Healthy weekly meal planner….I love the words, I want them to describe me so very badly.
I can’t figure out why, but I never stick to the plan.
I always buy enough produce to have plenty for the week, but can’t seem to take the next step of actually planning and cooking meals in advance. Knowing how important this is for keeping the sweets eating down and ensuring David gets more veggies, I reached out to someone smarter than I on the subject!
Sara Oberle, RDN, LD to sharing 10 tips to be a successful weekly meal planner.
1. Don’t plan the meal.
I know this sounds crazy.
What I mean, is to not focus on the whole meal and instead only focus on one or two ingredients you want to use.
For example: instead of planning to make tacos one night and a vegetable stir fry another night, you now plan to use lean turkey and beans one night and brown rice another night.
- Listing ingredients allows you to see what you can make once, use twice
- Ingredients give you more ideas than being stuck to a specific meal
- Eliminates the pressure of needing to plan the WHOLE meal up front.
Finding ideas like this will help you make one ingredient work multiple times.
2. Write your ingredients/ ideas down.
As you’re doing through the week, keep a notebook of little ideas. It’s much faster, than sitting down with a blank sheet on Saturday and banging your head against the table trying to force ideas!
When you think of an ingredient or two that you want to use, or even a full meal, write it down.
- Think of an ingredient you’d like? Write it down
- See a Pinterest recipe that’s perfect? Make a note
- Keep a dedicated notebook in the kitchen
- Find a printable meal planner if you like more organization
Personally, if I don’t write my meal ideas down, I will completely forget them.
3. Search for dishes using your main ingredient/s.
No longer do you have to go into a recipe book and flip through a million pages before finding the one.
Instead head to Pinterest for a great visual to get you thinking, and type in “dishes containing brown rice”, you’ll get thousands of hits!
- Don’t just pin them!
- Pick 2 to 3 recipes and put the ingredients in your notebook
- Combine a few new recipes with some long time winners
4. Always keep “staple” foods on hand.
I would be nothing with out my main staple foods. I find myself night after night not knowing what to make when planning for the week. Though when I look in my pantry or fridge, I see my go-to foods and start brainstorming what I might use.
This also helps when you might forget to plan for a day or even the whole week. If you have these foods in your house, it makes it that much easier and less stressful to quickly make something healthy, like this Crispy Quinoa Salad.
Listed are a few staple foods that I find helpful (most also contain recipes on the back) and they always seem to pull me out of a “what’s for dinner” coma.
Staple Foods Ideas:
- quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, lentils
- tofu, frozen chicken
- frozen vegetables
- garlic, spices (garlic powder, onion powder, curry, cumin, chili powered, salt, pepper)
- olive oil (like that even needed to be said)
- mixed greens/spinach
- lemons, apples
5. Skip processed, pre-packaged meals.
No matter how much planning and prep you might do for the week, it can all go down the drain when you’re tempted with an already prepared meal or dish (cough cough frozen pizza).
Frozen or pre-packaged vegetables, fruits and grains are however an exception.
Once you start to look at the ingredients required to make them stay good…it’s not only scary, but way harder on your wallet! Finding a few things that you can prep in advance will keep your stomach happy, your waist line on track and leave enough dough for that beach vacation.
A few ideas to replace pre-packaged:
6. Keep calm if you don’t have an ingredient.
If you’re missing a “side-kick” ingredient (what I call an ingredient that isn’t making up most of the meal or flavor), there are plenty of options to do without it.
- Apple cider vinegar or acid, use white wine vinegar or lemon juice in its place.
- Spicy ingredient: add garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes or ground pepper instead.
- Butter can be replaced with appleauce or a mashed banana
- Egg can be replaced with ground flaxseed mixed in water or chia seeds in water
- Purred carrots can work to thicken up soup
- You can also search the internet for alternative recipes or substitutions for that ingredient.
Not having an ingredient can also give you an opportunity to be creative and perhaps whip up your own variation that you might like even better.
This is also a good strategy for slowly weaning yourself into creating recipes from scratch.
7. Double one recipe so it makes for another meal.
If you find a recipe you really like, make enough so it can serve for lunch or dinner another day during the week. You can also search for recipes that might make more than you are planning on eating.
For example, my Hearty Veggie Chili recipe makes about 6-8 high protein servings, I make it for dinner one night and then have it as a side dish for dinner another night as well as for lunch during the week.
Also don’t be afraid to freeze your leftovers. This can help keep a healthy and homemade meal in your freezer for a night you just don’t feel like lifting a finger.
8. Cut corners when the corners are healthy.
I am a huge fan of using frozen vegetables and fruits, as well as already canned beans and locally made pastas.
If you’ve planed to have vegetable enchiladas one night, buy chopped and frozen peppers and broccoli instead of fresh. This can help same time as well as get rid of a little added stress when you know you have to chop a bunch of veggies.
If you use canned beans or legumes instead of cooking them yourself, just make sure to thoroughly rinse them. This can get rid of 30% of the sodium, and all you really need to do is just use less salt than the recipe might call for.
9. When given extra time, prep.
Instead of thinking you must do it ALL at one time on a specific day, take advantage of little moments and when inspiration strikes.
- soaking and cooking beans
- chopping vegetables to be used for snacks or recipes
- making large batches of brown rice, quinoa and other grains
- jarring up a couple overnight oats
- pulling older meals from the freezer to eat when busy
When you’re hungry, it’s sometimes easier to go right to processed or convenient food, but if the convenient food is the healthy food then this can help you avoid choosing the unhealthy option.
10. Take time to appreciate and enjoy the food you make.
This is the simplest, yet what I believe to be one of the most important steps to meal planning and eating healthy.
When you sit down to the meal you just prepared, take a couple of seconds to think about all the love, the effort and time you put into that dish.
Turn off all distractions (even if its just for 5 minutes) and in that time really enjoy the food. Focus all your energy on thinking about the flavors, the texture, the taste, and how it’s providing so much nourishment and balance for your body. Loving food that is loving you back can make all the difference in the world.
The bottom line is that meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful, it can be fun and enjoyable. Following these 10 simple steps can help you better plan your week without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.
Just remember though, like all good things it might take extra time, but in the end your body, mind, and sanity will thank you!
I can use all the ideas you have, so speak up!
Do you meal plan?
What has made it easier for you?
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