Creating habits to help you achieve long-term, sustainable and balanced health of the body and mind.
Menu Planning Made Easy
You’re busy, busy, busy and the thought of having to plan out meals may feel like just one more chore to add to your already long list of things to do. I know! What I found, though, is that taking time to plan for meals each week – and writing out a grocery list – means that I ultimately save TIME. It saves MONEY. It means fewer less-desirable CALORIES. And, menu planning means less STRESS.
Menu planning saves time because first you know “what’s for dinner.” You won’t have to run to the grocery store as frequently. It saves money because eating out is so much more expensive than preparing meals at home. It also means less food waste because you’ve only bought the items you need to prepare your meals.
You can definitely save in calories too, because many times, we impulse buy, and end up with choosing convenience or processed foods. Or, if you go out to eat, you order items that look healthy, like a salad, only to discover that your meal contains 1,000 or more calories. Finally, planning meals reduces stress because you have a solid plan for your week and you won’t have to rack your brain at the last minute to figure out the age old question “what’s for dinner?”
Choosing ingredients from the grocery store gives you more control over the quality. More and more supermarkets are offering more organic options and a wide variety of foods and brands from which to choose. Cooking at home and shopping at the grocery store more often for your meal gives you more opportunities to benefit from the delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables. When we eat out, the food usually contains higher sodium levels than what we make at home. And restaurant prepared food typically uses lower quality oils like soybean, GMOs foods are used as the norm and MSG is often added or hidden, along with other controversial ingredients.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy eating out, but when you select and prepare your own food knowing exactly what is included in the dishes you make, you’re able to better control the quality and nutritional value of your meals.
This is a huge help with weight loss and weight maintenance since YOU are in control of the food and you actually know what’s in it. And, you’re likely to have more nutrient rich food.
Pick a day to be your menu planning day. For me, that means Saturday, but choose the day that works best for you. Make menu planning work for for you and your life. Consider which day of the week you can best make time to sit down and figure out what to have for dinner during the week. Will this be the same day you do the grocery shopping? Or will you plan the night before and shop the next morning? Sometimes I like to plan the menu on Saturday and then do the shopping on Sunday. Before I start, I like to ask for input from my family to see what they want for dinner during the upcoming week.
How do you like to plan your meals?
What works for you? Do you prefer to look through cookbooks, existing recipe cards, or find recipes online or maybe a combination of all three? Does your family have a favorite meal that they like to have each week?
Start with what you know so you don’t feel overwhelmed. If you already have a recipe box with a lot of recipes, start there. Find 5 or 6 you want to make for the week and go with that. You can add to the repertoire little by little. If you typically eat out most nights, maybe start with planning just three dinners this week and increase your menu planning from there.
Consider the nights that may be typically hectic with kids’ activities, meetings or any other obligations you may have. Then think about what would be the easiest meals to make on those nights. For me, that means something in the handy dandy slow cooker once or twice a week. Or, you may want to double a recipe and have it ready to reheat on a second night. Another option is to double up your chicken for one dish and set half aside to add to a salad as your main meal on another night. Choose quick and easy meals when you know you won’t have much time to cook or maybe plan on those being your crock-pot nights.
After you’ve figured out your meals for the week, it’s time to create your grocery list. Be sure to check your fridge and pantry first to see what you already have and then make the list of what you need. To help make it easier, there’s a Well Stocked Pantry list included in the Essential Kitchen Guide.
Another great option that’s super quick and easy is to use a service like a dinner studio where you go and prep everything for a week or more and bring the ingredients home to freeze and use as needed. Places like “Dream Dinners” and “Super Suppers” are becoming quite popular. Do a Google search and see if there are any in your area.
Tip: If you have a “smart” phone, your shopping list can be made much easier. One of my favorite grocery shopping smart phone app is called “Our Groceries.” I add my grocery items to the list in categories, like produce, meats, dairy, etc. You can create your own categories, too. Plus, other family members can add items to it from their smart phone so we share the list. Super cool! I don’t know how I ever used a pen and paper list now!
