How to meal plan – A complete guide
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If you prefer eating homemade meals to frozen food, this meal planning guide is for you. Learn how to meal plan and get tips on how to get started without overwhelming yourself.
Eating fresh, homemade food every day can feel like a distant dream sometimes especially after a long day of work.
Having gone through the same grind, I have a simple solution for you – meal planning.
In the next section, I’ll share what meal planning is all about, along with some tips and tricks to get you started.
That’s not all – I’ll also drop links for resources on meal prepping that’ll get you very close to eating fresh homemade food every day without having to wake up at the crack of dawn.
What is meal planning?
Meal planning is a simple strategy that involves thinking ahead and planning what you are going to eat that week. You could plan for a week at a time and even a month, if you are up to it.
Once the meal planning is done, you use that to create a shopping list.
How does meal planning help?
If deciding what to make for dinner every night bogs you down, then meal planning is the solution you are looking for. It not only takes away the stress of deciding what to feed your family every night, but it also saves you money. Here’s how:
- Ends decision fatigue – no more stressing out what to make for dinner each night.
- Less food wastage since you are buying groceries as per your plan.
- Peaceful mealtimes – Get your kids’ input while preparing the meal plan. They are less likely to give you a hard time during dinner. This is because they feel heard and they also know what to expect.
- Provides a sense of structure to our sometimes unpredictable life.
- Save money on takeouts – With a plan in place, you are less likely to do takeouts.
How to meal plan
Before you start out meal planning, think about how you want to do it –
- Frequency – once a week, bi-weekly, or once a month?
- When – Look at your schedule and finalize a time and day you can spend devoted time to get it done.
- Will you meal prep as well?
When you are starting out with meal planning, there is some prep work that is involved that could take about an hour. But once you do that, weekly meal planning should take you less than 30 minutes each week. This is because you can create a few plans and reuse them every month.
[Optional] Prep work – Create Meal themes
Having a meal theme means choosing your favorite meal and designating a day to cook it.
Not everyone meal plans with a theme in mind, but I like it because assigning a theme to each day of the week narrows down the choice of meals that you can make each day. This simplifies your dinner choices and makes meal planning a breeze.
Some examples would be Meatless Mondays, Pizza nights, One Pot meal, Biryani night, etc. Every week can have the same set of theme nights, or you can mix it up.
How to come up with meal themes
Step 1 – Brainstorm theme ideas (and give them fun and catchy names)
You could base your theme on cuisines (Indian, Italian), ingredients (veggies, chicken, fish, etc), cooking methods (Instant Pot, slow cooker, etc), or types of food (Pasta, Biryani, Parathas, etc).
If you’d like, you can give it a fun name like Taco Tuesday, Slow cooker night, etc.
For more ideas, check out this post – Creating meal themes (with 20+ examples)
Step 2 – Jot down your favorite meals for each theme
Think of this as a master list that you can keep referring to when you plan your meals. Make sure to involve your family and get their input too.
Recipe inspiration – Here are some recipes that you can use for your meal plan:
Meal planning process
Step 1 – Check your refrigerator/freezer/pantry to see what you already have
Make a list of things you already have in your refrigerator/pantry that are close to expiring. Jot down the recipes that you can use it in.
Step 2 – Create your meal plan
As you write down your meal plan, refer to the theme you finalized for the day, and pick any recipe from the assigned theme. Don’t forget to squeeze in the recipes from step 1.
Step 3 – Make your shopping list
Check if the ingredients on your list are already in your pantry before making your final shopping list.
My strategy – I usually start with breakfast and then plan it for the week. I follow it up with other meals. We usually eat the same meal for both lunch and dinner.
Tips for meal planning success
- Start slow – Plan meals for a week when you are just getting started. This makes the process less overwhelming and also allows for changes.
- Read up on how to put together a healthy meal to make sure you are getting the nutrition you need from your meals.
- Pick recipes that you can make quickly and easily, especially on weeknights.
- Make a note of your availability – Things like late-night work calls, social life, and your kids’ after-school activities could impact the time you have to cook, so factor that in when making your meal plan.
- Leverage meal themes to simplify dinner choices.
- Involve your family – take their input when you create the meal plan. Dinners go much smoother when they have a say in what was cooked that day. If they are old enough, involve them in prepping and cooking as well.
- Cook one meal for everyone – everyone has different tastes, but that doesn’t mean you should cook different meals. Getting your family’s buy-in during meal planning is important so they know what to expect.
- Repurpose ingredients – If you are using ingredients that have a short shelf life, think of creative ways of using them up in other recipes.
- Be flexible – It is okay to not follow your meal plan to the T. If you find something on sale, etc when you are on a grocery run, it’s okay to switch up a recipe.
- Repurpose leftovers – Here’s how I use leftovers – leftover dal becomes sambar, chole becomes chaat, and rajma becomes burrito bowls.
For more tips and tricks, read this post – tips and tricks for meal planning success.
Save time with meal prepping
You don’t have to stop at meal planning. If you have time over the weekend, use it for meal prep. Check out this post on how to meal prep to get started.
- How to stock your kitchen – Learn how to create a master grocery list, track your pantry items, and have a well-stocked kitchen so that you can cook delicious meals anytime you want!
- Meal themes – how to use them – Check out these 20+meal themes that’ll help you create delicious meals that your whole family will love.
- Pantry staples – Considering meal prepping? Make sure you have a few pantry staples always available in the kitchen so that you can meal prep whenever you have time.
- How to meal prep Indian food – Meal prep is the secret behind stress-free weekday meals. Learn how to meal prep like a pro even if you are a beginner.
- 30+ tips for meal planning success – Review these easy-to-follow tips and strategies that will help you meal plan and prep like a pro.
- Out of milk app – Learn how to use your phone to track your pantry items and create shopping lists by store.