Beginner’s Guide To Menu Planning and Meal Prep
How to menu plan and meal prep in less time.
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Is one of your goals for the new year healthier eating, saving money on your grocery bill, enjoy more family meals prepared at home, eating out less often or reducing stress in your life? Do you have plans to start weekly meal prep or menu planning? If any of these sounds familiar you’re going to love this post.
For many people, one of the biggest challenges when it comes to eating healthier is that it requires more time in the kitchen. To help you make that time more efficient and productive and less of it, I’m sharing 7 tips that I use each week to plan and prep for healthy eating in the week ahead. I’ve been menu planning and meal prepping for years and the benefits far outweigh the time and effort it takes to do it.
Why should you menu plan and meal prep?
Benefits of Menu Planning and Meal Prep
- Saves time. You always have the ingredients you need so no weekday last minute trips to the store.
- Saves money. When you have your menus planned out, you know exactly which ingredients you need to buy at the store. You have a list and you stick to that it while shopping and fewer impulse buys.
- Promotes healthy eating. When meals are planned out, you will usually end up with a more balanced, nutritious diet. You don’t have to run through a fast food lane, grab a processed food on the go, or skip meals.
- Reduces waste. Often, we buy foods at the grocery store, thinking we’ll use them for something, but they end up being thrown out. If you’re sticking to the list, you’re not buying anything you won’t NEED for your planned meals.
- Saves on gas. No more emergency grocery runs = less driving = less gas money.
- Encourages family involvement. Everyone has input and everyone has a chance to request their favorites.
- Supports regular eating of meals together as a family. If left to the last minute, it can be very tempting to whip something up quickly for the kids and then another meal later for mom and dad.
- Takes into account life’s busier than usual times. Plan for the school activities, working late, and the unexpected an you’re less likely to make a trip through the drive thru or grab processed food on the go.
- Reduce stress. Who doesn’t want that?
Tips for Menu Planning and Meal Prep
Plan your meals for the week. Look at your calendar and make note of anything not typical for your week (i.e. working late, meeting friends for dinner, attending a birthday party, etc.). Decide what meals you need to plan for that might be on the go or if your only option will be to eat out. Make sure to take into consideration that not all breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for the week will be eaten at home. For example, I know that my family loves to eat out and we usually do on Saturday, so, I plan one less meal for that day.
Choose your recipes. Now it’s time to browse your cookbook collection to choose the recipes you’re going to prepare for the week or simply write down your go-to favorites. Remember to note which meals can be made ahead of time and which meals will be eaten on the go.
As you probably already know, Pinterest is a great resource for recipes. For a little recipe inspiration, check out my Healthy Recipes Pinterest boards:
Create a grocery list. This is where the money saving comes in. Go through each recipe and write down the ingredients you’ll need. To make shopping easier and quicker, I like to organize my list based on the layout of the 2 stores I shop at most often, Kroger and Whole Foods.
Review your grocery list. Check your grocery list and see what ingredients you already have on hand. Check to see what you have in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. By avoiding buying duplicates you’ll save money and time.
It’s time to do the grocery shopping. If you’re focusing on eating healthier the majority of your items should be found on the perimeter of the store, where you’ll find a lot of proteins, dairy, and produce.
Begin meal prep. Start with preparing meals that can be made ahead as well as batch cook proteins and grains. This can be done based on meals for the first half of the week or in some cases it’s fine to prep ahead for the entire week. Beans, brown rice and quinoa work great for batch cooking.
Wash, cut and prep fruits and veggies. While the proteins and grains are cooking, wash, cut and the fruits and veggies you’ll need for the week. This includes making smoothie packets, chopping what you’re going to need for recipes and preparing a stash of healthy snacks.
Now that some of the prep work has been done, start preparing the recipes that work well made ahead of time. If you’re planning on lunch or breakfast on the go, store these meals in pre-portioned serving sizes. It’s a little thing that will save you time during the week.
