidelines/Tips
- Pick a meal to make your main focus. You may not struggle at all with throwing together a quick lunch. But then again, that could be your biggest struggle. Figure out what meals are the most important for YOU to have prepped or completely ready during the week.
- Do you need a quick grab-n-go breakfast every morning? Chop veggies to have with your eggs, make egg and veggie “muffins”, make chia protein pudding, etc.
- Never have the energy for dinner prep? Make sure all of your dinners are ready to stick in the crockpot, oven, or frying pan. Example: chop, slice, or spiralize all of the onions and veggies you will need for dinners that week. Stick meats in the fridge to thaw. Mix together the spices for that pot-roast rub, or crockpot chili. Soak (and rinse) any rice, quinoa, or other grains you’re planning to eat; You can simply pull them out of the fridge without worrying about the soaking, and they’ll also cook faster.
- Make a couple of snacks. Example: What’s been working really well for us, is picking 2 or 3 snack options to make and have available throughout the week. I don’t buy prepackaged snacks of any kind, and sometimes it’s tasty to have something other than plain fruit, veggies, and nuts. So, it’s usually a Paleo bar or protein ball of some sort, veggie dip, homemade yogurt (with stevia and cinnamon) for my husband, kale chips, etc.
- Make ahead ingredients. If you’re making a recipe that calls for a canned/boxed ingredient that you would rather make yourself, then make that ingredient ahead of time. Example: you have a chili recipe that calls for canned beans. Soak and cook a whole pot of beans, and (bonus!) freeze the rest for later.
- Be efficient. This is the whole point of a meal-prep DAY, after all.
- Make sure you have everything listed out, and take a minute to think it over. Start with the things that will need to sit, bake, etc.
- Re-use dishes and kitchen appliances, when it makes sense. Example: after making nut butter, use the food processor to mix up a protein bar before you rinse it out. Or, reuse the same pan you hardboiled the eggs in, to make homemade ghee.
- Don’t think you have to do it ALL in one day. I used to think that it was useless, and I wasn’t doing it right, if I didn’t get every single meal halfway made, with multiple snack options, and then barely have to lift a finger for food preparation throughout the week. Then I realized that I was comparing my meal prep to everyone else’s. I make a TON of stuff from scratch, so it doesn’t work well for me to do meal prep AND restock our salad dressing, coconut milk, nut butters, hummus, and anything else we’ve run out of, in one day. If you’re in the same boat, this is what has worked well for me:
- I do any MEAL prep or snacks on my official meal prep day
- Then, I spread the other food prep (such as salad dressing, coconut milk, yogurt) throughout the week, and limit it to no more than one item per day. Usually, it’s something I can whip up while dinner’s in the oven, for example. This saves me from being in the kitchen ALL day on food prep day.
- Don’t do TOO MUCH food prep. You may find that things are going to waste because you’re not eating as much as you thought. Maybe certain meals end up getting skipped and prepped ingredients going to waste. You feel like all that planning and prep went to waste, since you are constantly mixing it up anyway. In this case, it might be more helpful for you to take a more flexible, mix-n-match approach. Example: Bake chicken breasts, make beef patties, bake sweet potatoes, soak and cook some rice, chop fresh veggies, wash and store salad greens, hard-boil eggs, and mix up a veggie dip/guacamole/hummus. All of these can be paired in various ways, and eaten as a meal or snack.
- Have fun! I love listening to podcasts (or watching Gilmore Girls…but you didn’t hear that from me 😉 ) while I’m prepping up a storm. You can pair up with your husband for some quality bonding time, too. 🙂
Easy Meals Throughout the Week
- Keep meals, and a running grocery list, posted in your kitchen
- Take 10 minutes every morning – look at that night’s dinner plan, and do any prep needed. This also allows you to assess how much time you’ll need to fix dinner, so you can plan for that.
- Crockpot dinners need to be started earlier in the day
- You may need to thaw something from the freezer
- Rice and other gluten-free grains can be soaked during the day, for more nutrition, and quicker cooking that evening
I am a planner by nature. You may not be. If all of this is freaking you out, I encourage you to start small. Stick with it, and you will be investing in eating healthy and saving money, every day. Create the system that works for YOU, and don’t be afraid to keep changing things up if they’re no longer working.
Click the link below to download my meal planning sheets!
Are you a meal plan or food prep master? Share your tips in the comments below!