Let’s be honest. Planning your meals, whether you are aiming to increase your energy levels, lose weight, or simply glow with health, can be quite difficult. This guide aims to help you come up with an effective and efficient meal plan – from breakfast to lunch to dinner and snacks.
What’s a Meal Planner and why should you have one?
First things first! What exactly is a meal planner?
Simply put, this is a system that allows you to effectively plan your meals, right from preparing your grocery list and shopping for the ingredients, to cooking the meals.
Meal planning can be described as an “imperfect science,” meaning that what works for you may not necessarily work for someone else. While some people may consider having a weekly meal plan, others could decide to go with a monthly one with plenty of options.
The benefits of meal planning include:
- Save money: See, doing your shopping from a list means that you only buy the ingredients that you need, allowing you to cut back on any impulse purchases. Better yet, it allows you to source your ingredients in bulk at discounted prices.
- Prepare for hectic times: Think of it this way: when you have time, you can do batch cooking and back-up your meals in the freezer for those nights when you don’t have time to cook or are not in the mood for the kitchen.
- Save time: That’s right! Planning your meals well in advance means that you don’t need to spend any more time thinking about what to cook for dinner or going to the stores from time to time to get your ingredients.
- Reduce stress: “Honey (mum), what’s for dinner.” Sound’s familiar? Well, with a meal plan, you’ll always have an answer to these ever-present questions.
- Reduce food waste: Before having a meal plan, it’s common to find yourself shopping for items such as condiments, spices, and bread, only to find out that you had them in your cupboard. With a shopping list, you can determine what foods to buy and the right quantity to reduce food wastage.
- Stay healthy: This is perhaps one of the main reasons why you should consider a meal planner for 2019. You can be able to choose nutritious ingredients to allow your family to stay healthy all year round — no more regular fast foods.
#1 Collect Everything you need to get started
Start by collecting all the resources that you’ll probably use to plan your meals. We are talking about things such as calendar, meal planner sheer, recipe apps/books, dietary information, BMI healthy weight calculator, coupons for your shopping, and everything else.
You have to devote enough time when you are free to gather all this information and keep it in a central place – be it physically or as soft copies on your computer.
#2 Consult the calendar
Now, look at your calendar and determine how many days you want your meal plan to run. Do you want to design one for a weekly or monthly basis? Mark the days, and as you do so, don’t forget to check any upcoming events such as birthdays and holidays, as well as busy schedules when you may not be at home. These kinds of events will need special meals.
Once you have marked the days, look the flow of the weeks, noting days where you have a recurring schedule such as late night soccer practice, ballet classes, training or meetings. At this point, you don’t need to do much about the information, but they will come in handy when planning your meals. For instance, when you arrive home late, you will want to consider a less time-intensive meal.
#3 Know your eating and cooking style
Are you a morning person and love to cook before you head to work? Do you like eating a heavy breakfast and going easy on lunch and dinner? Do you prefer cooking every day or one big meal for several days?
Ask yourself these questions first to determine how best to plan your meals. You see, while some people can stomach heavy stomach in the morning and eat snacks during the day, others prefer to take an apple and a piece of toast and then have a proper lunch later in the day.
The point is, determine your eating and cooking style, then proceed to craft your meal plan.
#4 Assign different themes to each week/night
A meal plan is supposed to be enjoyable. If you have the same kind of meals over and over, it will eventually get boring, and chances are you will abandon your meal plan altogether.
By assigning different themes, it means having recurring meals on specific days and doing a completely different thing on other days. For instance, let’s say you have a late night ballet class on Tuesdays. You will find a slow cooker meal for every Tuesday helpful. You can even choose to prepare it earlier so that it can be ready by dinner time.
Some themes you can consider include pasta, meat-free meals, roast dinner, cold cuts, soups, leftovers, wraps, and fish/seafood.
Remember, you don’t have to make these themes so strict – do what works for you, provided they are healthy options. For example, during winter, go for soups on Saturday night. When the weather begins to warm up, change that to BBQs.
#5 Add extras
A meal planner shouldn’t just have spaces for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, no! It should also include other extras such as snacks, smoothies/juices, and baking. As you plan your meal, consider these extras as well.
