The 7 Steps to Cheap, Easy Meal Planning
Written by: Kat Gal
When was the last time you got home late from work starving, yet, when you opened the fridge, you found nothing?
‘I will just order a pizza,’ you thought and picked up the phone, anticipating the unhealthy grease-bomb to arrive.
The next morning, you regret your decision as you were left feeling bloated and blah. But the cycle continued and you found yourself frantically looking for breakfast, finding nothing but a few cereal bars in the cupboard.
With a bar in your hand, you ran to your car with the intention of actually eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, so you stopped at a health food store, leaving a fortune behind for a whole grain muffin, a bottled juice and a salad.
Of course, the tiny salad left you hungry after lunch, leading you to the vending machine at work.
It’s a vicious cycle… trust me, you’re not alone.
Without proper planning, eating healthy and regularly can get difficult, expensive and, at times, even seem impossible.
Having a family can make things that much more challenging; most of your time is absorbed in a juggling match with all the different schedules, tastes, moods and food allergies.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Eating well and balanced can be easy and cheap. Effective meal planning is rewarding on so many levels: it saves money, it saves time, it saves energy, it makes healthy living easy and, yes, it can be a lot of fun.
Meal planning is the number one thing you can do to set yourself up for success and I am going to show you how.
Here are 7 steps to how you can meal plan effectively!
1. Consider The Basics
Before starting your planning, first think about the following questions:
- What do you have going on next week?
- How much time will you have to cook or prepare meals?
- Do you have any obligations that involve eating?
- How many meals will you be eating at home and how many meals will you be taking with you on-the-go?
- How many people are you cooking for?
- What food allergies do you have to consider?
- Are there any special celebrations coming up?
- What do you and your family crave?
- What season is it?
- What is your grocery budget?
Believe it or not, all these considerations matter. Buying food seasonally and locally can cut down on costs, plus it tastes better! Making meals ahead of time that fit the needs of all family members can help save you time and money. Using food that you have on hand can help to spark new ideas. Don’t be afraid to get creative and if you have little ones, get them involved in the process to teach them healthy habits from a young age.
2. Decide On Your Meals
Now that you have your basics down, checked your pantry to see what you already have and have considered your ‘food moods’, it’s time to start planning.
Make it fun! Actually cooking all the meals you plan is probably the best part of the whole process. Think about your favorite meals. Grab some recipe books. Make it a family activity if you wish. To save time, money and energy, think about the ‘cook once, eat twice’ concept.
Plan on cooking more than you need for one meal. Eat the leftovers the next day. If you don’t enjoy eating the same thing over and over again, now is the time to get creative with your leftovers. Use your leftover rice in a stir-fry or throw the leftover salad into a smoothie. You can always freeze your leftovers and grab them a few weeks later too.
When deciding on your meals, consider the rainbow: each color has its purpose and consuming a variety of them will provide you with all the nutrients you need.
3. Create A Meal Calendar
Creating a meal calendar can be really fun! You can assign a special dry-erase board for it, use a notebook or make a chart on your computer. Think about your days… ask yourself:
- Which days will you most likely be too tired and hungry and be in need of a quick meal?
- Which days will you have more time to prep and relax?
- Do you want to eat left-overs the day after cooking or two days later?
Think about the extras, too. Plan to have easy snacks around, things like fruits, veggies, dips, nuts, homemade raw snacks and so on.
No matter how well you plan, there will be days when you will crave an extra something or need a small snack. Not to mention your kids may not be happy with the planned banana and want an apple or a raw bar instead. Plan for unexpected occasions, snacks and treats.
4. Create A Cooking Calendar
Planning your cooking calendar goes along with planning your meals. Consider your schedule and your personality. Will you be cooking every day or every second day? Or do you want to cook everything on Sunday for the week? Will you be the only person cooking or will you be sharing the responsibility with a family member or roommate? Will you prepare your lunch and breakfast the night before or the morning of? Make your plan based on your individual needs.
If you are cooking every day or every second day, you can still save time by planning ahead on Sunday. Wash your fruits and veggies before throwing them into a dish. Put the ingredients of your salads, smoothies and green juices into separate bags. Create your snack bags ahead of time so you can just grab them as you head out the door. It will be a breeze, trust me.
5. Create A Shopping List
Once you have all your meals and snacks planned, look at the ingredients you’re going to need. Check your pantry and fridge for what you have and what you don’t. Consider sales, current coupons and seasonal produce at the farmers market when planning where to shop. Next to each item, write down where you are you going to buy them. If you can’t shop all organic, consider the list of dirty dozen and clean 15.
6. Go Shopping
When you have your shopping list and you know where you’re going to buy each item, it’s time to go shopping! If you can, bike, walk or take public transport to reduce your carbon footprint. If you must drive, try to take the shortest route possible to save money, time and energy. And don’t forget to have fun while shopping. Get to know your farmers at the farmers market, learn about their produce and their work. Ask questions at your health food store. Smell your vegetables. Maybe pick up some flowers to brighten up your home or to give to a loved one. Nourishing your mind and soul is just as important as nourishing your tummy, so make sure to enjoy this experience.
At the end of the week, think about each step and evaluate. What went well? What could’ve gone even better? Evaluating your meal planning process will help you make adjustment and find the best, easiest, quickest, effective and most fun system for you.
Kat Gál is a multi-passionate writer, world traveler, nomad, runner, and cat-person. She is a lifelong learner who lives outside of her comfort zones stretching her boundaries and discovering beauty around the world. She is a full-time freelance health & wellness writer, content creator, and also a Certified Holistic Health & Life Coach.
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