So, that’s it. If you’re new to menu planning and meal prep, this may seem like a lot of time. Don’t get discouraged. After a few weeks, it gets easier and quicker. It’s true, it is a few hours on the weekend that you’d probably rather do something else, but those few hours will save you time and make life so much easier throughout the coming week.
Bonus Tip: Watch TV or listen to a podcast while you plan and prep.
Bonus Tip #2: Enlist the help of your family. Ask for their input on the recipes, have them help with the grocery shopping. Have conversations with your significant other and/or your kids in the kitchen while you cook. Older kids make great veggie choppers and I happen to have a husband who is a great cook.
To help you create a new healthy habit and to make life even easier, I’ve put together a great free download including 2 menu planning templates.
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Click the image below to receive the free download and access to subscriber only downloads in the healthy living content library:
New subscriber only content added at least 2-3 times a month.
If you have any questions about menu planning or meal prep let me know in the comments below. I’m happy to help!
Do you menu plan and/or meal prep? Who in your family could help with the veggie chopping? What is one obstacle you have to healthier eating?
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Meal planning is my jam! It’s key to getting healthy meals on the table for my family every week. These are great tips to help people start doing the same!
I really need to start meal planning. Especially now that my grandfather is haven’t some health issues.
Great post! I do meal prep, but I still need to make it even more of a habit! I like to prepare a few dishes for dinner that i can repurpose for lunch and dinner throughout the week!
Meal planning is my passion. I enjoy it so much and of course, it makes eating healthier much easier.
I have been majorly slacking on the meal planning! I have in the past but I haven’t since my second was born. That’s no excuse – I just really haven’t been very excited to cook! Thank you for these guidelines to get me back on track. You rock, Jill!
Excellent tips! I’m getting back on the meal prep wagon this week. Love the idea of listening to a podcast while I prep!
I used to do this when I lived alone and it definitely made eating meals much less stressful! But now that my weekends are full I find it difficult to find time to do this, if only someone could do it all for me! 😀
I try to do meal planning and am pretty good with at least 3 meals a week. With 3 kids running in different directions it’s hard to get everyone to sit down for a meal, so sometimes everyone just fends for themselves. It can be exhausting! Love your plan though.
I definitely need this. I am eating healthier and taking one day at a time, but planning is the most important.
I keep meaning to start meal planning but I just never get to it. These are good tips. Thanks!
I am so terrible about meal planning and I am one that NEEDS to do it, especially with my small boys. Some days I forget and wait til the last minute and then we are eating frozen chicken nuggets for dinner :/
I swear, meal planning is the only thing that gets me through life somedays! LOL. I love not having to worry about what Im going to make, I just check my planner!
This is perfect for someone who hasn’t done meal planning before like me. I really want to try this year and help save towards groceries.
I love meal planning! I totally agree with all the benefits…I do wish I could get my family to eat more veggies though! On Saturdays I have the kid help plan out the next week and I go to the store on either Sunday or Monday to get everything I need for the next two weeks. My issue is that they always pick the same things to eat…my family is not very creative!
I started meal planning a year or so ago and it truly does save so much money! I never realized how much useless stuff I was buying at the grocery store when I was trying to wing it. Great tips, for sure! Thanks. 🙂
Menu planning is something I really need to improve on. That and actually making all of the meals that I plan!
Awesome tips! I always plan ahead and use Sunday’s for meal prep, it is so important 🙂
This is a great list. I honestly don;t know how people cook without planning meals. And you’d likely spend so much more at the store!
We def have our days where we waste a lot of food by not meal planning. All these tips are fabulous! I’d love to give it a go again to save money.
We def have our days where we waste a lot of food by not meal planning. I’d love to give it a go again to save money. All these tips are fabulous!
Most weeks I’m pretty good with meal planning. I try to only make one big trip to the store per week, and if a second one is needed its usually only to get a couple more produce items to get us through the rest of the week.
I have a meal planner to ensure that I use all the ingredients I have at home and only buy what I need. It’s great to be organised x
I start meal planning on my way home from work, terrible I know! This is a great post! I definitely need to work on a few of these pointers!
I definitelt believe completely in meal prepping and meal planning! It stops any temptations, any laziness. It’s wonderful!
