There’s nothing worse than coming home from a long day’s work and opening your fridge to find a carton of milk, an eggplant and some cheddar cheese. Rather than break your head and feel like you’re competing on the latest episode of Food Network’s Chopped, you end up resorting to UberEats to resolve the situation, only to find yourself in the same position the next day. Most people nowadays are working more and have less time to think about cooking. Young professionals are often overwhelmed by the idea of figuring out what to eat every day. I want to share a little secret with you: this process doesn’t have to be overwhelming and time consuming. It all comes down to planning. Taking less than an hour a week to meal plan will change your life!
Here are 4 easy steps to meal planning for beginners:
Step 1: Visualize your week
Every Sunday, I create a template in which I write down the days of the week and separate each day into breakfast, lunch and dinner. This basic outline helps me organize my week before it starts and can easily be recorded and tracked using the notes feature on your cell phone.
Next, I populate the meals that won’t be needed because of prior plans. For example, if I know that I am going out to eat with friends on Friday night, then Friday’s dinner will read ‘eating out’. By doing this, I am able to visualize my week and can easily see how many meals I actually need to make.
Step 2: Find easy recipes
Pinterest is my best friend! Pinterest makes it easy to find countless recipes with just a few keywords. Over time, I’ve compiled a board of my favorite recipes, which I’ll refer back to when planning my meals for the week.
PRO TIP: Search for ingredients or meals that you enjoy eating. You can also search for ‘Easy weeknight meals’ or ’30-minute meals’ to ensure that you are landing on fast and easy recipes.
An alternative to searching Pinterest (or the web) is to ask family and friends for their easy go-to recipes.
You want to find recipes that are healthy, easy to make, and taste great. Once you try a few recipes, you’ll quickly be able to compile your favorite ones.
Step 3: Put pen to paper – make a plan!
I select 2 or 3 breakfast options that I alternate throughout the week. Examples of my healthy and easily prepared breakfasts are:
- 2 boiled eggs with fruit
- High-fiber cereal with almond milk and berries
- Greek yogurt with granola and fresh fruit
I then populate and scatter these breakfasts throughout my meal plan for the week.
PRO TIP: Make double portions at dinner so that you have sufficient leftovers for lunch the next day!
Typically, my lunches are leftovers from dinner the night before, so I’ll mark these as such in my template. This saves me time in the mornings since I don’t have to prep lunch on those days.
Finally, when selecting my dinners for the week, I refer back to recipes that I have saved (i.e. on Pinterest) or have been meaning to try.
PRO TIP: Choose meals that fit your schedule!
If I have plans after dinner on a weeknight and know that I’ll only have 30 minutes to cook and eat, I’ll be sure to pick a quick and easy meal for that night.
PRO TIP: Check what’s on sale
I’ve downloaded the Reebee app on my phone so that I can browse local flyers electronically and see what’s on sale at my preferred grocery store. Planning your meals around the specials of the week will allow you to save money. The better sales are typically displayed on the first page of a flyer.
PRO TIP: Eat seasonally
I always try to buy produce that’s in season. Not only will eating seasonally save you money since produce tends to be more affordable when it’s in season, but you are guaranteeing the freshest ingredients at the time. For example, don’t try to buy butternut squash in the summer or strawberries in the winter (they will cost you a fortune).
Step 4: Create a grocery list prior to going to the grocery store
Firstly, I always try to keep my pantry fully stocked. It’s important that certain staples such as oils, vinegars and dried spices are available as they are relatively non-perishable and key to most meals.
Once my meal plan is complete for the week, I go through each recipe and create a grocery list with any missing items. This will not only save me time at the grocery store, but will also save me money; I am essentially only buying what I will consume that week (nothing more, nothing less), thereby minimizing the chance of unnecessarily wasting food.
PRO TIP: Organizing your grocery list in the following order will only make your trip to the grocery store more efficient: (i) produce (fruits and vegetables), (ii) baked goods, (iii) meats, (iv) dairy, (v) non-perishables (stuff in the aisles), (vi) frozen items. You’ll notice that this order follows the layout of most grocery stores.
Following these simple steps has really simplified meal planning for my household. It has taken the guess work out of the equation; I no longer come home from work feeling frustrated and scrambling to put food on the table. If anything, I have the peace of mind of knowing that my fridge is fully stocked and I know exactly what I’ll be cooking every night. I also eat healthier, waste less food and save more money. It’s a win-win-win situation!
What are some of your pro tips that help you meal plan and manage your busy schedule?