“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” —Virginia Woolf.
Planning your meals for the week is the perfect way to ensure that you and your family are eating well-balanced, nutritious meals. Recently, we discussed the benefits of meal planning (see the Art of Meal Planning: Part 1). In this post, we’ll explore how to efficiently meal plan in a healthy and fun way.
Integrating simple steps to meal planning with my personal meal-planning ventures from this past week, I hope to give you a foundation with which to get started. Remember, healthy living is a journey—embrace and enjoy each and every moment of it.
Step 1: Set time aside. Every Thursday morning at 6:30am, I sit down with a cup of coffee, my laptop, and a few of my favorite cookbooks for about 20-30 minutes to meal plan for the week ahead. You can figure out the ideal time; the important thing is just set aside 20-30 minutes each week that works for you.
Step 2: Stay organized. Do what works best for you. I have a spreadsheet designed specifically for my meal planning. I realize that may be a bit nerdy but hey, it works! I use it week after week. The best part about typing it up? After a few weeks, you’ll have a whole library of weekly meal plans to go back and re-use!
Step 3: Think ahead. I begin by looking at my schedule for the upcoming week. On days that I know I will be busy or will not feel like cooking, I plan accordingly with a quick and easy meal. I either look for recipes (like Tuesday’s marinated chicken breast, green beans, and beets), brainstorm my own ideas (Sunday’s tuna melts and salad), or rely on leftovers (last week’s mushroom curry-see meal plan below) that are easy to prepare.
Step 4: Incorporate foods/ingredients that you want to use up or already have on hand.
Step 5: Be creative & have fun! This is where it really begins! Here are simple suggestions:
- Get the family involved! Ask family members, or even yourself, what they/you are in the mood for. This week my husband requested steak—of course! So I opened up one of my cookbooks and found a marinated flank steak recipe that sounded delicious and with only 310 calories per serving, even I was happy. If the family is up for it, try cooking together!
- Eat in Season. With summer in full swing, there is plenty of local produce available. The Summer Vegetable Soup with Homemade Zucchini Bread planned for Saturday (see meal plan below) incorporated an abundance of seasonal vegetables including zucchini, broccoli, and corn. There’s just something about eating in season and supporting the local community that I love.
- Try Meatless Mondays. It’s a great way to save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and get a dose of healthy plant protein.
- Look for recipes in your favorite cookbooks, online, or on Pinterest.I’m never at a loss for ideas. This week I found a recipe on my Pinterest page for a chicken marinade that called for a total of 4 ingredients— all of which required no prepping! It can’t get much easier than that.
My personal cookbook favorites include:
- Moosewood and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen
- Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert
- So Easy by Ellie Krieger
Step 6: Look for ways to save time.
- Stock your kitchen with frozen vegetables and fruit, low-sodium canned beans, pre-washed salad mixes, frozen, pre-grilled chicken breasts, and quick-cooking grains such as quinoa, couscous, or boil in a bag brown rice
- If you have a more labor-intensive item on the menu, pair it with some easy-to-make items.
- Make an extra serving or two so you have leftovers to freeze for lunches the next day.
- Batch cook. Take a day where you have a little extra time to prep ingredients for the week. Example: If you are making chicken breast one night, prepare extra and use it in a soup or sandwich later that week.
- Prep ingredients the morning of or night before a meal.
Step 7: Make your grocery list. As I plan out my meals, I make my grocery list simultaneously. This way I ensure that I have what I need on hand with only one trip to the grocery store.
So now it’s your turn. Set some time aside and commit to meal planning. Make it fun by engaging other family members in the process and trying new recipes from websites, cookbooks, blogs, Pinterest, etc. Be practical. Know what you will and won’t be able to do. And just have fun!
Also, I’d love to hear your meal planning tips in the comments below!