Why is meal planning important? There's a few reasons actually:
1) It saves you time and energy that would otherwise go into coming up with your next meal the day of, 2) It helps you stick to your diet goals by eliminating the takeout option when you don't have the ingredients on hand to make a well balanced meal, and 3) It helps you stay on your grocery budget because when you go to the grocery store once per week, with a plan in hand, it limits spontaneous and unnecessary purchases.
Here are my 6 simple meal planning tips in order to truly reap the rewards of the practice:
- Make it a ritual. Get in the habit of meal planning the same day every week. Schedule it into your calendar, even. Meal planning once per week on the same day makes for better consistency and structure, makes it easier to stick to, and trains you to plan recipes that actually last the whole week.
- Expect trial and error. As alluded to above, when you first start officially planning your meals ahead of time you might expect a recipe to last you three or more days worth of lunches yet it only lasts you two days. That's okay! It teaches you to underestimate and also how to be creative with what you have on hand for the next meal.
- Keep it simple. If there's a new recipe or two you want to try every week, that's great — if you have the time for it. However one of the main benefits of meal planning is saving time throughout the week, so overcomplicating the process with new and intricate recipes will just steal that time away from you again. Instead, stick to 80-90% of your simple, old-faithful recipes that you already know you like.
- Use a structure that works for you. If you subscribe to the Well & Free newsletter you'll receive a free Weekly Meal Planner Printable, which has a straightforward design to help you plan your daily meals and snacks and your weekly grocery shopping list. If this doesn't work for you, try a simple pen and notepad or a meal planning app.
- Mix it up! Had quinoa in your salads for lunch last week? Change it up this week with brown rice. Swap out your typical veggie sides every once in a while. Create weekly meal "templates" and rotate them so that every week is different from the next. Why? Because otherwise you'll get bored and won't stick with it, and instead you'll find yourself scrambling to come up with tonight's dinner at the last minute and opting to eat out instead.
- And finally, don't grocery shop while hungry! This is a rookie mistake. I've been grocery shopping while hangry (hungry + angry because you're hungry), and it's not pretty. This is an easy way to want to eat and therefore buy everything in sight, negating most of the benefits of meal planning.
I hope these tips help make meal planning a straightforward and rewarding process for you. Have any additional tips? Please share them in the comments!