Before you go grocery shopping check out How To Save Money On Healthy Eating for my tried and true tips to save money on groceries without compromising on nutrition and flavor.
NEXT STEPS FOR MENU PLANNING
Okay, so you’ve figured out which nights are busy, you have your menus for the week and you have your grocery shopping list all set. You’ll want to be sure to write down your menu plan for the week so you and your family remember what you’re having each night. Post it on the fridge or somewhere else you can see it easily.
How do you like to store your recipes – on your computer? Print them out and keep them in a recipe box or folder? I started keeping a pocketed folder in the kitchen with the recipes I plan to make that week, so I know right where they are and can find them easily. I save them on the computer, then print them out and put them in the folder so I have them handy when I’m ready to start cooking.
If you type up your weekly menu plan and save it as a document on your computer, you can refer to it later. Perhaps you label the one you create this week “Week 1 Meals.” then label next week’s “Week 2 Meals” and so on. This way, after a few weeks, you’ll have quite a few menu plans to pick from and it gets easier. Then you can add to the list by trying 1 new recipe every week or every 2 weeks. Place these menu plans in a folder on your desktop labeled “menu plans” so you can find them easily. Before you know it, you’ll have a lot of recipe options and meal planning becomes even easier.
Need pre-planned menus? Perhaps you might like a service that sends you a weeks-worth of recipes each week, like E-Meals, The Fresh 20 or The Six O Clock Scramble. These sites include healthy recipes that are quick and easy to prepare along with the grocery shopping list for you.
BONUS MEAL PREP TIPS
- Cook once, eat twice. Plan to make double or triple what you would normally make for dinner so you have leftovers for lunches (for adults as well as kids) and/or another dinner. You also have the option to freeze some of the leftovers to use the following week if you prefer.
- Cook grains, like rice, ahead of time for the week, then refrigerate and use them later in the week (add a little water when reheating). Most grains will keep for 3-5 days in the fridge.
- Be sure to have food defrosted if you’re using any frozen items like meat, chicken, fish, etc. Check what you need for the next day, the night before.
- Chop your veggies on the weekend or the night before to prep ahead of time and place in storage containers in the fridge. Also, decide which frozen veggies you can use instead of fresh (especially for stews, soups and some crock pot meals).
- Make any marinades, dressings, spice mixes or sauces in advance to save time on those busier nights.
If you typically eat dinner out twice a week, and you have 20 recipes to prepare at home, that’s about four weeks’ worth of meals without repeating a meal – not bad! You can add more to the list as you go to expand your base of options.
Even if you start out just planning THREE of your meals each week, it will make a difference. I feel so much less stressed when I know I’m ready for the week and I have what I need to make healthy meals. Taking 30 minutes to plan your meals will save you much more time and energy than that in the long run.
If you’ve fought menu planning for a long time because it just seemed too time consuming, but after you do it on a regular basis, it’s so much faster and easier.
Once you start implementing a weekly menu planning, you’ll notice you feel less stressed over the dinnertime rush and you may just have a better answer to the question “What’s for dinner?”
You and your family get to enjoy more nutritious, home-cooked meals and stress less!
ACTION STEP: Menu Planning Experiment
Do a menu planning experiment for this coming week. Take a look at the calendar and see which nights you’ll be cooking. Decide which nights you’ll need a quick, easy meal and which nights you’ll have more time to prepare dinner. Then start your menu planning.
- Download the Essential Kitchen Guide.
- Make a list of new recipes have you been meaning to try?
- Using the menu planning template, write out the menu for each day’s meals.
- Make a list of the ingredients you need to purchase (grocery shopping list included in the Essential Kitchen Guide download).
- Double-checking your pantry to ensure you have the spices or staples needed.
- Decide which day you’ll go grocery shopping.
Looking for easy-to-make-ahead recipes? Start with smoothies. Any of these Easy Superfood Smoothies would be a nutritious and delicious start to your day.
be the best version of YOU,