As a dietitian, people are always asking me how to meal plan. They want to know how I do it and how I make time to cook at home. The truth is that I struggle with planning meals as much as anybody else! Anyone who tells you that getting dinner on the table every single night is easy and breezy is either a) lying or b) superhuman.
That being said, there are ways to make your life MUCH easier when it comes to feeding your family. You can certainly pay someone to plan your meals, shop for you, or even cook for you, but for those of us trying to get by on a budget, there is another way.
The method is simple – just six easy, practical steps – but it works! This is the method I use in my everyday life, and it has significantly improved my ability to both get healthy meals on the table and stick to my grocery budget. Try it out, and I guarantee it will work for you too.
6 EASY STEPS TO MEAL PLANNING SUCCESS
1. Find (and organize) the best healthy recipes.
In order to plan healthy meals, you need to know what you are going to make. Think about what you like to cook, what foods your family likes to eat, and how much time you have to prepare meals. Then, create a personalized recipe collection, choosing recipes that fit your family’s preferences and lifestyle. Be realistic! The best recipe is the one you will actually make.
2. Create a meal schedule that works for your family.
It’s one thing to have a list of meals you could make; it’s another thing entirely to actually make those meals. That’s where your meal schedule comes in. To create a meal schedule, think about your family’s schedule during the week; what events do you have? are there evenings you won’t be home in time to cook? Then, choose recipes that fit within that schedule. Use your favorite calendar or planner to record your schedule so that you’re more likely to stick to it.
3. Make a better grocery list.
It may seem obvious, but making a good grocery list is essential for executing your meal plan. Create your grocery list based on your meal schedule, and make sure it’s complete before you head to the store. To save yourself heaps of time, organize your list into categories based on how you walk through the store (produce, pantry, meat, dairy, freezer, etc.), and remember to only buy what you need.
4. Stock your pantry.
Having a well-stocked pantry will make your life so much easier when it comes to cooking. When you have all of your basic ingredients already on hand, you can spend less time meal planning and grocery shopping. Not to mention the fact that you’ll also spend less time cooking because you’ll know exactly what ingredients you have on hand. You can even buy certain pantry ingredients in bulk to save some money, too.
5. Stock your freezer.
Just like your pantry, a well-stocked freezer is essential for a skilled meal planner. Not only does your freezer keep fresh foods fresh for several months, it can also hold all kinds of “plan B” meals for those nights when your meal plan just doesn’t work out.
6. Utilize the secrets of meal prep success.
In the final step of meal planning, you turn that meal plan into an actual meal on the table. Even when you have all of the other steps in place, it can still be really hard to actually make this happen! Make your life easier by utilizing easy meal prep secrets like preparing ingredients ahead of time, taking a few kitchen short-cuts, making recipes that use similar ingredients, and planning for leftovers.
The secret to learning how to meal plan is to make IT work for YOU, not the other way around.
So if you’re ready to meal plan like a pro, check out the rest of these posts in the How to Meal Plan Like a Dietitian series to take a deep dive into each of the six meal planning steps:
- Step 1: Expert Advice on How to Find the Best Healthy Recipes
- Step 2: Everything You Need to Know About Creating a Meal Schedule
- Step 3: Practical Ways to Make a Better Grocery List
- Step 4: How to Stock Your Pantry Like a Dietitian
- Step 5: How to Stock Your Freezer Like a Dietitian
- Step 6: 6 Brilliant Meal Prep Secrets to Save You Time in the Kitchen
If you follow these six simple steps, you’ll be able to spend less time in the kitchen, reduce food waste, save money, and, most importantly, feed your family healthy meals at home more often. What do you have to lose?