Meal planning is defined as whatever way you organize yourself to cook. Some people plan a month in advance, freezing neatly labeled packets of soup and stew. Others wing it, shopping for that evening’s meal at the farmers’ market and picking up whatever looks good to them. Some people love perusing Pinterest and magazines for recipes or inspiration. Some people have no interest in cooking but realize it’s gotta happen, one way or another. Meal planning is a really personal thing. The goal is to find a process that is both enjoyable and effective.
Types of meal prep include:
You don’t need to cook an elaborate meal to satisfy your nutritional needs and appetite. Uncomplicated meals should be a staple in your weekly meal plans. Unless complicated cooking is your jam!. For example, a high-quality protein source; steamed or roasted veggies with salt, pepper, and some healthy fat; and a sweet potato can make for a wholly satisfying and effortless meal.
Try to create meals that contain a balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Eating well-balanced meals promote satiety, modulates your body’s blood sugar response, and enhances nutrient uptake from food. For example, eating protein and fat with carbohydrates moderates the spike in insulin caused by dietary glucose, and consuming fat with vegetables enhances the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as carotenoids. You probably have a pretty good idea of what balanced looks like. Keep it simple.
After the first few weeks of planning meals regularly, I realize it can be easy to fall into a rut, using the same few recipes repeatedly. But dietary diversity is crucial for meeting our nutrient needs and for feeding our gut microbes, so I recommend introducing new foods and recipes regularly. Start by adding one new vegetable per week and work your way up from there.
Set Aside Time for Grocery Shopping and Meal Prepping. For many people, Sundays work best. You may also want to consider doing your shopping and main meal prep session on a Sunday and a second, smaller meal prep session mid-week to keep your fridge stocked with fresh options. Use a list when grocery shopping and check off items as you add them to your cart.
Plan Your Meals Start by planning your meals on a weekly schedule. Figure out how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you will need for the upcoming week. Factor in things like date nights, meals with clients, and travel. Once you know how many meals you’ll need for the week, decide what to eat for those meals. Make a grocery list based on your notes.
Organizing the recipes you intend to use in meal prepping will save you time in the kitchen. Find 15 to 20 recipes that you really enjoy and rotate them throughout the weeks
Batch cooking, including doubling and tripling your favorite recipes, is a critical component of food prepping and can be applied toward many types of foods. For instance, bake several batches of egg muffins at a time to have around for breakfasts or roast a bunch of sweet potatoes to use as sides throughout the week.
Purchase High-quality food storage containers. Glass or stainless storage containers with lids that fit are your friends.
Here are some things I used to make for my clients (and make for myself)
ROASTED VEGETABLES: Roast three or four veggies of your choice on separate sheet pans. Store in separate airtight containers in the fridge, then mix and match at every meal for up to four days. Bake some sweet potatoes to have on hand or cook a couple of cups of quinoa to have on hand as your starchy veg.
WHOLE CHICKEN: Season a whole chicken with salt and pepper, add lemon wedges and whole garlic cloves to the cavity and roast. Eat a piece or two for dinner the night you cook it, then store the rest in airtight containers to use in other dishes for up to four days. There are so many ways to use it. Or buy a rotisserie chicken or 2 to have on hand. No shame in that game!
SALMON: A big piece of salmon will bake or roast or grill so quickly. Make a quick no sugar Teriyaki marinade or dry rub (I use Turmeric and Cinnamon).
BOILED EGGS: Keep a dozen of these in the fridge as a quick salad topper, as a grab-and-go breakfast or to enjoy as a post-workout dinner (along with some of those roasted veggies in the fridge).
DRESSINGS AND SAUCES: Make a big batch of one sauce you can flavor a few different ways. A quick make-ahead vinaigrette will make midweek salads lightning-fast. Prefer a creamy dressing? Make it on the thicker side to double as a dip, then whisk with olive oil when you want a thinner salad dressing.
Have a nice big supply of cut-up veggies and washed lettuces.
Have something going in your instant pot or crockpot such as lentil soup or vegetarian chili.
Have avocados, lemons, seeds, and olives handy.
Want more help? Fortunately, there are plenty of apps out there that focus on the organizational aspect of meal planning. The best apps store recipes, offer suggestions, maintain grocery store lists, and more. Embrace technology!
Here’s a few I curated:
AnyList collects and organizes recipes and adds them to a meal plan calendar. It then generates a grocery shopping list that you can easily edit and share with friends and family.
In addition to creating weekly meal plans, Cook Smarts also offers helpful cooking guides, infographics, and online cooking sessions.
eMeals lets you choose from a variety of different meal plans. Each meal plan includes recipes with main and side dishes, a shopping list, and step-by-step instructions.
Mealime produces weekly meal plans with over 200 personalization options. (People love Mealime)
The Nom Nom Paleo app has nearly 150 recipes, 2,000 step-by-step photos, and a Whole30-friendly month long meal plan and generates customizable shopping lists, all for a low cost.
The Paprika app helps you organize recipes, make meal plans, and create grocery lists. Paprika’s built-in browser allows you to save recipes from anywhere on the internet so you can create your ideal meal plan.
Plan to Eat allows you to add your own recipes from anywhere on the internet into a recipe book. You can then drag and drop recipes into a calendar to plan out your meals for the week. The app also generates a grocery list for you based on your planned recipes.
RealPlans creates and organizes recipes, develops a weekly menu, and generates grocery lists so that you can get healthy, delicious food on the table. If you need to track your macros, Real Plans has you covered. A subscription will give you access to all the app’s meal plans (Classic, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Paleo, Keto, autoimmune protocol, and more) and over 1,500 recipes. You can add on recipes from well-known food bloggers for an additional fee.
Yummly takes a cue from Instagram, allowing you to browse through a photo gallery of recipes and save them to your own digital cookbook. Yummly also uses a proprietary program called Food Genome and a patent-pending technology called Food Intelligence to recommend recipes to users based on their allergies, tastes, and more.
Healthy grocery shopping can now be done online as well as in person. The following online grocery stores offer organic, healthy options and deliver right to your door:
Sunbasket allows you to select three two- or four-person meal kits per week without gluten, grains, soy, corn, added sugar, or dairy. The ingredients and recipes are delivered fresh so you can cook great meals without any planning or shopping.
Have questions about what makes a balanced meal plan? Want recipes? Feel free to contact me with meal prep or any other nutrition questions on the Quest page under Announcements, NUTRITION CHAT!