When the alarm clock marks the start of a new day, you automatically start worrying about meals, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, since most of the time you really have no idea what you are going to prepare to eat – or to feed your family.
You think that you can use fast food as an easy solution, but you also know that this is not the healthiest option, and in the last moment, you end up eating what you can and not what you should eat.
If your particular case resembles what is described above, then what you need is to resort to an old trick that is catching on again: meal planning.
Meal planning is perhaps the best way to ensure that you’re following a healthy and balanced diet that can meet your nutritional needs and those of your family. In addition, this is a tool that can also help you save a lot of time and money.
The best part is that many times, just by slightly deciding what to eat each day of the week, you’re already getting a benefit, avoiding having to buy food “blindly”, while relieving yourself of a good amount of unnecessary stress.
Read on and discover everything you need to know about this topic with this ultimate meal planning guide that we’ve prepared for you.
What are the benefits of meal planning?
There are several reasons why it’s worth spending part of your time creating a good meal plan, especially when we talk about the main topics: money, health, and time. Let’s see in more detail, what are the benefits that a careful organization of meals can provide for you.
1, It allows you to save time
It’s true that developing a meal plan can take some time at first, but the time that you can save in the medium and long term is much greater. Many times we are in a hurry due to work issues or because we have a lot of tasks to do throughout the day, so it’s inevitable to stop and think:
What am I going to cook?
Will it be better to prepare this or that?
And when you manage to answer these questions and look at your watch, you realize you’ve wasted too much valuable time making a decision.
With a meal plan in place, this problem disappears, since you only need to glance at your plan and you’ll know what to do at all times, allowing you to start working immediately and significantly shortening the time it takes to select your foods.
2, It allows you to save money
With a good meal plan, you can avoid impulsive purchases. By having a good shopping list, you need to make fewer visits to the store each week, thus avoiding the temptation to buy something you don’t need just because you saw it on the shelf.
In addition, you can make better use of seasonal discounts, since you’ll know in advance the amount and type of products that you’ll need to buy at those times.
And if you compare what you spend eating at home with what you spend eating out, you will realize that you can save up to 60% of your money, in addition to generating less waste and helping to protect nature.
This also includes factors such as food preparation time – remember that time is money too – as well as the habit of buying more ingredients than necessary to make a recipe – somebody has even made calculations on this.
Helps you take care of your health
If you want to eat healthier, you must choose very well what you are going to eat and how you are going to eat it. You already know that going for fast food isn’t the best option, since the vast majority of this food contains a large amount of preservatives and ingredients that are harmful to health. Homemade food with fresh ingredients, preferably organic, is always the healthiest option.
Returning to the previous point, consider that if you follow a healthy diet and get sick less, you also save money on medical treatments, but at the same time, it’s necessary to plan healthy meals when there is already a disease involved, such as diabetes.
Bear also in mind that if you cook for your whole family, each person has different food needs; dad, mom, the boy, the girl, and the baby of the house, each one may need a greater consumption of certain foods than others.
A good food calorie calculator and a nutrition label maker are software tools that can make your life easier when choosing the most appropriate foods for each member of the family. This brings us to the next point.
You avoid unnecessary stress
As we’ve already mentioned, the more complex the menu you have to cook, the more stressful it’ll be to carry out the task, especially if you have to do it for a large family.
On the other hand, if you’re a solo and/or independent professional, planning your meals is just as useful when you have a lot of projects to finish; having to stop to think and decide what to eat each time, can cause excess fatigue and stress that will also only contribute to reducing productivity from your usual work routine.
How do you create a meal plan?
If you’re already convinced of the benefits that a well-developed meal plan can bring to your life, now is the time to take action and apply this useful tool in your day-to-day rut. Let’s see what you should consider.
1, Start planning
Pick a specific day of the week and a specific time of day to make your plan and integrate it into your weekly routine. Take the attitude that this day will be sacred and exclusive to develop your meal plan, as this will help you develop the necessary discipline to avoid falling. This will also help you better reorganize the rest of your weekly activities.
As a general rule, the best day is the one before the shopping day, since in this way there will be a shorter period of time between both activities, and therefore less likely that an obstacle will appear along the way.
You can start by determining how many and what types of meals you will need to plan. If you have a good memory, you can take your meals from the last week as a reference and improve as necessary.
Is there a day more complicated than the rest when it comes to cooking?
And what was the easiest day for this activity?
At some point did you have food left over?
Try to write down all the meals and the details associated with them. For instance:
Is breakfast usually heavy or light?
Do your family usually eat lunch at home or should they do it at work or school?
What time do they usually have dinner?
Keep in mind that when planning your meals, you should make room for those events of the week that could prevent eating at home. How would you do in that case?
Remember also that although you can write all this down on paper, you can also download specialized software for meal planning and make your life even easier.
2, Create a list of recipes
Think of all your favorite foods to add to the plan, and in case you want to experience something new, you can search for recipes online or use a recipe calculator for this. Keep in mind that the possibilities are almost endless, so you can let your imagination run wild.
Create recipes according to:
- Time limit
- Specific diets
Take into account everything you need, including snacks, side dishes, desserts, and drinks, etc.
