How to Meal Plan
If you’re tired of takeout or your fridge looks like a wasteland, Thrive Market to the rescue! Believe it or not, you can make a week’s worth of healthy meals and still have time to enjoy them. In fact, meal planning is a great way to save time, money, and ease your stress load. Before you hit the store in the middle of rush hour without so much as a shopping list, get organized and get a leg up on the busy week. Here’s how to meal plan like a boss.
BENEFITS OF MEAL PLANNING
Meal planning can save you in more ways than one—here’s what we mean!
You know the routine: Come home. Realize you have nothing for dinner. Run to the store and make dinner, order takeout, or hit a restaurant, and finally sit down to a meal about 45 minutes to an hour later. Meal planning helps you save time by removing the need to scramble for your next bite. In fact, studies show that planning meals ahead of time can save you roughly three hours each week.
Spend less on food and more on fun
Did you know that meal planning can save you about $150 a week or more? Sure, buying lunch, ordering in, or enjoying dinner out is convenient, but you could upgrade that night out to a fine dining experience by swapping in a few home-cooked meals during the week. Spending upwards of $40 for just one takeout meal can add up, especially when you’re eating out multiple times a week. Instead, shift your mindset and think of outside dining as a treat rather than a necessity. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll save when you trade your takeout menus for some healthy, at-home recipes!
Never open the fridge and ask, “What’s for dinner?”
Transform your fridge from a culinary black hole into a world of tasty eating options. Planning your meals at the start of the week will help limit indecision (and maybe some not-so-healthy decisions) later. Your weekly meal plan should include dishes that you can mix and match to create multiple options. For example, cooked chicken breasts can be paired with yams and broccoli or shredded and used for tacos.
Create family rituals
Ever notice how time seems to evaporate once the busy week kicks into gear? Between after-school activities, homework, and grocery store runs, getting dinner on the table can be tough—and finding the time to enjoy a meal together as a family can be even more difficult. With meal planning, you can spend less time stressing and more time with your loved ones. In fact, research shows family dinners have loads of benefits.
Grabbing a pastry because you didn’t have time for breakfast? Getting a fast food cheeseburger because you forgot to pack a lunch? Hey, it happens. Eating healthy becomes increasingly difficult when you’re in a time crunch, but eating something less than healthy on the fly reduces dramatically with a little advance meal prep. Swap that pastry for a homemade gluten-free muffin on your way out the door or that lunchtime cheeseburger for a mason jar salad, and you won’t be kicking yourself later.
Stick to your diet no matter what
Paleo? Keto? Low cholesterol? Meal planning is an excellent way to stick to your diet plan at home or wherever the day takes you. You can even pre-portion individual meals in containers so you can track exactly what you’re eating and how much.
Tired of piling your garbage high with takeout boxes or spoiled food? Cooking at home is a great way to reduce waste. Not only are you buying just what you need, but planning meals ahead also reduces the risk of forgotten leftovers.
TYPES OF MEAL PLANS
You can personalize your weekly menu depending on your needs. Here are some popular meal plans.
Family Meal Plan
Cooking for your family can be exhausting, but a little prep work and a smart weekly plan will help keep your family full (and restore your sanity). Survey your family for their favorite recipes, and try to get your shopping done over the weekend so you aren’t stressed later. Consider introducing theme nights (repurpose leftovers for taco night or “make your own pizza” night) to get kids more excited about what’s for dinner.
Weight Loss Meal Plan
Meal planning is key when it comes to dropping lbs. Taking time to buy healthy food for the week, recipe prep, and portioning out accordingly will diminish diet setbacks and ensure you’re getting the proper amount of protein, veggies, and nutrients for success. Pro tip: Plan for midday cravings and snack breaks by keeping cut-up, fresh veggies in the fridge or single-portion, pre-workout fuel stored in the freezer.
New Diet Meal Plan
Whole 30? Keto? Starting a new diet can be tricky when you’re unsure if a food meets the specified criteria. Meal planning takes the guesswork out of diets by ensuring you’ve stocked your pantry and fridge with approved essentials.
Pregnancy Meal Plan
When you’re eating for two, the last thing you want to do is spend more time on your feet trying to whip up a meal. Between morning sickness, exhaustion, food aversions, and food no-nos, it’s tough to get the nutrition you need to power through the day. Make-ahead meals can make a big difference. Try starting your day with a hearty bowl of overnight oats or digging into protein-rich crock-pot soups and stews. Your feet and baby will thank you.
BEST MEAL PLANNING TIPS
Stop worrying about dinner, and start planning a week of delicious meals with these helpful tips.
- Start on Friday: Your planning process for the week ahead should begin as you wrap up your week so you can head into the weekend with a solid game plan. Spend some time finding healthy recipes you’d like to try (consider incorporating dishes that yield ample leftovers or freeze well) and make a list of exactly what you need.
- Prep days: Just because you’re meal planning and prepping doesn’t mean you have to spend all weekend in the kitchen. Get a jump on the week by designating one or two hours to meal prep. Use this time to chop veggies, make sauces, or make a large batch of protein to incorporate into recipes throughout the week.
- Use similar ingredients: Overlapping ingredients are a must when it comes to meal planning success. Opt for a couple recipes that call for the same protein or repurpose cooked sides into main course dishes (the possibilities for using quinoa, for example, are just about endless). Buying ingredients you can use for more than one recipe will save time, money, and make your shopping extra speedy.
- Make meals with leftovers: Just because you’re meal planning doesn’t mean you have to eat something new every night of the week. Plan for a leftover night (or two) by making large batches of your favorite recipes at the start of the week.
- Use your freezer: Your freezer is your friend when it comes to meal planning. Freeze soups, sauces, pancakes, pizza dough, cooked rice, and more for easy meal prep in the future.
- Digital: From helping create simple shopping lists to recipe sourcing, to weight loss assistance, and food sharing, there are tons of meal planning apps available to help you stay organized with just the push of a button. You can also use Google Docs to create a simple weekly template with recipes, ingredient lists, and daily menus.
- Paper Planner: Not into digitally planning? Not to worry. A simple paper planner will do the trick just fine. Use a date book planner, or purchase an actual paper meal planner, which is so cute, it just might inspire you to keep up with your planning for years to come.
by Jillian Gordon for Thrive Market