Meal Planning 101.
As you can probably guess, we do a lot of cooking in this house. Well, I do a lot of cooking. Unless you count heating up Trader Joe’s frozen chicken or making a peanut butter-covered english muffin cooking.
And I do most of the shopping, too. Mostly because I love to spend money, and when I send my husband to the store in search of things like pancetta and creme fraiche, he calls me about 16 times from the store insisting those products don’t exist.
Since we both have full time jobs, it is really important for us to plan ahead and prepare in order to eat healthy. We never eat out. Especially lunch – I never go out to lunch, my husband rarely does. We may go out once or twice a month for dinner, but I get too excited in the kitchen otherwise. Plus, I’d rather spend my money on gruyere cheese, expensive shoes, and Mac makeup. I’ve got my priorities straight.
So, how do we do it? Plan and prepare!
Decide ahead of time. I usually plan out our lunches and dinners for the upcoming week at some point on the weekend. I usually plan on 3 dinners and 3 lunches, because we usually have leftovers to fill the other slots. Many of these are the same things – for instance, my husband went through a period of eating chicken, pasta, and veggies for lunch for 4 months. He doesn’t really exemplify diversity, does he?
Take inventory. I check our black hole of darkness and grocery-store-in-a-drawer, otherwise known as our fridge and pantry, for what we have. I note all of the ingredients we have for the planned meals. This is KEY. It really helps us save money and avoid having 92 cans of black beans at once. It also shortens the grocery tips.
Always make a list. It never fails – if I forget my list, I always forget something. I always make a list of things I need, and I usually do it in order of how I shop – produce, meats, dairy, grains, then canned/frozen goods, condiments, and anything else in the aisles. This saves me time and money. I also try to go to the grocery store on any day but Sunday. It is packed and I tend to lose my temper and have a hissy fit mid-shop.
Buy in bulk. We buy certain things in bulk, especially when they are on sale. This includes cereals, water or bottled drinks, and meats that freeze for future use. When it comes to produce, I usually buy 3 days worth. After 3 days, I may have to hit the store really quickly for a few perishable items – like fruit, veggies (not really, since I hate them), and seafood.
On Sunday’s, I prepare 2-3 lunches for the upcoming week. Occasionally I will prepare dinners, but I actually enjoying coming home in the evening and cooking. Most of the time, I cook dinner at night. I also wash fruit/veggies, freeze meats/meals for the future, and pre-package snacks.
Certain snacks that I pre-package are things like cereals, trail mixes, yogurt mix-ins, and nut butters. First, it controls portion size, and second, it is easy to grab and go. I do not like to prepare food in the morning, unless I am immediately eating it.
Planning the meals
When it comes to choosing and planning the actual meals, I tend to plan around protein. I eat some protein at each meal – it keeps me feeling MUCH fuller than a meal without protein. I also feel more alert, more energetic, and not weighed down. It also keeps my husband from having a no-protein nervous breakdown.
I tend to choose these foods from each group – they are what makes me feel great, and what I enjoy the most.
Proteins – these are true protein sources, meaning the protein count is higher than the fat/carb count.
greek yogurt/cottage cheese
Starchy Complex Carbs
potatoes – all varieties
whole wheat pastas
whole wheat bread products
high-fiber, low-sugar cereals
bacon (can’t live without it!)
desserts (see below)
Fruits and Veggies – we aim for 6-8 servings of these a day.
Dessert – I always plan for some kind of sweet treat everyday so I don’t feel deprived. This usually falls in the fats/carbs category.
Of course these lists are not all inclusive – I am just giving you a few examples.
Whatever your goals may be – losing, gaining, or maintaining weight, it is important to have a healthy, realistic balance. It MUST be something you can stick to. In reality, it all comes down to calories. If you are in a consistent calorie deficit, you will lose weight. If you consistently eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you want to gain muscle, they are steps to take to do just that. That is a whole ‘nother can of worms. :)
I plan most meals, but do not eat on a super strict schedule. Since I do not have the luxury of staying home all day, I plan 3-4 balanced meals/snacks to take with me. I eat when I am hungry. Sometimes I eat it all, sometimes I don’t eat every meal. Regardless, I always have enough food. I’d rather be over-prepared, than end up starving and eating junk food.
