How to Meal Plan and Meal Prep: 10 Tips for Success
What is Meal Planning & Meal Prepping?
Meal planning is taking the time to sit down and plan your meals for the week. This can mean planning meals you’re making and also planning meals you might eat out. Whatever the case may be, it’s planning ahead. Meal prepping is the act of preparing or cooking your meals ahead of time. This could simply be chopping up vegetables the day before you’re going to cook a meal or it could be making a full meal a day or two before you’re going to enjoy it.
Why is Meal Planning & Prepping Important?
Our lives are busy and hectic and when we let our schedule overtake our eating habits, we tend to choose easy food options that might not be the healthiest. Meal planning and prepping helps you make nutrition a priority but in a less overwhelming way. You don’t need to be in your kitchen for hours a day – eating healthy meals can be much easier with a little meal planning and prepping. With a game plan for the week, you can more easily choose nutritious food options instead of unhealthy, processed foods when you’re on the go.
Other benefits of meal planning and prepping include weight loss, increased energy, improved sleep, less overwhelm with cooking, saving money, spending less time cooking and cleaning, and finding a love for cooking again.
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #1: Start off Slow
If you’re just starting out, I suggest focusing on the most difficult meal of the day for you first, and then expand into meal planning the rest of your meals. For example, if dinner is always the most difficult meal to put together at the end of your long day, focus on planning and prepping your dinners first. Once you get comfortable with the process, consider planning and prepping your lunches and breakfasts. Ease into the process to set yourself up for success.
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #2: Enjoy the Process
It’s important to enjoy planning and preparing meals you love. The key to better nutrition and improving your health is appreciating the act of preparing and eating nutritious meals and for you and your family. This is the ultimate form of self-care and self-love. It can be a struggle to balance preparing meals you love with meals you think the rest of your family will eat; however, consider focusing on yourself first and the rest of the crew will likely jump on the bandwagon. When you try to cater to everyone, the process can get overwhelming. Keep it simple and focus on starting with meals you enjoy – your motivation is the most important. You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of everyone else.
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #3: Give Yourself Time to Plan Your Week
Select a day to sit down and plan your meals for the week (whether you’re eating in or eating out). Looking at the week in its entirety will help you make sure you have your groceries for the entire week. Make sure you’re realistic about what you’re planning. For example, it’s probably not realistic to make 7 completely different dinners. Start with 2 or 3 meals at first and then figure out healthy meals you’ll eat for the days you’re not cooking. Write down your meals on a meal planner so you know your game plan and can grocery shop efficiently. Check out my Meal Plan + Shopping List Template to help make your life easier.
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #4: Prepare Your Meals
Once you have your meals planned for the week, create a shopping list so you can purchase all the food you’ll need. You can take the time to go to the store or if you’re tight on time, use a grocery delivery service to make your life easier. Do what works for you!
There’s no right or wrong way to meal prep and different ways of preparing meals work better for some people than others. Meal prepping doesn’t have to mean cooking up all of your meals for the week at once. You might find that eating the same food at every meal for 4 days straight gets a little monotonous and takes the joy out of eating. However, if this is what works best for you, go for it. Find a system that will help you be successful. Also, some weeks will require more preparation than others so figure out what you need to do to be successful in a given week. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you set aside enough time to get everything done.
Figure out how you can prepare components ahead of time to use throughout the week. Dice up sweet potatoes for easy cooking, marinate your meats ahead of time, and batch cook up your grains or pasta for the family to use throughout the week. On Sunday, you could double up a recipe for dinner that evening and have leftovers for two lunches. If you’re making a dinner of chicken, quinoa, and broccoli on Tuesday, you can prepare the quinoa ahead of time on Sunday, and wash and cut up the broccoli for roasting so all you have to do on Tuesday is cook the chicken and roast the broccoli. Simply washing and cutting up produce on Sunday can help make your life a lot easier throughout the week.
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #5: Prepare Each Evening
You plans may change over the course of the week so I suggest taking 5-10 minutes the night before to assess how the next day is looking. It might make sense to switch a meal around if need be or take some time to prep any fruits and vegetables or marinate any meats. You could even make some quinoa or gluten-free pasta the night before so you don’t have to worry about it the next day. Taking a short amount of time the evening before can have a huge impact on keeping you successful for the next day. Planning not just for the week, but for each day the night before is the key to staying on track with healthy eating.
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #6: Cook Once, Eat Twice
Cook once, eat twice. This is such a simple concept but can get overlooked. If you’re making a meal, make enough for two dinners or for lunches the next day. If you’re taking the time to prepare a healthy and delicious meal, take advantage of that time and just double the recipe so you can enjoy it again. This idea is great to use for making soups and stews, sheet pan dinners, and component meals. You can just throw the extras in the freezer if they don’t get eaten so you have an easy meal to grab and defrost if you’re tight on time another day.
Here’s a list of containers that might be helpful to help store your food:
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #7: Keep it Simple
You don’t need to make elaborate meals. There are plenty simple and delicious meals you can make quickly that you will enjoy to avoid cooking burnout! Consider keeping your meals simple by selecting sheet pan meals (all components are cooked on one sheet pan), crockpot meals, and component meals (mix and match a meat, grain, vegetable, for example).
If you want to get creative and make more elaborate meals, definitely go for it but t make sure you do it on a day that works for your schedule. Maybe Sunday afternoons are a good time to get creative in the kitchen and prepare something more time-intensive. The goal is to have fun and enjoy making meals you love!
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #8: Stock Your Pantry
Stock your pantry with staples to help you keep healthy meal options on hand. Keep your pantry full of canned beans, tuna, sauces, artichokes, olives, and other vegetables and dried options like lentils, beans, brown rice, quinoa and whole grains. Find healthy sauces, dressings, and marinades to keep on hand to spice things up differently.
I like to use Primal Foods salads dressings and sauces – they’re all dairy free, gluten free, and don’t have any added sugar. I usually stock up on pantry goods online from Thrive Market.
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #9: Use the Freezer
The freezer is your friend! Freeze entire leftovers as meals so you can grab something easy the following week. Stock the freezer with frozen fish or other meats to defrost overnight if you don’t have any readily available in the fridge. Freeze bags of fruits and vegetables for breakfast smoothies and have an arsenal of frozen veggies to add as a quick side to any meal. While it’s nice to have fresh meats and produce, it’s great to be able to have frozen options in your back pocket if you need it.
Meal Planning & Meal Prepping Tip #10: Give Yourself Grace
Getting into a successful meal planning and meal prepping routine takes time and patience. Give yourself grace and know that small changes will add up to big ones. You’re going to have good days and bad days and you need to give yourself grace along the way. If you have some bumps in the road with meal planning and prepping, don’t beat yourself up about it. Acknowledge what happened and just make the next best decision and keep moving forward. Focus on making progressing instead of being perfect. Balance and grace is key for long term health success.
Ashley Lillis is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach dedicated to helping women find their own version of healthy through sustainable lifestyle changes.