Meal planning is a hot topic today because our lives are BUSY! And meal planning gives us busy mamas a little bit of relief.
Well, that’s if you know what you’re doing. For years I knew it was something I should be doing. But I don’t particularly like cooking (tbh, I used to be a total mess in the kitchen…I have the scars to prove it 😂).
Then my son was diagnosed with IBS and eating healthy, eating whole foods was his prescription.
Which is great, because I’d been trying to integrate healthier meals into our diet for years…but I would always get soooo sick of it after a day or two because it can be a LOT of work.
If you don’t have a plan, that is. And planning is my freaking jam.
So I sat down and figured out how I could make it happen. And I dove headfirst into meal planning once I realized the solution was as simple as that.
See, meal planning isn’t always about packing those picture-perfect meal prep containers.
Sometimes it’s just about getting dinner on the table without the hassle. Or serving up a healthy (and delicious) meal without spending hours in the kitchen.
And this is what made me realize how powerful meal planning really can be.
I now teach my local home organizing clients how to integrate a simple and easy to follow meal planning system into their day-to-day lives and they’ve seen massive success with it, too!
So today, I’m going to hand over my step-by-step process for meal planning without all the stress and break down all the different ways meal planning can simplify your life, help you lose weight, and drastically reduce your grocery bill.
Then let’s dive in!
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What is Meal Planning
So to start, let’s take a look at what meal planning is and what it isn’t.
To me (and the countless other meal planning experts out there), meal planning is simply a way to organize what you’re going to cook over the course of a week (or two), getting all the groceries in one shot, and then prepping what you can ahead of time.
Meal planning isn’t some long complicated process. It doesn’t mean you have to buy hard to find ingredients, make food that tastes like cardboard, or spend hours every day in the kitchen. Gross.
Meal planning is meant to simplify your life, not make it more complicated. So, if you’re following a plan that is too complicated, I’m going to walk you through how to do it…the easy way.
But first, let’s take a look at a few of the key benefits that come along with following a simple meal planning strategy.
Meal Planning Saves You Time
So first of all, meal planning saves you time.
For one, it saves you the hassle of figuring out what to make at 6 PM when you’re exhausted and just over making decisions. Or doing work. Or dealing with cleanup.
And knowing ahead of time what you’re going to make…and having everything prepped and ready to go…prevents that from happening.
Plus, when you have everything prepped and ready to go, it’s one less thing you have to do that night.
But — and this is really important — meal prepping in one shot on Sunday doesn’t take any longer. It generally takes the same amount of time to make a larger batch of something as it takes to make a smaller portion.
For example, if you’re sending sandwiches in your kid’s lunch every day, it takes about the same amount of time to make 5 sandwiches all at once as it does to make one sandwich every morning. So you could spend 5 minutes on Sunday making all the lunches for the week, or spend 5 minutes every morning making lunch for the day.
Or if you’re using brown rice in 3 meals this week, you could spend 30 minutes making enough for all 3 meals on Sunday, or you could spend 30 minutes every night cooking brown rice.
And not only that, but you’ll also spend 5-10 minutes cleaning up the cutting board and silverware from the sandwiches or the pan and wooden spoon from the rice only once versus every single day if you didn’t plan ahead.
I’m sure you can see how fast that time adds up over the course of a week, month, and year.
And then finally, meal planning will save you time when you keep the same meals on rotation throughout the month. The more often you make something the faster you start making it, simply because you’re used to doing it.
Meal Planning Saves you Money
Meal planning can also save you money.
I always recommend creating your grocery list from your meal plan (and I’ll show you how to do that here in a second).
But if you tend to grab stuff as you go, doing this lets you see how much you’re spending on all those extra things that you don’t necessarily need. I know it really keeps me in check and keeps things in perspective plus it has helped me drastically cut back on our monthly grocery bill.
And on top of that, most grocery stores also list the item prices on their website. So, if you need to keep your trip within a certain budget, you can jot down all the prices, add them up, and see if you need to change anything with your meal plan before you even go to the store.
And finally, when I’m not buying stuff on a whim and I’m only buying the stuff that I have planned out for the week, I drastically cut back on how much food we waste. Because let’s get real, when you buy a bunch of produce that you didn’t plan for, you more than likely have to throw a lot of it away at the end of the week. Especially if your kid decides that they don’t like strawberries this week.