I think I need this! I’m not good on meal planning because I always end up change the menu more than often. Maybe it’s time to do it again.
I’ve never done meal planning, but I heard it can help you save a lot. Thanks for sharing this.
I always create a menu for the week whenever I plan to start eating healthier. Although sometimes I go off of it, like on vacations. Its just like impossible to keep a menu during summer and winter break haha
Great tips! I was a much better meal planner when the kids were younger and were home every night. As they got older, the activities multiplied and our schedules were sporadic. Now, we’re down to the last kiddo at home…so the craziness has been reduced. No excuses…I need to get back to this. Thanks for the info!
Yay for meal planning + meal prep! It helps me to save so much money, and keeps me on track with healthy eating! 😀
I absolutely love this post! I really want to get better at this and your tips are fantastic!
Girl you know I love love love meal planning and meal prepping! It’s the only way I can get things done around here! pinterest and cookbooks are my go to. I usually get a few “extra” ingredients for recipe development but other than that this is exactly how I go about my week!
You know I’m a big meal planner. I keep a log, and I just started on my 3rd book. We’ve been meal planning for almost 10 years!!!
I do meal planning, but I don’t do a lot of “once a week” prep. I know I eat more veggies when I do, but it just doesn’t seem to happen very often.
I def want to try meal planning this year not over the top just simple I know it would help me !!! Laci @ Sequinsinthesouth.com
I have always planned weekly menus since I was first married back in ’95–it never made sense to me how anyone could adequately shop if they didn’t know what they’d be making?! Now, my current husband and I trade off planning and prep each week (so we each get some “time off” from KP duty), and we always cook double for dinners so we have lunches ready to go the next day. This weekend I’m delving into the freezer meals realm so we’ll be extra prepared once we start a major home reno project.
Awesome post, I love these tips. I plan about 3 days ahead usually prep on sunday. Planning is key!
As much as I try meal planning I never stick to it! This has given me some motivation. Great link-up I will be joining very soon. Thanks Jill.
Awesome post! This is exactly how I plan and shop each week. Only I listen to music with the kids so we can dance while cooking.
I definitely need to get back into the habit of meal planning as it is much more cost-effective isn’t it? Thank you for your helpful tips.
Thank you for this! I’ve fallen into a rut with the meals I’ve been making and I need to buckle down and plan and prep ahead of time.
Meal planning is so great whenever I do it. I am not always motivated to do it though. Haha (P.S. I changed the logo! Love the new one!)
I don’t do much meal prepping, but I meal plan every week because it really does prevent food waste (which is one of my biggest pet peeves) and saves money! Plus, meal planning adds more fun variety of meals to our diets – otherwise I just make the same few things for dinner!
I’ve gotten out of the habit of regular meal prepping but that is one of my goals this year. It makes weeknights so much easier and we eat so much healthier when it is all ready to go.
Great guide for meal planning! I NEED to get on the meal prepping portion! I think this would save so much time!
Meal planning makes a world of difference for me! Great tips Jill!
Meal planning is a life saver for me! We would not have anything to eat if I didn’t do something ahead of time! I’m terrible at 6PM decisions.
Great post, Jill. I’ve been meaning to do a post on meal planning as well. It really does simplify life in general during those busy weeks and busy times. Like you mentioned, you can cut V/F while grains or meats are cooking so it really doesn’t take as long as some people think!
I’m allllll about the food prep Jill! I shared a few of these tips in my food prep e-book. I am a firm believer that food prep is an essential habit to eating healthy. It just makes life so much easier!
I really try to meal plan 3 days out but my biggest problem is I often have to make 2 dinners. The rest of my family is not vegetarian. I could get better at this somehow! Thanks for the link up
My problem? I always immediately eat what I meal prep… I don’t do well when I know things are sitting around!
I’ve not been good with meal planning as I often change my mind what I want to eat. Only special meals are planned ahead.
I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of meal planning and prep lately! I am usually good about meal planning but I would like to get a little more creative rather than eating the same things every week:) Have a great weekend!