Back in the day when I was living alone as a busy grad student, I knew that planning out my meals and snacks ahead of time wasn’t just a good way for me to make sure I was eating healthy. It was a survival tool so I didn’t starve when my schedule was packed to the brim!
And yet I struggled with meal planning for years. I have a type-A personality but I’m actually not a naturally organized person at all, so anything that involves planning ahead and following through is a challenge for me.
One day I found myself making a grocery list for the entire week, and realized I’d fell into a meal planning system without even noticing! Isn’t that how life works? As soon as we stop trying to force ourselves to change or adopt a new habit, it all works out on its own.
Now, meal planning is an automatic part of my weekly routine and the main secret to how I’ve been able to maintain my 20 lb weight loss for 8 years, avoid emotional eating or boredom munchies, and make "healthy" a lifestyle instead of a temporary diet. Plus I save lots of moolah by not getting takeout!
I've discovered that one of the main struggles my amazing and busy clients face when it comes to staying motivated and on track is lack of organization and planning.
I know we've all been there ... you come home from a draining and long day at work (where you successfully will-powered your way through avoiding all the candy and donuts at the office!) only to find an empty fridge and no energy left to make good decisions, so you order takeout or pizza and then feel like crap and give up on yourself once again.
If you’re ready to save time and money, squash emotional eating or that annoying takeout habit, and best of all nourish and fuel your body with delicious healthy foods all week long, read on my friend!
I've been polishing my system for literally 7 years now, and I have it down to a science. It only takes me 15-30 minutes to set our house up for an entire week of healthy meals and now I'm SUPER EXCITED to share it with you!
How to Meal Plan Your Week in 30 Minutes or Less
1. Block out 30-40 minutes (the process might take longer if it's your first couple of weeks! Give yourself time to get the hang of it).
*Saturday is a great day to meal plan and grocery shop so you can spend Sunday relaxing!
2. Take inventory + clear your fridge. What food/ingredients do you have in the house? What staples do you need to re-stock? Pitch old leftovers, expired food, and junk from your pantry that doesn't serve your goals.
3. Print out a fresh copy of the weekly Meal Planner worksheet and spreadsheet (found in my Meal Planning Magic e-book)
4. Sit down with your favorite recipe resources, but don't overwhelm yourself (e.g. choose 1 cookbook, 1 food magazine, OR 1 food blog for inspiration each week, or use your personal list of family faves!)
5. Choose 3-4 dinners for the week. Plan to double the recipes to make leftovers for busy nights or lunches!
6. Choose 2 lunch ideas. I recommend eating leftovers or a giant "fridge dump" salad - both are easy to pack for work.
7. Choose 1-2 breakfast ideas.
**Limiting your options will save your sanity! If you're afraid of getting bored, remember you get to mix things up again next week :)
8. Choose AM and PM snacks, preferably the same thing every day so your brain gets in a habit and you avoid mindless snacking or emotional eating.
9. Based on your inventory + meal plan, make a grocery list! Organize your list by category so you can breeze through the store like a boss.
Tips for Success
- Be realistic and don't try to completely overhaul all of your eating habits all at once if you're trying to be healthier. Be prepared, be realistic with where you're at, and set yourself up for success instead of leaving your meals to chance and being forced into scary show-downs with the Hangry Monster.
- Remember: the whole point is not about eliminating bad habits, but about REPLACING THEM with good habits so you feel satisfied, not deprived! For example, if you know you have a sweet tooth at night and drinking tea isn't gonna cut it, plan to have a healthy dessert/evening snack option to fall back on.
- If you know you love unwinding with a glass of wine at night, save the wine for the weekends and replace with kombucha or sparkling water mocktail.
- If you know you're going to be wiped on Friday night and order pizza, pick up a healthier frozen pizza at the grocery store to have on hand.
- One baby step at a time!
Pantry and Freezer Staples
It helps to have emergency food stashes in the freezer or pantry for those times when you're out of food, just getting back from a trip, or didn't have a chance to meal plan on the weekend (life happens!).
- Healthy frozen pizza (Whole wheat or thin crust, ingredients you can pronounce)
- Frozen stir fry veggies
- Individually packaged frozen chicken breasts or protein of choice - buy in bulk and freeze in Ziploc baggies
- Whole wheat pasta
- Diced tomatoes
- Pasta sauce
- Brown rice
- Salsa (dump in the crockpot with chicken and cook on low for 6-8 hours)
- Cans of beans
- Canned tuna
- Eggs (breakfast for dinner?)
Weekend Meal Prep Ideas
- Roast sweet potatoes to toss into salads or egg scrambles
- Wash and chop veggies for snacks or to throw together a quick stir fry.
- Cook a large batch of chicken or hard boiled eggs.
- Make a large batch of quinoa, brown rice, or your fave whole grain.
- Bake a large batch of chicken breasts at the beginning of the week, chop them up, and keep in the fridge for salads and dinners. (Place chicken in a baking dish sprayed with Pam, squeeze the juice of one lemon over it, generously season with garlic powder, paprika, oregano, Mrs. Dash, etc, and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350*)
- Pack your lunch and all meals for the day the night before!!!! I really struggle with this but it makes the mornings so much smoother!
- Instead of sugary flavored yogurt, buy a large container of PLAIN Greek yogurt, and portion it out into Tupperware with some stevia or honey and frozen fruit. Keep it in the fridge and as the fruit thaws it will create a yummy sauce! I also love mixing in some oats.
- Stock up on frozen veggies and fruit. It’s really easy to add some frozen veggies to pretty much anything you cook! Get the fun stir-fry blends.