Meal Planning Can Help You Lose Weight + Live a Healthier Life
Meal planning can also help you lose weight and live a healthier life.
Like I said, I started meal planning because of my son’s IBS. But I had tried to cook healthier meals for us for a while before that.
I would run out, get everything I needed, spend like two hours cutting veggies and cooking everything, and then have another hour of cleanup once I was done.
Now that I prep everything in advance, I can get healthy meals on the table every day without all the stress.
I dropped about 10 pounds in a couple of weeks from going completely clean. And I feel so much healthier today from sticking to it.
How to Meal Plan
Now that we know all the feel-good perks from meal planning, I want to walk you through my step by step process for meal planning without all the stress.
Because it can be easier…I promise.
But before I do, I want to touch on a couple of things you should do to make meal planning even easier.
Pre Meal Planning: Create a Library of Favorite Recipes
And my first meal planning hack is to have a library of your family’s favorite recipes on hand that you can go to when you’re planning everything out.
This doesn’t mean you have to make the same things every single week. I mean, you shouldn’t do that if you want to keep everyone happy.
Instead, jot down 5-20 recipes that everyone in your family loves and rotate them out throughout the month.
This way, when you’re meal planning, you can grab a couple of them to schedule in, a couple more for the following week, and so on.
Pre Meal Planning: Check Your Pantry Staples
You also want to make sure that you’re stocked up on pantry staples.
And you could either go nuts right now and get everything you might need or just stock up as you go.
For example, if a recipe calls for almond flour and you don’t have any on hand, add it to your grocery list for the week and you should be good for a while.
As you get used to meal planning, you’ll start to figure out what pantry staples you should keep on hand and those things that are suggested, but you never really use.
I also want you to check your pantry for the things you shouldn’t have on hand.
If you buy a bunch of junk food, you’re going to be tempted to eat that. Because for one, it’s so much easier. But also, when you’re used to eating stuff like that, your body craves it. So removing that temptation is key.
But you also don’t just want to stock your fridge with carrots and celery and expect yourself to be on board when you’re tired, crabby, and craving chocolate.
I schedule in our snacks to keep us on track…but I also keep a jar of chocolate peanut butter (my absolute fav) for the days when I just need something sweet.
Once you have both of these done, it’s time to start meal planning!
Meal Planning Step 1: Determine the Number of Meals You Need to Cook
So first of all, when it comes to meal planning, you of course need to consider your family size. For me, it’s my boyfriend, my 5-year-old, and me. So I don’t really have to cook every day. Which is good because I absolutely hate cooking. And honestly, if I did have a larger family, I would still plan things out so that I didn’t have to cook every day. And I’ll show you some ways to do that, as well.
So, since I have a family of 3, I need 3 servings per meal for every meal that we’re all here. My boyfriend and I work at home and my son is remote half the week, so I also plan out our lunches and snacks for the week. This helps prevent us from making a bag of popcorn or something in the middle of the afternoon or making an oven pizza for lunch.
I also plan out a healthier dessert to make for the week, too.
Every day of the week has a line for breakfast, AM snack, lunch, PM snack, dinner, and dessert.
My boyfriend and I are home for every meal and snack. My son is home for every breakfast, dinner, and dessert, and 5 of the lunches and snacks.
That means that we need 3 servings every day for breakfast, dinner, and dessert, 3 servings for most lunches and snacks, and just 2 servings for lunch and snacks the days he’s in school.
So here’s what that looks like for us:
Meal Planning Step 2: Plan + Schedule Your Meals
Next, it’s time to decide what meals you want to make.
The reason I put in the serving count is so that when I pull a recipe, I know how many meals that recipe will cover based on how many servings it makes.
Now, I know some people don’t like leftovers. And that’s cool. Here in a bit, I’ll show you what you can do to cook a fresh meal every night without spending all of your time in the kitchen.
But for now, let’s go ahead and start filling in the chart.
So every Sunday I’ll sit down and plan out our meals for the week. And one of my FAVORITE meal planning tools is the Eat at Home Meal Plans.
Now, I used to use Pinterest for this. But every single week I would get lost down a Pinterest rabbit hole for hours. The next thing I knew it was almost noon, we hadn’t even made it to the store yet, and I still had to get some of the stuff prepped.
Now, with the Eat at Home Meal Plans, I can have everything scheduled out in about 5 minutes.
