This Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning will help you put a healthy meal on the table every night. Learn why meal planning makes sense and read tips on how to make it happen. I’ve even included sample meal plans for all 4 seasons!
I think meal planning is awesome.
Picture healthy food, yummy recipes, less time in the kitchen, and lower grocery bills.
I mean, it’s all good, right?
Cuz you really can’t go wrong when you’ve got it all down to a science.
This guide will help you achieve that, my friends.
Meals planned right to the last detail so that your time spent in the kitchen is enjoyable, yet efficient.
Planned, yet creative.
But most importantly, delicious and healthy.
Let’s get right to it, shall we?
WHAT IS MEAL PLANNING?
Meal planning is basically planning out the week – not just the day – and taking steps to make sure that every meal is delicious. At the same time, you’ll plan meals that are part of a healthy diet and easy to make.
I’ve written guides on the instant pot and slow cooker, which are really good ways to take meal planning to another level. Imagine knowing exactly what you want to make for supper, having it all on hand, and in the case of the slow cooker especially, putting the ingredients together in the morning and letting it cook all day.
With meal planning, you’ll also formulate your menu for the week one day and shop the next. You’ll not only tailor the meal to your dietary requirements but also to work around whatever you have going on that week.
If you know you’ll be out a lot, consider doing a bit of meal prep as a way to have ready-made meals in the fridge after a long workday or an invigorating trek through the forest. My helpful guide to everything you need to know about meal prep (take a look!) can help you plan meals that are economical, full of healthy ingredients, and ready and waiting when you get home.
If you’ve got special dietary requirements, don’t let that stop you from meal planning, either. In fact, it’s all the more reason to. For example, you can aim to hit high fiber requirements or work toward a low carb regimen and make it work for you, all through meal planning.
WHY MEAL PLAN?
Why plan your meals? This is an easy one.
It’s a great way to use up things you have on hand. You can take inventory of the freezer, for example, and base your weekly menu on items that need to be used up.
It’s easy to plan for variety. I make a template of sorts and include what I typically serve each week by category. You could try something like this:
- 1 instant pot meal
- 1 slow cooker meal
- 1-2 salad-type meals
- 1 meal prep meal
- 1 chicken meal
- 1 fish or seafood meal
It’s also the best way to stick to a healthy diet. Meal planning enables you to reach goals that you may have. Whether it’s cutting back on sugar or giving intermittent fasting a go, having the ingredients on hand to prepare that nutritious meal or avoid unhealthy food is key.
It saves you money. Meal planning is a money saver, it really is. You can aim to have leftovers, you can plan meals around who’s home and who’s not, which means no wasting of food. Eating non-processed, clean-eating foods is a lot more budget-friendly, too.
It saves time and cuts back on stress. When you plan ahead, you can work things into the menu, like cooking in bulk and meal prep ← yay! Timesavers are always a welcomed thing in my kitchen. Knowing beforehand also takes the stress out of thinking about what to cook.
HOW DO I START MEAL PLANNING?
When you are starting to think about meal planning, it’s ideal to know what your goals are. Consider these questions:
How do I choose the right menu?
- It’s all good to want to try new recipes, but make sure that you always have a few meals thrown in that you are familiar with.
- Choose meals with ingredients that are easy to find, so you do not spend your shopping day running from store to store looking for a hard-to-find item.
- Plan family favorites. A well-planned meal that also goes over well with the gang is bonus #1!
- Plan for leftovers. Bonus #2!
How do I make a meal planning grocery list?
- First, make a list of the ingredients needed for the meals you have planned. It’s sort of a master list of what you’ll need.
- Next, go to the pantry and the fridge and cross off what you have on hand.
- Take your list and rewrite it like an organized grocery trip, with the foods grouped by grocery store section. By this, I mean all veggies together, spices grouped, and meats together.
HEALTHY MEAL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
To make meal planning easy peasy, it’s always good to have a few essentials on hand, all the time. They are basically staples that turn up in a lot of recipes.
For the pantry:
- Pure maple syrup
- Raw honey
- Olive oil
- Vegetable broth
- Brown rice
- Beans and lentils
- Organic tomato sauce
- Unsweetened applesauce and pumpkin purée
- Rolled oats
For the fridge:
- Plain Greek yogurt
- Almond milk
- Cottage cheese
- Eggs and egg whites
- Greens, like kale and spinach
- Fruits and berries
For the freezer:
- Frozen veggies, like sweet potato and broccoli
- Frozen fruits, like strawberries and mangoes
- Whole wheat bread
- Flour, such as almond and whole wheat
- Coconut sugar
- Baking powder and soda
- Dried fruit like cranberries
- Pure vanilla extract
- Dark cacao powder
- Dark chocolate morsels
- Sea salt and ground black pepper
SEASONAL MEAL PLANNING
When you plan your meal around the seasons, it is another way to save money. You’re taking advantage of what is in season, and also benefiting from nutrient-dense foods that are readily available.
SPRING MEAL PLANNING RECIPES
Think about how you’d like to lighten up the menu a bit after a long winter. Spring is like a season of renewal. So, a renewed look at your weekly menu is just the ticket! I look to foods that are satisfying but not super-heavy.
- Monday: Ground Turkey and Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini Boats (pictured)
- Tuesday: Steak Fajita Bowl with Cilantro Lime Rice
- Wednesday: Instant Pot Barbacoa
- Thursday: High Protein Chicken Bowl with Cashew Lime Crema
- Friday: Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Saturday: Salmon Fish Sticks
- Sunday: Baked Sea Bass and Zucchini
SUMMER MEAL PLANNING RECIPES
I love summer and light, fresh meals. We eat a lot of salads in the summer along with tasty meals that are super-easy to throw together. After all, who wants to be in the kitchen in the summer?
Yep – that’s what I thought. Me either!
- Monday: Perfect Avocado Toast (pictured)
- Tuesday: Slow Cooker Chicken Cauliflower Curry
- Wednesday: Quinoa Lentil Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette
- Thursday: Instant Pot Pulled Pork
- Friday: Kung Pao Scallops
- Saturday: Mason Jar Salad for Meal Prep
- Sunday: Baja Fish Tacos
FALL MEAL PLANNING RECIPES
As we move into cooler temperatures, I love to plan meals that include yummy fall vegetables. Fall is the season of beautiful colors. Naturally, sweet potato and squash top the list!
- Monday: Healthy Slow Cooker Beef Stew (pictured)
- Tuesday: Salmon Meal Prep
- Wednesday: Butternut Squash Instant Pot Chili
- Thursday: Instant Pot Black Beans
- Friday: Easy Sweet Potato Meal Prep
- Saturday: Steak Cobb Salad with Creamy Avocado Cilantro Dressing
- Sunday: Sweet Potato Nachos
WINTER MEAL PLANNING RECIPES
Hearty and healthy winter meals are truly a comfort to make and eat. Just because it’s winter, though, does not mean that I’ll fill up on calorie-laden dishes. Healthy, heartwarming, and delicious! That’s a winter meal.
- Monday: Shredded Chicken Enchiladas (pictured)
- Tuesday: Breaded Shrimp Meal Prep
- Wednesday: Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Thursday: Instant Pot Quinoa Chicken Bowl
- Friday: 15-Minute Go-To Beef and Broccoli
- Saturday: Pan Fried Salmon
- Sunday: Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup
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