How I do it: I plan for 4-5 meals each day, beginning with protein. An example:
Breakfast – eggs
Snack – protein powder
Lunch – chicken
Snack – greek yogurt
Dinner – fish
Obviously, I get more specific, such as ‘salmon’ for fish. Once I plan out my protein for the day, I incorporate other items, condiments, seasonings, etc:
Breakfast – eggs, oatmeal, peanut butter, banana
Snack – protein powder, skim milk, blueberries, spinach, nut butter
Lunch – chicken, black beans, salad, oil for dressing, piece of chocolate
Snack – greek yogurt, strawberries, cereal
Dinner – fish, soup, rice, corn, salad on side, dressing
Dessert – few pieces of chocolate
I do pay attention to the foods that have a great combination of protein and carbs, like beans and quinoa, and protein and fat, like nut butter and cheese. I often have snacks that incorporate both, like fruit with nut butter and whole wheat wraps with beans.
I get bored very easily, so I rarely eat the same thing twice. My husband loves to eat the same thing over again, so I use my weekly-creative streak on myself. :)
Meal planning and preparing does take work, but once you get the hang of it, it can be done in a snap. I spend maybe 1-2 hours preparing our food for the week. I think that is more than worth it, considering it provides us with healthy choices. I do look forward to the day where I can hopefully stay at home, and have a bit more creative freedom throughout the day.
This is what works best for me – and by no means do I think this is the only way to have a healthy diet. We have had success with it and I wanted to share my tips and tricks.
Do you plan and prepare your meals?
47 Comments on “Meal Planning 101.”
I am a big planner:) I always think ahead. I know what I want to make for the week before I go to the store. I also pack our lunches and breakfast the night before. I keep snacks on hand too, so I am never tempted to eat out. I always have a healthy option with me! Great post! And my hubs always asks for the same things, but I deny him because I like to try new recipes..ha!
Great tips!! I sometimes plan out dinners (at least roughly) but I don’t really plan other meals or snacks.
I thought I planned meals – but you go into much more detail!!
I wish we didn’t go out so much, but our group of friends always goes out to eat on the weekends, and I hate missing out on a social event!!
i’m such a meal planner. mostly because i’ve found that otherwise at 6 pm neither myself nor my fiance can think of a SINGLE thing in our house to cook. and he wants to go out for dinner, and i try and call popcorn a meal. neither of which is the best choice.
so i plan at the end of every week what we have for next week based on what we have/want to have/is on sale, which gives me several days to put off going to the grocery store-which is where i’m headed now! for tonights dinner-whoops!
Such a great post! I’m horrible at meal planning, but it’s just me for now so that makes it easier. I always find myself rushing out for ingredients!
Your posts are always so entertaining!! I really look forward to them!! :)
Great tips on meal planning. I kinda sorta meal plan. I guess what I mean is I don’t do anything formal, but we have staples in our house that we use to create various meals. For example, we always have yogurts, bread, veggie burgers, egg beaters, fruit, veggies, etc. But we don’t actually plan out each specific meal. What I do is take a bunch of tortillas, veggie burgers, baby carrots, yogurts, granola bars, bananas, etc. and leave them in my closet in my classroom. I also have the luxury of keeping a mini fridge and microwave in there so it’s like my own little kitchen in there. That definitely helps me out a lot at work.
I do think I’ll need to become much more of a meal planner for dinners when we have kids. I think there will be so much more stress and to-do lists that having dinner already planned and ready to go will help out tremendously. I’m just not motivated to do it just yet… ;) But when I am, I’ll be coming to you for advice!! :)
I do things EXACTLY like you. Every Friday, I decide what we will be having for dinners and figure out what groceries we don’t have on hand for it. Then, I figure out what we will need for lunches…and breakfast or snacks are usually always the same ole same ole. Makes shopping so much easier and easier to control $$$ like you said. This is a great post!
Great tips! I’ve been planning my meals because it makes it less stressful especially now that I’m back in school. I fix all my snacks and meals the day before and then I can just grab it and go!
I am so impressed. You have your meal planning down to a tee! I am just starting to get better at meal planning. I am making an effort to reduce the clutter in my freezer and cupboard, so hopefully being more mindful of future meals and the ingredients I need will help!
Love this post!! I make a list for grocery shopping every week, too, and I often find recipes on the internet during my downtime at school & work to try out. My husband is up for anything — he has a degree in Culinary Arts, but with his weird work schedule I do nearly all of the dinner cooking. I’m lucky enough to go grocery shopping on Wednesdays when there aren’t as many people out. It’s so much nicer than the crowded Saturday I used to go on!
