Meal Planning 101

Meal Planning 101

I believe that the two keys to a successful healthy eating lifestyle are meal planning and meal prepping.  You can read more about meal prepping here.  Today, we are going to explore the basics of meal planning, and how it can help you live a healthy lifestyle.

A good solid plan is necessary to increase your chances of success for anything you are trying to accomplish in life, whether it’s a job change, renovating a house, losing weight, or eating healthier.  Going into each week with a healthy eating meal plan gets you in the right mindset.  We all know how our busy lives can throw kinks into the mix, which can seriously mess with our good intentions.  Having a plan in place can help you get past those obstacles and still be successful.

The first thing you need to understand is that there is not one right way to meal plan.  Everyone has different goals and lifestyles.  You need to make meal planning work for you, just like anything else.  If it’s not something that you can fit into your life, then you aren’t going to do it consistently.  And what good is that?  So with all of my tips today, feel free to modify, eliminate or add any component to make it your own.

Get organized

The first thing you need to do is to get a recipe system organized.  You can go old-school like me, and keep a binder of recipes, or go paperless and keep an electronic file of recipes on your computer, phone, or tablet.  Either way is fine, as long as you can keep it organized and can access it easily.

You want to set your system up with category dividers or folders.  In my binder, I have sections for beef, chicken, pork, turkey, seafood, pasta, sandwiches, vegetarian, Mexican, pizza, and soup.  You can use these, or make your own categories.

Fill it up

Next, you want to fill up your recipe binder or electronic file with lots of healthy recipes.  Scour healthy blogs and websites, and scroll Pinterest.  You will find tons of recipes to print or download to add to your collection.  Check out the recipes on my blog here!

Pick a day

Now it’s time to pick your meal planning day.  Which day of the week is it best for you to sit down and make a plan?  Honestly, it is not something that has to take a long time.  It can be as simple as 10 minutes of your time.  Those 10 minutes will save you so much time later.

Ideally, you should set your planning day to be the day before you go grocery shopping for the week.  I usually do my grocery shopping on Saturday or Sunday, so my meal planning day is Friday.  After my kids go to bed on Friday, I get my recipe binder out and get to work.  Pick the day that works for you.

Some Things to Consider

When you are making a meal plan, there are some things you want to consider.

  • First, you need to decide how many days you will cook dinner the following week.  You need to look at your calendar and take into account everything you have going on.  Are there any special events?  What activities do the kids have?  Will you have any late nights at work?  I usually cook a new meal four times per week.  My cooking days are Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • So what about the other days?  Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach fitness classes at the gym, so I really don’t have time to cook.  On those days, we have leftovers from one of the other days that I did cook.  I just need to make sure I make more servings to allow that to happen.  My family doesn’t mind two nights of leftovers each week.  It works for us.  On Saturdays, we go out for dinner as a family.  I think going out one time per week is totally acceptable.  I still make relatively healthy choices, but it’s okay to indulge a little too.
  • If you know you are going to have a crazy busy day where you are running here and there, use your crockpot.  Seriously, you just set it all up the night before and turn it on in the morning.  Dinner cooks all day, and you eat when you have time.  No drive-thru required.

Select recipes

After I look at my calendar, I pick out the recipes I want to cook the following week.  I try to select a variety, so we aren’t eating three pasta dishes in one week.  For example, I would pick one chicken recipe, one beef recipe, one vegetarian recipe, and one pizza recipe.  By the way, Fridays are homemade pizza night in our house. We love this weekly tradition, and we still get our pizza fix, just in a healthier way than take-out.

Take inventory

The next step is to check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for all of the ingredients you will need for the recipes you selected.  Make sure you have enough of everything in stock.  Then it’s time to build your grocery list.  Add anything to the list that you don’t have on hand.  I highly recommend using your grocery store’s app if they have one.  Your frequently bought items are saved for you so you don’t have to build a list from scratch every week.  If you like good old pen and paper, that works too.

Shop and Prep

Within the next couple of days, do your grocery shopping and carve out some time to meal prep anything that you can.


After you cook each recipe, take notes.  What did your family like or not like?  If they didn’t care for the recipe, throw it out.  No reason to make it again.  If they loved it, put a big star on it.  Was there anything that you would change, add, modify, or eliminate?  Sometimes I add chicken to vegetarian recipes, change the type of cheese, or increase the number of servings.  It is very helpful to write these things down instead of trying to remember them.

So that’s it.  That’s what meal planning is.  Once you start doing it regularly, it gets easier and you can get it done a lot faster.  It will make a world of difference in your healthy eating lifestyle.

Still not sure how to get started?  Contact me to set up an individual consultation!

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