Hey there! And welcome to our first class on how to meal plan. AKA Meal Planning 101. It's going to be a new series here on Salted Mint over the next few weeks. And just to get us going I've created a 5-page planner for you to download at the bottom of the post. You can use it to get and stay in control.
As a professional chef, food blogger and freelance home economist, the NUMBER 1 question I get asked time and again is... "how on earth do I meal plan?"
Well, there are a few key steps to meal planning. But let's first talk about the why of meal planning. My approach to cooking and meal planning is what I call the Fast & Fresh approach. Use simple recipes that are quick to make and use seasonal ingredients. That's half the battle won if you follow my simple 2 step approach.
5 Killer Reasons to Meal Plan
- When you meal plan you eat healthier- This one's kind of a no-brainer really. When you meal plan, you are in complete control of what you eat. No more grabbing takeout or ordering pizza on the fly. You know exactly what you're having and you know that you've got all the ingredients to make it.
- Meal planning helps you achieve your weight loss and fitness goals faster- When you meal plan you are saying yes to whole healthy foods and no to preservative-laden ready meals. Meal planning will save you tons of empty and accidental calories. The kinds of calories you don't realize are in a lot of our go-to ready meals. And tinned soups etc.
- Meal planning gives you a great variety- When you take the time to meal plan (about 1 hour a week) it gives you the chance to space out your food. To find some creative recipes that you haven't tried before. You also have the time to think about the ingredients that you need. I bet when you don't meal plan, you find yourself making the same 4 recipes every week. Am I right?
- Meal planning will save you buckets of time- This one may be one of the biggest wins in the meal plan game. These days time is literally MORE important than money. So, when you plan, go through your recipes. Make a list of all the ingredients that you'll need for your recipes. That way you are going grocery shopping 1 time!!!! Yes. One shopping trip to the grocery store is the meal planning limit. There is a bit of a caveat here though. You go shopping 1 time for your main items. You split fruit and veg up into a Saturday night trip and a mid-week trip, just to ensure you've always got fresh stuff on hand. That way nothing goes to wastes. Keep a sheet on the fridge for anything you may run out of or need topping up, but keep it limited to things like milk and bread, and your mid-week fruit and veg.
- Lastly, meal planning is gonna save you some money- Because it's not like we're all not looking to save a few bucks every day right? More money you have in your pocket and less money you drop at your local grocery store the better you're going to feel about things. Before I really started to get my meal plan game on, we were going to the grocery store 3-4 times a week and spending the equivalent of a weekly shop each time. The big kicker in this was that I wasn't really thinking about what was already in the fridge that I could use up, so at the end of the week there was lots of bits and pieces that would potentially get wasted. Now that my meal planning game is strong, every night is stressless. Because I know what I'm making and I already know I've got the ingredients to get on with it right away.
Click here to download the Meal Prep Planner
When you first start to meal plan, it's really important to make it an enjoyable experience. Pick a time on a day that you have a few hours free in the afternoon. For a lot of people, this works out to be Sunday. Personally, I think that Saturday is the better day, and here's why...
I use Saturday afternoon to sit down with a cup of tea or coffee. Sometimes even a cheeky glass of wine and make my meal plan for the following week. Being the first day of the weekend, my mind isn't cluttered with things like "what to wear to work tomorrow", "do I need to do laundry", "do the kids need help with their homework?" etc. You know... those Sunday questions. But there's also another reason I do this...
I do my grocery shopping on a Saturday evening. It may not sound glamorous, but believe me, it is bliss. The store is quiet, I can go from aisle to aisle quickly, and being that Sunday morning is often the busiest time, the grocery stores have already stocked the shelves ready for that Sunday morning onslaught, so I get first pick of everything. This alone cuts my grocery shopping time in half. I'm in and out in about 30-40 minutes and back home to enjoy a Saturday night.
6 Simple Steps of Meal Planning: How Exactly Does This Work, Anyway???
When I sit down on Saturday to make my meal plan and shopping list I do the following 6 things...
- Make a list of all of your activities for the week- Do the kids have activities, do you have a date night, or are you entertaining? These questions will inform the pace of the week and the style of dinner you need to have ready. If it's a quiet week, then you can take a little more time cooking if you feel like it. If it's a super hectic week, you need to be sure you've got simple meals to get on the table in a hurry.
- Decide How many times would you like to cook/ eat out/ have leftovers- This one step can instantly reduce overwhelm when it comes to meal planning. It's easy to get overwhelmed when you think you need to get 7 different dinners each week. But if you know that one night you'll be out, 2 nights you plan on having leftovers, that only leaves you 4 nights to cook. And if you make them all 15-30 minute meals, that's a week's worth of dinners in 2 hours or less. See? You totally got this!
- How long do you have each night to make dinner? So, like we just talked about in the above point. How long can you afford to spend each night cooking dinner? Personally, I love a 30-minute meal, but sometimes I just want to spend time in my kitchen. I love to meditate on the rhythm of cooking. Chop, dice, sizzle, stir. Repeat. For some of us cooking is therapeutic and we enjoy the process. For others of us, we want to get in and out as fast as possible. So decide what you're in the mood for and find recipes that fit the bill. Eg. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour or slow cooker.
