Meal planning saves money, time and makes healthy eating easier. With a well-thought-out meal plan, you can create accurate grocery lists and waste less food because you’ll know exactly what you’re using each ingredient for instead of just buying things and figuring out their uses later.
1 Determining your dietary needs
- Calculate how many meals and what type of food you need to plan. A good way to do this is to simply look back at the last week of eating. What days did you go out to eat? What days do you have left? What days did you have enough time to make a great, huge meal? It’s generally a good idea to plan your meals no more than a week in advance, as plans can change and food can go bad. Write down all the meals you ate last week and see how many meals and what type you need to plan:
- Breakfast: Do you ever make a unique breakfast, or do you generally eat the same thing every morning?
- Lunch: Do you eat out at work or pack your lunches?
- Dinner: Which days do you cook? What days do you eat out or eat leftovers?
- Snacks: How fast do you go through snacks? Do you need these foods or are you just eating them because you were around.
- Develop a basic calendar of the week with slots for each meal. Get a pen and paper and draw each day, putting three slots for breakfast, lunch and dinner under each. You can even print and use the template found at the bottom of the article or get a free meal planning app online.
- Create a “master list” of your favorite recipes and meals. Collect your favorite recipes online and from cookbooks, helping you quickly fill your schedule with new meals. If you don’t collect recipes or don’t know where to start, head online and search for recipes with some of your favorite ingredients, your schedule (like “hour dinners”), or simply browse food blogs or websites. A quick search for “best recipes” on the internet will turn up a lot more food than you could ever try.
Sites and apps like Food Gawker let you search for recipes by style, time, ingredients (including ingredients you want to avoid), and popularity.
Don’t forget to look at the sides, such as salads or vegetable dishes, and not just the main course.
- Complete simple or easy-to-customize meals first, such as breakfast. In general, most people eat 2-3 things each day for breakfast and lunch and often don’t use recipes to determine cereal and milk choices. Mark these meals on your calendar and then make a simple list of different ingredients that you can mix and match – muesli, cereal, fruit, yogurt, cold meats, etc. No need to plan exactly what you’re going to eat. (“12 slices of turkey”) before you go to the store. Just type (“12 slices of charcuterie”) and then see what looks good in the store.
- Understand the basics of a well-balanced meal. Planning dinners can seem challenging because they usually consist of 2-3 separate parts. However, the basics of a well-balanced meal are actually very simple. You want a main meal, usually a grain (pasta, rice, couscous, etc.), a protein like chicken, beans or fish, and at least 1-2 vegetables or fruit.
Think of each dinner as three separate parts—a grain, a vegetable, and a protein. Choose three simple recipes instead of trying to prepare one all-inclusive meal every night.
- Combine all your recipes into your weekly grocery list. Once you have all your recipes compiled, simply mix and match them together to create a shopping list. You know you will use everything you buy because it all has a purpose in your week. You can add loose snacks here and there, but in general, with proper planning, you should be able to significantly reduce your time and money spent at the store.
Before you head out, check your fridge and pantry to see what ingredients you already have.
Some people find planning all their meals daunting at first. If so, start with dinner and then shop for the rest of your groceries as normal.