Meal Planning 101
When it comes to healthy eating, failing to plan is planning to fail. Knowing what to eat is one thing, but execution is the most important part of the battle. Luckily, a little forward planning can go a very long way in ensuring that you are set up for a week of successful meals, and meal planning is an important key to your success.
Meal planning, or meal prep, means different things to different people, but when you break it all down, it is whatever way you choose to organize your meals for a week ahead. It might mean creating a grocery list, batch cooking one dish, or making a week’s or month’s worth of meals prepped, labelled and ready to go. However you chose to execute it totally up to you, as there is no one size fits all solution, the important thing is merely that you are doing the work. It might take a little trial and error to figure out the system that works best for you, but once you do you will find a routine that suits you and your meal planning style.
Why meal plan?
The benefits of meal planning are plenty, but here are my top 3 reasons why I think it is important for everyone to practice some form of meal planning.
- Time Saver: Although it might seem like an investment of time in the short-run, in the long-run meal prepping will save you hours in the kitchen. If you are able to invest a couple of hours on the weekend, it will make weekday mornings and evenings a breeze with less time spent thinking about what to buy or cook, and less time spent stressing over what to pack for tomorrow’s lunch.
- Money Saver: Meal prepping can also help you pinch your pennies as it enables you to buy in bulk, and being organized ensures you only buy what you need so you limit your food waste. Grocery shopping without a plan forces you to grab random items you may, or may not, need. When they go unused they end up in the trash and inevitably so does the money you spent on them.
- Health Saver: The more your meals are planned and prepared in advance, the less likely you will be to grab the nearest calorie bomb convenience food. Prepping your meals helps to ensure that breakfasts, lunches and dinners are healthy no-brainers that can be headed up faster than you can call for delivery.
How to meal plan?
Coming up with an effective strategy is a key to your success. As I mentioned, it might take a little trial and error for you to find your wheelhouse but here are some great tips that everyone can implement.
- Make Time: It is important that you carve out time in your week to dedicate time spent in the kitchen. How much time you can dedicate to meal planning is completely up to you; you can dedicate a whole day to preparing every single meal for the week, or merely a couple of hours to batch cook an extra dish or two. How much meal prep you need to do might vary from week to week, but remember even a little bit goes a long way.
- Make a List: Organize yourself based on how many recipes you need to make for the week and stick to the plan. Make a list of the specific ingredients you need to buy for those specific recipes and don’t add anything else to your cart. The more organized you are when you go into the grocery store, the less likely you will be to buy extra fruits and veggies that will just go to waste.
- Learn to Multitask: Remember that you can cook lots of different things at the same time, and the more efficient you can be the less time meal prep will take you. You can use your oven and your stove top at the same time, and even cook multiple items at once. You can easily roast potatoes, while you bake chicken, steam vegetables, hard boil eggs and pack containers of nuts. If you are able to multitask you can easily cut your prep time in half if not more.
- Prep for Later: Just because you are meal prepping, it doesn’t mean you need to cook every single meal in that one moment. Pre-chopping veggies for a weeknight stir-fry or pre-marinating meats to freeze for a later date are great ways to get ahead without cooking everything at once. Pre-bagging smoothie ingredients and freezing them for later can also help speed things up the mornings you are short on time.
- Double It: Whenever you make a recipe, double the batch. Make 8 chicken breasts instead of 4, make two batches of stew instead of one, hard boil 12 eggs instead of 6. The more work you can do up front, the less work you will need to do in the long run. If you make a double batch of your favourite soup one week, freeze the other half and save it for the following week, this will cut down on prep time later on.
- Store It: Ensuring you have the right types and sizes of storage container is imperative to making good use of your meal prepping. Invest in some good quality glass containers of all different shapes and sizes; you can easily buy these at any local dollar store to help cut down on costs. Glass containers are the best to store food as they are non-toxic, can easily be stored in the fridge or freezer, or heated up at the office for lunch.
What to meal prep?
When it comes to meal prep, the ideas are endless. Essentially any recipe that stores or freezes well is a good option.
- Breakfasts, Mains & Snacks: If you are not one to individually pack every meal for the week, try simply making 1 breakfast item, 1 snack item and 1 main course item for your week. Making one item for different meals of the day helps to cut down on prep time for all times of the day. For example, baking a batch of Spinach Breakfast Casserole, along with a Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken and cutting carrots sticks for hummus helps you cover your bases for breakfast, lunch and snacks for the week.
- Starches, Proteins & Veggies: If lunches and dinners are more of a concern for you, try cooking up some of the components so when the time comes putting meals together is simple. Cook some rice, grill some chicken and roast of veggies and store them all in separate containers in the fridge. When the time comes you can use all, or some, of the ingredients to put a meal together for lunch or dinner. Alternatively, cooked chicken can easily be added to top a salad, while roasted veggies can be added to your morning omelet.
- Simple Snacks: Having simple snacks on hand is incredibly helpful for days when you are on the go or don’t have time to eat a full sit-down meal. There are certainly some recipes you can make at home, but for the most part the simpler you keep your snacks the better they will be for you. Plus, it means less time spent in the ktichen! Opt for handheld fruits like apples or pears that require no chopping or peeling, or simple handfuls of nuts and seeds for a little boost of protein and healthy fats. Snack time is also a great way to add more veggies to the diet, so pre-chopping carrots, cucumbers or peppers can be very helpful or don’t be shy to buy them pre-chopped at the grocery store. Meal prep is all about efficiency so the more you can save yourself time, the easier and more pleasant it will be.
There are endless recipe ideas for meal prep meals, but here are my go-to recipes for meal prepping for breakfast, lunches, dinners, and snacks. Hope you find them as handy as I do!
- Spinach Breakfast Casserole
- Blueberry Baked Oatmeal Bars
- Overnight Chia Seed Pudding
- Breakfast Egg Bake
- Nut & Seed Granola
- Chopped Chicken Salad
- Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
- Curried Honey Mustard Chicken
- Salmon Salad Nicoise
- Sticky Korean Chicken
- Spanish Tray Bake Chicken
- Slow Cooker Shredded Beef
- Mexican Stuffed Peppers
- Slow Cooker Butter Chicken
- Beef & Bean Chilli