You can start by planning the simplest meals, like breakfast for example, since this meal usually has few ingredients, two or three at the most. At first, you don’t have to be 100% accurate, just have a general idea, and as you go shopping at the supermarket, you can improve everything.
Remember that meals should be well balanced
Although some foods may seem more complicated than others, if you consider the basics of nutrition, you’ll see that this isn’t as complex as it sounds.
To prepare a well-balanced meal, the main thing is to include:
- Carbohydrates – Grains or cereals like rice or pasta are the main dishes.
- Proteins – This includes animal protein like chicken or fish, but also vegetable protein like beans.
- Vegetables – Green leafy vegetables like spinach are usually the healthiest.
- Fruits – They provide vitamins and minerals, but also sugar (fructose). You can serve fruits as a dessert or a snack.
A good recommendation is to add as many healthy options as possible to eat on most days of the week. By having more healthy meals throughout the week, you can achieve two things:
- You avoid eating less healthy food at home on those days when you feel a stronger urge to do so.
- Since you behaved well all week, you can have one “relaxation” meal one day of the week to satisfy a craving
Remember to add all of these ingredients to your shopping list – more on this shortly – and you can also use additional tools to calculate the nutritional value of meals, like this meal calorie calculator, and currently we also have one of the best calorie calculators on the market.
3, Organize your meals for each day
Doctors and nutritionists recommend eating several meals a day, usually between 3 and 5. This means that you should also take into account all these meals, not plan just one – otherwise, you wouldn’t be getting the most out of meal planning.
Once you have your favorite recipes ready, assign each one to a specific day and time of the week. This will help you a lot when you know you’re going to have a busy week in terms of work and other activities.
A good idea to help yourself is to organize and label your meals by nutritional value, something you can do using a software tool that easily generates nutrition facts labels.
On the other hand, it’s also important to remember that we’re human beings, not machines, so it’s normal that you find days in which you will come home super exhausted and without the desire to cook. In this sense, one of the advantages of a meal plan is that it allows you to be flexible without having to give up your weekly plan.
The recommendation, in this case, is to anticipate these moments and add to the plan some “special” meals that are easy to prepare for when these circumstances arise.
4, Combining all of the above
Once you’ve established all the ingredients and recipes, as well as the allocation for each day of the week, combine everything on your weekly shopping list.
The best thing is that since everything is already planned, you’ll have the certainty that you’re going to use all the food you buy, thereby saving some additional time and money. Of course, if you want, you can also add a few “treats” to the list, but this shouldn’t affect your meal planning at all.
Don’t forget to check the refrigerator and pantry before you go shopping to cross off any ingredients you already have on hand, as well as eliminate those foods that have already expired.
Finally, remember to always keep the receipts of your purchases, as these will help you to keep a record of the whole process – for example, how much you have spent – which could be used later to adjust any details if necessary.
Make it work!
Although at first, all this planning will seem very complicated to you, with time and some patience, you’ll become an expert in the field and you’ll discover more and more efficient ways, and according to your particular needs. In the meantime, follow these tips to make the process of integrating meal planning into your daily routine easier.
Be water, my friend
Or what is the same, adapt the weekly menu to your circumstances. Remember that it is VERY DIFFICULT to comply 100% with any plan since everything changes over time.
Do not get obsessed with anything
Try to vary the meals of the week from time to time so as not to fall into boredom. If you have Japanese food assigned for Monday for example, after a while, change this to food from another country.
Reuse as much as you can
If you have leftover chicken from last night’s dinner, use it to make a salad for lunch the next day, it doesn’t matter if it isn’t planned that way.
Don’t delete menus you’ve already used
When you change meal plans, keep your old plans somewhere safe, as you never know when they might come in handy again.
Now we’ll give you some additional tips that can make your life easier. Some will help you save money when shopping, while others will help you avoid unnecessary stress.
- Start by planning your meals based on the products you already have at home. This will save you time and additional money.
- Compare the prices of your favorite products in different stores in your area and find the best possible price.
- Pay attention to seasonal products, as these tend to be cheaper and can be used to prepare the menu for the next few weeks.
- Start by adding just a few meals to the plan, and as you get used to it, add more.
- If you’ve little time available to prepare meals, you can try acquiring a smart kitchen assistant. They are of great help in some cases and there is an increasing variety on the market.
- Get other family members involved in your meal planning program. This helps you save time, but it’s also a way to be more sure about the needs and tastes of your family.
- If you plan to buy in bulk, do it only if you are 100% sure that you will use all those ingredients in a short time, since if you have to store a large quantity, even if it is frozen or dry, it’s very likely that you’ll lose a good part of that food.
Meal planning is a powerful tool and at the same time, very easy to use, even though it may not seem so at a first glance.
The good part is that every time you plan your meals, you learn more and more; dos and don’ts, the best ingredients, the best shopping places, etc.
As you gain experience in the science and art of meal planning, you’ll see the whole process become part of your regular routine and you’ll end up doing it even with your eyes closed.
In any case, remember that you can always make your life easier if you use the right software tools, many of which we have already mentioned in this guide.