This is great! Too bad I can’t plan or prepare ANYTHING. I’m waaay too absent minded… I’m going to pass this post along to my husband, because if anyone is good at planning, it’s him!
Great tips! I am such a meal/shopping planner. I love cooking so it is actually a lot of fun for me. The weeks are so much easier when I plan my grocery shopping and meals.
LOVE these tips. Great post, dear!
I always plan my meals! It’s so important!
This is pure genius. Bacon is on my list, every week.
Also–I too throw a hissyfit. Hubby doesn’t like to go to the store with me. And I prefer to go on a weekday at 8 am with the store first opens. So much easier.
Meal planning is so important. I just wish I made more meals!
i should probably take this advice haha whenever i grocery shop i just buy whatever looks good- not exactly the most money efficient thing!
This is a great post! I meal prep on Sundays, but only plan through Wednesday. I like to cook fresh stuff on Wednesday nights because I hate having leftovers for too long! The rest of the week is filled with more ‘unique meals’ because I run out of steam! This all applies to hubby’s food because I’m psychotic and don’t know what I’ll want to eat that day. This results in a lot of interesting mish mash meals.
I will definitely take this into account so that I don’t wander through the store with my mouth open per usual!
i try to plan as best as i can, but our schedule changes on a dime several times a week. i’ve found that i can plan a few dinners, but always plan breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. that way if we need to change plans for dinner i feel good about what i’ve eaten the rest of the day!
great post girl :)
I’m a planner as well! I’m a list freak! In fact, I know the order in which the grocery aisles are so I will write my list in that order. Living in Germany, unless you want to spend 2-3 hours out for lunch, bringing a lunch is mandatory. There aren’t any good fast places to eat out here unless you count Burger King (which I don’t!). My husband gets bored very easily, so I have to be creative with the meals daily. Although, I’m more like your hubby in the way that I can pretty much eat the same thing for a month!
Great tips! I’m not much of a meal planner, I usually decide the day of (aka starving in front of the fridge) what’s for dinner.
I should try it though! I bet I would save a ton of money and would make less unnecessary trips to the grocery store!
I meal plan once a week. It forces me to grocery shop mindfully, try new recipes and get organized.
I plan my meals for the entire week every Sunday. I love doing it and it ensures we eat healthy!
This was a very useful post for me. I’m getting married in June and hopefully we’ll be meal planning so that we can stay in a food budget (which I currently fail to do every week…) Our only issues is I am a pescatarian (I know…ridiculous word but whatever) and the fiance is a meat-eater. Do you modify yours and your husbands meals or do you generally eat the same thing?
Just curious. Thanks!
Great question! My husband eats a ton of meat, and while I do eat meat, I don’t enjoy it as much as he does. He also doesn’t get home from work + gym until about 8:30 or 9. It all depends on if I snack before he gets home, or wait to eat with him – depending on how hungry I am, etc. Sometimes we eat the same thing, sometimes I make us separate things. We always usually eat the same sides, veggies, salads, etc. So if he wants a steak and I want fish, I will usually make them both. It never is a waste – I will usually make multiple steaks/fish and he eats it, too. I may also have some steak during the week. So really, it all works out – it doesn’t consume any additional time. If I make something else, I just put it on while the other food is cooking.
I try to meal plan but am never very successful, I do prep veggies for the week on Sunday and try to make an extra meal so I have lunches for the week.
What a great post! Yes, I always plan our meals. I actually get excited about it. I usually shop on Friday’s (I’m a stay at home mom), so about Wednesday during the week I start making my list. I only try and grocery shop every 2 weeks (minus little trips to the store for milk, etc) b/c since we are living on one paycheck now, my husband only gets paid every 2 weeks. So I have to plan about 10 meals to make us through the two weeks. I love soup meals (just posted one today), as that allows us to eat it for two days….great money saver!
Again, what a great post!
We do our planning EXACTLY like you do — and my husband is not the king of variety either. LOL
I was actually going to post something similar to this on my blog…but now I’m thinking about just linking yours! It would be the same info! haha
My plan sounds very similar to yours. I always prep meals for the week on the weekend, before food shopping… what meat for dinners (~3 meals), we eat the leftovers the other nights or for lunches. I make my meals the morning of and end up juggling 6 tupperware containers into work….
Awesome tips! I definitely need to do more meal planning, because if I’m in a hurry or left unprepared I either end up eating unhealthy foods or buying something on the go. Neither of which are very good habits to get into.
