Meal planning may seem overwhelming if you’ve never done it before, but it really just takes practice. You don’t have to plan out an entire month in one setting (unless you’re a rock star). Instead, you can start with weekly menus.
Your meals plans should be specific to you and your individual needs, based on the size of your household, your budget, your cooking abilities, and your dietary habits. This guide will teach you how to make your own meal plan that is specific to your needs.
Step 1: Determine the number of mouths to feed
The first step in planning your meals is determining the number of servings that you’ll need for each meal. As many of you might know, cooking for one person can be really challenging if you don’t plan ahead, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
This may seem like an insignificant step, but your meal planning can change dramatically depending on the number of people in your household.
Step 2: Calculate your food budget
It’s much easier to plan out meals for the week if you have a loose idea of your food budget. If your budget is really tight, you may want to reduce your intake of meat (you don’t have to completely cut it out) and take full advantage of local farmer’s markets.
If you have a more comfortable food budget, you may still want to record your weekly food costs so that you can see where you’re spending your money.
Step 3: Decide how much cooking you want to do
If you consider yourself cooking-challenged, then you may want to start with simple salad recipes, stir fries, baked meals, or slow cooker recipes. If you’re a closet chef, maybe you want to make fancier meals like soups, curries, chicken salad, short ribs, or seafood dishes.
If you’re constantly on-the-go, then you’ll want to plan ahead for snacks. Be honest with yourself and the amount of time you’re willing to spend in the kitchen. Don’t plan out extravagant, time-consuming meals when you barely have time to breathe after work. There are ways around a busy work and life schedule.
Step 4: Establish your goals
If you’ve been wanting to adjust you diet for some time, then get after it! Consciously decide on your dietary goals for the next two weeks.
Do you want to have at least one salad every day?
Do you want to quit drinking sugary beverages of death?
Maybe you want to eat more fresh food and less packed food.
Whatever your dietary goals may be, write them down and share them with your friends, roommates, or partners. Accountability partners can help you stick to your goals when you’re feeling like you want to quit. You know your body better than anyone else, so do what makes you feel your best.
Step 5: Create a weekly meal plan
Now that you know all your variables, it’s time to sit down and create a plan. For a typical work week, I find that it works best when I plan out the meals, do the grocery shopping, and prepare a few meals on Sundays.
I keep breakfast foods and snacks on hand at all times and really just plan out dinner meals. I prepare food for two people, but I try to make at least 3-4 servings of each meal so that I have enough food for lunch the next day.
This method works really well with my busy schedule and allows me to plan out 5-6 meals for the week instead of 12. If I can’t think of a good meal that I want to eat, then I tend to get meal ideas from my favorite restaurants and food bloggers.
Some of my favorites include:
Domesticate Me! (everything)
Oh She Glows (vegan)
No Meat Athlete (vegan and vegetarian)
The Clothes Make the Girl (paleo)
If you want to start meal planning, start small and keep it simple. Over time, you’ll know how to prepare a variety of meals and known the recipe by heart.
You can start planning for next week now, and you decide when you want to prepare the food. If you have plenty of time after work and love to cook, then cook your meals daily.
If you don’t have a lot of time in the evenings, then consider preparing meals on Sundays and Wednesdays. If your job doesn’t take care of your lunches, then remember to make enough food for lunch the day.
As you get more experienced with meal planning, you’ll develop your own process, but hopefully this guide will provide a basic foundation that you can continue to build upon.