Meal planning allows us to take our nutrition knowledge and apply it to our daily lives, and this can look different for everyone. For some, meal planning may mean picking out two new recipes for batch cooking to add some variety through the week , and for others, it may mean planning new meals for each day. The thing to remember is that everyone is different and you have to find what works for you (sometimes through some trial and error)! The same goes for meal prep, if preparing everything on one day works for your schedule, great! If not, no worries! We will take you through some easy ideas to help you learn about meal planning and how to find the simple meal prep that works for you.
How to Meal Plan?
Before we can go into our meal prep guide, we need to start by doing some planning. Meal planning is not about setting strict rules or having boring meals day after day. In fact, meal planning can help you prepare meals that you will look forward to.
- First, take a look at your schedule for the week. Think about work, personal, and family commitments. Plan the days where you will be in a time crunch. Will you be eating out for dinner any nights this week? Plan those in, too! Don’t forget to plan for breakfast and lunches as well. Don’t feel like you have to plan to cook everything from scratch. Meal planning can also meal planning to buy certain food products or ingredients to have on hand during meal times. Check out our handy meal planning sheet for a template to get started!
- Now that you have an idea of what your schedule looks like for the week, let’s pick some meals! Does it make sense for your schedule to cook every night? Or is making larger batches and eating leftovers going to help on busy nights? Do you have any leftovers or ingredients that need to be used up? If you need inspiration for meal themes, try to make each day of the week a different theme.
- Have a list of back-up meals with foods you generally have on hand for unplanned changes in your schedule or days when you don’t feel like cooking.
- Don’t try to make seven new recipes a week. Try instead to include 1-2 new recipes for variety, but also plan for some tried and true recipes that you know you and your family will love.
- Think about the balance on your plate. Do you have a balance of protein, starches, fats and vegetables at your meals?
- Make a shopping list based off of the meals you have planned. Don’t forget to add fruit, breakfast items, any kitchen staples you need to restock, snacks, etc.
How to Meal Prep
Now that you have planned your meals, you may want to consider some meal prep tips to help you be prepared for the week ahead. It’s a common misconception that you need to spend hours meal prepping to get things done, but each person is different. Depending on your schedule for the week, you may find that different meal prep methods work for different days and weeks.
One and Done
The “One and Done” method might work best for you if you often get home late and want to eat very soon after. Using the “One and Done” meal prep method, you would prep all of your meals for the week on one day. (Many people just prep lunch and dinner, however, breakfast could be included as well). Once all of your meals are prepped, you can divide them into containers for yourself and your family for the whole week or put them in the fridge and have everyone serve themselves. This allows everyone to grab what they need, when they need it.
Here are some tips for using the “One and Done” method:
- Think about your cooking methods when planning the meals. Try to pick a few different ways of cooking to make things easier for yourself. Consider simultaneously throwing a meal in the slow cooker, making another “sheet pan” meal, and cooking a “one pot meal” so that you don’t have to watch all of your dishes carefully.
- “One and Done” doesn’t mean you have to eat something different each day. This comes down to personal preference. If you don’t mind eating similar dishes during the week, you may only need to prep two recipes with the appropriate portions.
- Play around with seasonings. Just because you’re baking chicken doesn’t mean you have to season it all one way. Consider baking all of your chicken on the same sheet pan, but seasoning half with Italian herbs, and the other half with Mexican spices. Serve the Italian chicken with sweet potato and zucchini while the Mexican chicken can be made into a taco bowl with rice, black beans, cheese and lettuce. That way you have two different meals, with minimal effort.
“One and Done” Sample Menu:
- Turkey Chili with Cornbread Muffins
- Chicken Taco Bowls with Rice and Beans
- Greek Chicken Salad with Chickpeas
- One Pan Spaghetti & Meatballs
As you can see, each of those meals required a different cooking method, so you could multi-task while making them. And at the end of the day, all meals are ready to be eaten for lunch and dinner for the week!
Want more tips for an easy one and done meal prep day, check out this blog!
Leftovers for Lunch
This method requires more planning than anything. If you find that you have time to cook when you get home, but lunchtime is trickier, this is the method for you! We still recommend planning what type of meals you would like to cook ahead of time but keep the portion sizes in mind. If you’re cooking for a family of 4, but all 4 of you want to take leftovers for lunch, remember to make sure to cook 8 portions of the dish. To save yourself time in the morning, pack up your lunch portions in the evening so your lunches are ready to go the next morning.
Round Two Meals
“Round Two Meals” involve using leftover ingredients from previous meals earlier in the week to make dinner quickly. We also recommend that you plan for this. If you know you will need extra rice for another meal later in the week, be sure to cook enough. Here is a sample menu with some Round Two Meal ideas:
Here is a “Round Two Meals” Sample Menu:
Chop and Go
If you want to get a leg up on dinner time, consider chopping your veggies and marinating your proteins ahead of time, so that you can easily throw together dinner when the time comes. For example, here are three dishes that could be on your weekly menu:
- Chicken Stir Fry with Brown Rice
- Sheet Pan Ranch Chicken with Green Beans and Potatoes
- Vegetable Bean Soup
On Sunday (or as time allows), consider chopping all the vegetables for the stir fry and putting them in a container or plastic zipper-lock bag (you can also use pre-chopped frozen). In a separate bag, add chopped chicken and marinate as desired. When it comes time to cook, cook your rice, preheat a skillet and cook the stir fry as desired.
During a meal prep day, take two containers, and chop potatoes and green beans. Remove chicken from freezer (if needed) to make sure they are defrosted and ready to cook. When it comes time to cook, lay green beans and potatoes in a single layer. Add chicken and season all with ranch dressing mixture. Bake in oven.
When you’re meal prepping, chop all veggies for your soup and make sure your beans are ready to go (soak them overnight if needed). Place all ingredients in slow cooker with vegetable broth and cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high.
If leftovers aren’t your thing, but you still want to make lunch time easier, consider preparing your lunches for the week ahead of time. Consider things that will hold well in the fridge like:
- Mason Jar Salads
- Soups and Chilis
- Bento Boxes (compartmentalized lunch boxes)
When planning dinner, feel free to pair this method of lunch meal prep with either the Round 2 Meal or Chop and Go meal prep method to help you get dinner on the table during the week.
Your meal prep method can look like one of the methods listed above, or it could be a combination of a few. Don’t be afraid to try out a few options to see what works best for your family.
Whether you are a novice in the kitchen, or a seasoned chef, Dietitian Klara will work with you to help you reach your nutrition goals. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating, Cooking with Diabetes and Cooking with Food Sensitivities Guide.