Great post girly! We do the exact same things with planning, but I do all the shopping. We NEVER go out to eat, but that’s because we’re lame. Saves money though :)
Fantastic information, Jessica. I think you summed it all up, very well. I am pretty good at planning meals, I think, but I don’t do anything really difficult or time consuming, so my job is easy. I have a pad of paper that goes in my fridge, which has me plan meals for the week and the groceries I need for them. I also have a dry-erase board in my fridge where I record the food in my cabinets/freezer/ and fridge that need eaten. That way I don’t buy more stuff without finishing what I have. It works well.
These are great tips, thanks for sharing!
I find it much more manageable to plan means based on food groups too, it just organizes it much better. And you know, I’m a BIG organizer ;)
Thanks for the tips. I want to do meal planning but never seem to get around to it. It is on my list right below cleaning.
I meal plan every week and stick to a list. The money I save it amazing. I do have to admit the I have the black hole of a pantry and freezer that does need to be cleaned out ASAP. It is sad what is probably in there.
Right now I do NOT plan any meals or trips to the grocery store. Not very helpful. I’m trying to change my ways. I’m probably going to print a copy of this post because I like how you plan meals by starting with a protein and building from there.
Great tips! :)
i love this. so much. i plan my meals for the week too – most of the time. a lot of the time i find myself just planning my dinners, and then finding creative ways to turn my leftovers into something NEW. [blackbean burgers into mexican pizza, for example]
i love that you explained how you look at the nutritional aspects of your food and plan with protein. i need to spend more time making sure im getting what i should be each day.
OOO I like the new layout! Very pretty!
Very informational—I agree with everything you said–and yes I do plan and prepare my meals!
great tips, jess!
Great post! I’ve been planning one on meal planning for awhile now, but haven’t gotten to it yet.
You are AMAZING that you eat in/bring your lunches that often. That’s what happens when you love to cook! I also love love love to try new restaurants/bars so that’s what gets me sometimes. Also, not wanted to clean all the messy pans I make!
I plan our meals out every week too! We eat out once a week, maybe twice. Ben eats at his work cafeteria everyday because he likes to eat with his work buddies, but they have health food so I don’t say anything. I do so many restaurant reviews and stories for work, I’m really picky about where we eat!
I’m wondering if I’m eating enough now…how do ya’ll get your veggies in if you hate them (I’m not exactly a fan…)
I really only get veggies in my shakes – probably 3-4 cups spinach. Rarely I’ll have some veggies with dinner, usually something roasted. But after 2-3 bites, I’m done. I also cna do salads, but I only like lettuce in them. :)
I’m totally with you on being a food packer. Stay out of my way if I don’t have enough food to eat for the day!
I’m usually a meal planner, but with less cooking than what your doing. However, I seem to have fallen into a winter slump and haven’t even made a proper grocery store trip this month.
I love to plan meals! My SO and I go out once every other week or so. I typically plan two two-three dinners a week, with one being something new I’ve seen online or on tv. The other nights are leftovers or a staple. I also like doing big meals with lots of leftovers that can be frozen or taken for lunch. I just made an 8lb pork butt (basic seasonings, 250 degree oven for 6ish hours). We had Asian pork wraps the first night, then pork burritos, then BBQ pork sandwiches. Last night we made organic mac-n-cheese, then threw in some left-over pork and broccoli. Planning ahead reduces stress and saves money. I’m impressed that you plan so carefully for breakfast and lunch.
My mom always planned meals when I was growing up, so I thought it was something everyone did. It also was important to do that since she usually went to the grocery store once a week (it’s about 30+ minutes away from home). I find myself doing the same thing – aiming to go to the store only once a week even though I live about 2 miles from 3 different stores!
I think it’s very helpful to have your meals planned out – I usually only plan dinners, but there are always leftovers for lunch. You got much more specific in your planning, which is something I would like to be able to do once I graduate and have a job with somewhat ‘normal’ hours…
What kind of meals do you make ahead of time for lunch? I would like to start doing more of this. Especially for my boyfriend because he’s too lazy to make them each day :) and ends up eating out WAY too much.
I am such a planner, but especially when it comes to meals. I use our google calendar and plan out the weekly menu. My husband loves this because he can go in each day to see what is for dinner. :) Kind of like a school lunch menu.
You have such a great outlook on this important task. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!