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Meal Planning 101: How To Get Started

by Logan Hicks | October 05, 2017

meal-plan-notebook.jpgThere's no question that a key component of your overall fitness program includes healthy eating. It's also true that an important part of eating well – and sticking with good habits – is meal planning.

While meal planning may sound intimidating and time-consuming, there's no right or wrong way to do it. And all you need to do is set aside a little time each week to make it happen.

Unfortunately, finding the time to put a meal plan together is the hardest part. If you keep these things in mind as you start your meal planning process, you'll have a better chance of sticking to it.

1. There's No Perfect Meal-Planning System

There are dozens of meal-planning calendar templates online. Some people use Google Calendars to schedule their meals. Some people hang magnetic calendars on the fridge. Some people just use pen and scratch paper.

Whatever your preference is, as long as you remember to plan out your meals at the end or beginning of the week, you'll be on the right track. Your chances of success are greater if you stick with one meal planning program – at least for a month. Give it some time (and make changes along the way) before pulling the plug on it.

2. Consider Your Schedule

A lot of things affect our eating schedules and situations - from work schedules to school activities to other commitments that may vary from week to week.

When you assess your and your family's eating situations keep these things in mind:

  • How many total meals you'll need to plan for that week
  • How much time you'll have for cooking
  • Your grocery budget
  • What sounds good to eat on any given day (which may vary from season to season)
  • When planning meals for the week, also remember to plan for leftovers.

Once you've decided how much you can spend, what days you'll need to cook crockpot meals or eat leftovers, and what foods you'll need to stockpile, you should set reminders on your phone. This will help you remember to thaw the right meats, pick up ingredients at the grocery store, or do any prep work ahead of time.

3. Start Planning Recipes

When it comes to meal planning, finding healthy and delicious recipes to last you through the week is the fun part. There are thousands of recipes online, and it can be challenging to find meals that actually turn out good. Follow these tips to find the best meals:

  • Create a master list of go-to meals that you know taste great. Fill in the gaps with a couple of new recipes to try every week. That way, if a recipe turns out to be a disaster, you'll have tried-and-true recipes to fall back on.
  • Look for new recipes that are healthy but don't contain a lot of unusual ingredients. If you are adventurous and love trying new things, aim for one out-of-the-box dish a week and keep an alternative on hand.
  • Make a master recipe list that's easy to access – like a digital version on your smartphone, for instance.
  • When looking for recipes online, always scroll down to the comments. Often, people will share helpful tips and suggestions for improving a recipe, or perhaps warn you if the recipe is a flop.

4. Create A Meal Calendar

Even if you keep a meal calendar on your computer, it's always a good idea to have a paper copy on-hand where everyone can see it (like on the fridge).

Another helpful hint is to write out your grocery list as you're filling out your weekly calendar. Also, jot down the ingredients for each recipe and look for what you already have before heading to the store.

5. Make The First Meal The Easiest

It's no secret that Mondays are often a struggle for many people. If that's true for you, then it may not be a good idea to try out a complicated, multi-ingredient dish for Monday's dinner.

Instead, allow yourself to ease into the week by fixing something that you've cooked many times before, or by using a freezer meal that can be popped into the oven once you're home for the evening.

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