Meal planning can be very simple, or it can be more involved. Some people plan every meal for the week. That might sound extreme, but if you’re looking to lose weight it can be very helpful. Some people just plan dinners for the week. Others plan a month of dinners at a time. Curl up on cozy afternoon with a cup of tea and leisurely write your plan for the week…or if you’re like me scramble to scratch one down while your 3-year-old climbs on you and you attempt to eat breakfast…

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The plans you make are subject to change of course! But having a plan in place helps get rid of that stress of what to make for dinner, it makes shopping easier, it can save you a lot of money, and it makes it more likely that you’ll make good choices for your meals. That’s really important if you’re looking to eat healthier and if you want to lose weight.

I remember saying to my mom one day, “I’ll cook anything! I don’t care…I’m just so sick of having to decide what to make for dinner.” Well, having a meal plan is kind of like having someone tell you what to make for dinner. The plan takes the thinking part out of it…and with all the things we have to think about, that’s kinda nice.

All you need to do is write down some meal ideas to get started. There are lots of organizers out there. But for now, if you haven’t been a meal planner, you can just list dinners you’ll make for the next week. I have templates I use, but you can also write it on your calendar, on a notepad, on a piece of paper taped to your cabinet or stuck on your refrigerator.

The websites orgnaizedhome.com and tipjunkie.com have some nice meal planning templates. You could also make your own. If you’re only looking to plan dinners, you could also just write them down and post the paper somewhere. My new calendar has a “dinner” space on each day. But do write it down and keep it visible! Sometimes just having it in sight as opposed to tucked in a drawer or not printed out is the difference between success and something-less-than-success.

Some weeks I make a meal plan on the computer and don’t print it out, and guess what happens…I don’t stick to the plan. So, however you plan, keep it where you can see it!

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Hold on to old meal plans and recipes. When you’ve collected enough plans you can just start rotating your meals, shaking it up every now and then with a new recipe.

When I started meal planning, I dug up an old binder for recipes I found online. It is not a very organized binder, and it’s not nice to look at, but it’s a binder. And it has my recipes (stuffed and crumbled) in it…when I sit down to plan I flip through it for ideas, or just look at old plans and pick and choose from them.

We have a lot of repeat recipes. For example, we usually have turkey chili every other week. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s healthy, it makes a lot of food, it’s easy to have the ingredients on hand, and it tastes good. It’s a standby. Cajun chicken, too. These kinds of things fit in to most plans.

I do try to make new things to try new foods and to add some variety. The first time I try a recipe I usually bring it up on my phone and follow it from there. Then if I really like it, I print it out and it eventually makes it way to the binder. These then get added to the list of meal ideas. I have learned the hard way not to try something new on a busy night.

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We have leftovers for lunch most days. It keeps us eating healthy meals and it saves my husband a lot of money and the trouble of buying lunch. I know some people snub leftovers, but I think they’re great!

So, I plan dinners with leftovers in mind. I often make a big dinner (that makes a good lunch) on Monday. It’s usually turkey chili, crockpot minestrone soup, or a big batch of Cajun chicken. We usually get two days’ worth of lunches from that. I’ll plan another big dinner mid-week.

It’s much easier to eat healthy and with proper portions in mind when you’re controlling the food. If you are used to buying lunch out, try bringing leftovers just a few days a week. Or you could bring lunch Monday-Thursday and buy on Friday.

I love the crockpot, too. I plan dinners for the crockpot based on afterschool activities. So, on a day I’ll have to be running around after school I try to plan something for the crockpot.

There are some nights we have a catch-all kind of dinner. My husband and I might have leftovers, the girls will have some pasta, the boys will have grilled cheese. (It kills me that sometimes these “easy” nights end up being more work than making a regular dinner, but they can be a nice break too.)

As for breakfast and snacks, I try to keep things simple. I have the same thing every day for breakfast and I love it. It also makes things simpler. If you get sick of eating the same thing every day, find a few breakfast ideas you like and change them up. Look for breakfasts you can make ahead and eat without much fuss or take with you.

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Keep healthy snacks stocked, too, and keep these easy. Fruit, cut up veggies, granola bars (healthy ones!), homemade muffins, little packs of almonds or other nuts, to-go packs of hummus, plain greek yogurt with some fruit.

Another way to make things go more smoothly is to squeeze in meal prep during the week. I try to do a big food prep session on Sundays (I make muffins for the kids’ lunches, bake a bunch of chicken, cut up vegetables, hard boil some eggs, make granola) to get ready for the week. But I’ll do little things during the week to help me stay on track.

For example, this morning I was out of my kefir & blueberries that I usually have in the refrigerator. So, when I portioned out my berries for today’s breakfast into the bowl, I set up mason jars with berries and kefir for the next 4 days. It only took a few minutes and I am ready with healthy breakfasts. When it’s time to eat them I’ll just add my granola. If I was running late this morning or in a rush, I would have skipped it, but I had the time and I’m glad I got it done.

So, in short, my tips are:

  • Sit down and make a plan.
  • Plan dinners first (or just dinners depending on your goals).
  • Make your shopping list.
  • Keep your plan visible. You’re more likely to stick to it!
  • Plan big dinners early in the week so you’ll have leftovers for healthy lunches.
  • Eat the same things for breakfast and snacks.
  • Do some food prep on Sundays and…
  • Squeeze in food prep during the week.

Meal planning and prepping seems like a lot of work, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Plus, it saves you time and stress during the week! If you get into the habit, and find a way to make it more enjoyable, the prep can even be a really nice part of your week. It sets you up for a healthier, smoother work week…