I’ll normally only make something for Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then either Saturday or Sunday, depending on how much we’ll be home.
So first of all, I have a few recipes that I know my kid will eat without a fight. So I usually schedule in one of those. That means that I only need to pick out three other meals for the week. So I take a look at what’s in there and pick a couple.
For breakfast, I either prep some overnight oats, freezer breakfast sandwiches, or have some bagels on hand.
For the lunch menu, I’ll do the same. I can usually make something on Sunday and we’ll eat it through Thursday. Then I can either make something new on Friday or just make a quick salad. Then, I’ll pick something to make for lunch for the weekends, again depending on how much we’ll be home.
For the snacks, I’ll sometimes schedule in exactly what we’re going to be eating every day (especially if we fell off the clean wagon and need to be extra disciplined to get back on).
But what I’ll normally do is pick 3 snacks. So, for example, let’s say almond butter and celery, carrots and hummus, and blueberries and greek yogurt. Then I’ll just go for whichever sounds the best during my breaks and they have a couple of options, as well.
And then I’ll pick the dessert I’m going to make for the week.
Now, if you have a larger family and need to cook something every day or you just don’t like leftovers, you can still plan ahead so that you aren’t stuck in the kitchen every single day. And the Eat at Home Meal Plans makes this super easy, too. Every month she releases a freezer plan. So, on Sunday when you’re doing your meal prep, you could put together a freezer meal or two. That way, all you would have to do is pull it out of the freezer and pop it into the oven or crockpot.
Or, if you’re against freezer meals, you could prep a couple of meals and just keep one in your fridge for a day until you’re ready to cook it.
So, if you fall into one of these categories, plan things out that way to give yourself some breathing room during the week.
And now all of our meals are planned for the week. Do you see how easy and quick that was?
So the next thing we need to do, then, is put together our grocery list.
Meal Planning Step 3: Organize your grocery list
And I start by going through the grocery list that she includes inside of the Eat at Home Meal Plans. It’s color-coded for the different recipes, so I pull out the ingredients for the ones I chose for the week.
Then, I write down the groceries we need for any of our favorite meals or any new recipes I’m trying from Pinterest.
Then, I add anything to the list that I wrote down that we also need. Any almond milk, favorite snacks, pantry staples that we’re out of, and so on.
(Pssst…there’s a section for organizing your grocery list in the free printable, too! Click here to download your copy now!)
Then, I take that list and I organize it in the order that I move through the store. And I know this sounds like an extra step, but it seriously gets me in and out in 20 minutes or less, regardless of how crazy busy it is. And trust me, the store I go to is insane on the weekends. #suburbanlife
So, if you know where everything is in your store, then just go through and rewrite your grocery list in the order that you’ll come across everything.
If you don’t know, then go to the store’s website and search for the different items. Most grocery stores have this option today, which is amazing for when I need to get something I don’t normally buy and have no idea where it is.
Meal Planning Step 4: Meal Prep
And finally, once you get the groceries home it’s time to prep what you can for the week.
TBH, I usually shop on Saturday and prep on Sunday, so it doesn’t technically have to be right after you get home 😉
But this is where you want to think about what you can prepare ahead of time.
I like to cook all the meat that I can on the grill on the weekend because that completely eliminates all that cleanup:
Then I’ll chop any veggies and store them in clear containers in the fridge (so I don’t forget about them).
And I’ll cook any grains that I can so they’re ready to go, too.
For reference, here’s a quick chart of things that you can prep ahead of time:
- Grains, pasta, and beans
- Cooked or fresh heartier fruits and vegetables (peppers, kale, carrots, cabbage, apples, peas, celery, oranges, etc.)
- Cooked Meats
- Nuts, seeds, cheese, dips, and sauces
Things you don’t want to prep ahead of time include:
- Softer fruits and veggies that will go bad after you cut them (berries, lettuce, etc.)
- Anything crispy that has come into contact with another ingredient (fried or crispy chicken, crackers with sauces or dips already on them, etc.)
Once everything is prepped, I just leave myself a note on my meal plan what I need to do each day for the meal so I leave myself enough time.
Post Meal Planning: Reflect + Refine
And that is my entire meal planning system that is guaranteed to save you time and money on your grocery bill.
If you missed it above, you can click here to grab my FREE meal planning printable to walk you through the entire process and keep you on track.
So what are you cooking this week? Let me know in the comments!