- Make the days visible- Marking out the days on the weekly calendar are a huge help. It lets you quickly glance and the day and you know exactly what's going on. Mark the days that will be tight on time with an “X” and the days that you’ll be out with an “O”. Leftovers can be marked with an “L”. You can use these for actual leftovers the following night, or you can use it as lunch the following day.
- One Meal at a Time- As most people’s dilemma really comes from dinner planning, put breakfast and lunch on autopilot until you master dinner planning. That way you’re only getting to grips with one meal and we can add in breakfast and lunch a bit later. Cereals, smoothies and packed salads or leftovers are the way to go for the first couple of weeks of meal planning.
- KISS Methodology- Keep the dinners simple. In order to stay on the meal plan train, start with simple recipes that are limited on ingredients. Use recipes that make the best of seasonal ingredients to keep costs down. Check out the 5 simple styles of dinner below.
Simple Dinner Ideas
15-30 minute meals. Here's a few to get you going... Simple Thai Yellow Curry, Carne Asada Bowls, Prawn Tostadas
Sheet pan dinners. These are some of the most popular recipes on Salted Mint... One Pan Lemon Chicken, One Pan Cajun Salmon
One pot dinners. These recipes are quick and simple to prep, and cook and clean up is a dream. One pot creamy lentils, Pumpkin coconut curry
Freezer meals. Try these- Greek Chicken Meatballs,
Clean out the fridge meals. Roasted Red Pepper Pasta, Sweet N' Spicy Korean Stir Fried Noodles, Mexican Chicken Stuffed Peppers
Limit yourself to one recipe per meal. Instead of trying to make the main dish and some sides, stick to one main recipe. And then steamed or roasted vegetables for side dishes and something simple for dessert. I usually like to make something like these no-bake caramel cups, or these healthy gluten free brownies. I just pull one out when I need a dessert. That way I have something homemade. And, so I don't have something loaded with sugar and fat, but it's a zero-effort solution.
Gather your recipes and either print them out and put them into a folder, or write them down. Whatever works for you, so that you’ve got the recipe in front of you when it comes to cooking.
Make a list of all the ingredients that you’re going to need. Sort your items by aisle and section. You can just download this awesome meal planning kit to get you going with all the tools that you need to plan like a total boss girl. This will save you can save tons of time at the grocery store. So you can get out of the dairy aisle and back into your life!
So, organize your list based on fresh fruit/veg, dairy, bakery, and pantry aisles.
Every night before you go to bed, take a quick look at what you're making the following night. That way you can be even more prepared. You can take anything out of the freezer, or put something into a marinade. Whatever it is, you know what's coming at you tomorrow.
The Best Tools For Successful Meal Planning
Being good at meal planning only takes a bit of practice and a couple of tools that will make your life so. much. easier. I've listed everything that would be on my wishlist, but you can certainly just choose what works for you. The beauty of these products is that they're all sustainable and so much better for the environment than single-use plastics.
These pyrex containers are a dream to use. They can go from freezer to fridge, to oven. We got these for a wedding gift and I've not stopped using them since.
These rectangle glass, oven-safe containers are perfect for making lasagnas and shepherds pie. They've got their own lids, so no need to waste plastic.
Lunch Meal Prep Containers
These lunch prep containers have locking lids, so you can be sure that there will be no leaks all over your bags or desk!
You can try stainless steel containers too. They work like a charm, but I personally love my glass ones.
Meal Prep Storage
Silicone food storage bags are the perfect solution to single-use zipper bags. I love mine and have really never looked back once buying these ones.
Food safe labels are a must when you're meal prepping. These labels make have space for you to record when you made the recipe or prepped the ingredients and when it needs to be used by.
A sharpie is a must in the kitchen when food prepping like a Queen. Instead of running around looking for a pen on meal prep days I leave these in the kitchen so I've always got 'em.
If you've got a favorite meal prep recipe drop it below, or if you've got some tips and tricks that I didn't mention let me know. Meal planning, the art of organizing meals, and meal prepping, the nuts and bolts of chopping, blending and mixing ingredients to use throughout the week are two sides of the same coin. You can barely have one without the other.
Be sure you download the planner and use it help you keep control over your fridge and your grocery budget.
Happy prepping = Happy cooking. Enjoy, Everyone!
Natasha @ Salt & Lavender says
This is a lot of good advice for those who are new to all this! Maybe I'm ahead of the curve, but I've been doing similar (ok, not perfectly, mind you) my whole adult life. There's nothing worse than grocery shopping on an empty stomach and without a list haha. That's when poor choices are made. I try to make at least one meal on the weekend that will give me a few days worth of healthy lunches. If you know what you're going to eat, it really helps you avoid temptation. I also always plan in a few "cheat" meals because they're what keeps me going when I am tired of the rabbit food. 😉 I'm also working on planning more variety into my diet. I am a bit bored of some of the foods that helped me drop my weight initially, but they do say that people who lose weight and keep it off tend to eat similar things from day to day. It makes sense because then you're also taking the guesswork out of calories if you know it's good for you and have calculated them already. It's interesting... the more healthy foods I eat, the more I crave them, and the less I crave bad foods. I just had my birthday weekend and oh man I am so glad I'm back to eating healthier today!
I was unable to download the planner. I know this is an older article, but I would really be interested in the planner
Thanks for great tips! How can I get the free planner please?