Be very careful, though, when it comes to the snacking especially for kids. Consider going for healthy alternatives such as fruits and veggies, instead of potato crisp and other salty snacks. As a general rule of thumb, try as much as possible to avoid snacks with high saturated fats or sugar, such as chocolate, cakes, and chips, as this can contribute to excess weight.
#6 Plan for products that are in season
Your menu should change with seasons. For example, you should have a plan for meals that are readily available in the colder months such as kale, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, and more. On the other hand, you can include food items such as corn, fresh fruit, tossed salads and the likes for the warmer months.
#7 Balance Everything
Whether you are planning your meals or snacks, you have to balance everything to ensure you get all the nutrients and consume the right amount for a healthy body. For a balanced diet, you should aim to have ¼ of your plate for protein, ¼ for carbohydrates, and the remaining ½ for non-starchy vegetables.
Don’t forget to keep snacks such as nuts & seeds and fruits ready to eat in-between meals when you are hungry.
#8 Plan for left-overs
If you have left-overs, don’t throw them away. Some of it may consist of perfectly good food. Look at it as a great opportunity to be creative. You can pack the left-overs in your lunch box for lunch or use them as ingredients in a new recipe.
Here are some great suggestions you can consider to maximize your left-overs:
- For starters, don’t add a lot of food in your plate. Instead, consider taking second helpings.
- Keep the left-overs in your refrigerator the moment you are done eating. If you leave them at room temperature for long, they may develop bacteria, forcing you to throw them in the bin.
- If there are leftovers you won’t use soon, keep them in the freezer.
- Always keep track of the food items in your refrigerator, so that you won’t need to make any more of the same kind.
#9 Write a grocery list
By now you know the kind of foods and theme you want in your meal plan, right? Well, the next step is doing the shopping. Create a master shopping list that includes all your items and back-up. To ensure that you don’t leave anything out, start by adding the recurring basics – the things that you’ll need for every day such as milk, bread, cheese, butter, yogurt, and the rest.
Once you have the important items on your list, now go through the extras, adding items such as smoothie/juice ingredients, snacks, baking ingredients, and items for special occasions. Also, don’t forget to include things like beverages, condiments, spices, and herbs.
This is the tricky part. You see, if you have a meal plan for weekly, the frequency of your shopping will be different from that of monthly. Whereas you can store items such as meat, butter, spices, flour, it’s best to get fresh groceries for perishable items such as fruits, vegetables, and milk.
Even if you choose to do one massive shopping per month with most items in your meal plan included, you will still need to pop into your nearby store for perishable items. Choose a day or two in a week to purchase these items so that you can enjoy fresh, nutritious meals.
#11 Back-up meals
Let’s face it. Even the most organized people usually have a day or two where things seem not to go as planned. When it comes to meal planning, it’s common to find yourself in situations where it gets difficult to adhere to your plan. For instance, you might forget to take out the meat from the freezer in time, forgot some groceries or work have you running late.
This is where back-up meals prove to come in handy. You want to have quick meals that you can fall back on instead of picking up the phone to order for pizza. Some backup meals you can consider to include salmon and vegetable patties, green pasta, and veggie quesadillas.
#12 Tweak the meal plan as needed
We can’t stress this enough. This meal plan is designed to give you a foundation that you can use to start an effective meal plan for 2019. Although it will help you get a feel of what you could consider and how to go about planning your meals, don’t feel bored by it. You are free to tweak it in your favor.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be that difficult, especially if you are determined. If you are setting up yourself for healthy eating this year, this guide will go a long way to help you achieve your goals. It clears out the clutter, sharing top 12 meal planner guide secrets to make your meal planning work in 2019 so that you can meet all your health goals, without necessarily exhausting your energy and time. With this meal planner, you’ll not only save money and time but also reduce food wastage and stress that comes about when you have no idea what to make.
As a general rule of thumb, don’t let this guide box you into something you will not enjoy. Be flexible. Be creative. Provided you go for healthy options, you are allowed to tweak things up for a perfect meal plan that works for your lifestyle and busy schedule. Take smoothies regularly; buy coconut water and supplement your meal plan for healthier living. Keep yourself refreshed and hydrated all day.