While it might seem like the easiest most natural thing in the world to do, figuring out what to eat every day can be stressful. Whether you don’t like to cook every day, have a busy schedule and find it hard to make time to cook, are wanting to lose weight and need a meal plan to keep you on track… there’s a lot that goes on between when the fork leaves the plate and hits your mouth.
If you’re tired of scraping together last-minute meals or spending excess money on food delivery services, meal planning and meal prepping are going to be your two new best friends. In this article (which is more like a huge guide), we’ll be going over everything you need to know to be a master of meal planning, with actionable tips and tricks to make sure you’re never left wondering about dinner again.
A Meal Plan Will Help You:
- Be less stressed about cooking and grocery shopping
- Be less wasteful
- Be more aware of what’s in your fridge
- More creative and capable in the kitchen
- Stay on track with your health and fitness goals
- Have more time on your hands for things you love
Meal Plan vs Meal Prep
- Meal plan: A plan for what meals you’ll make or eat throughout the week.
- Meal prep: Bulk cooking the meals to eat throughout the week.
The Benefits of Meal Planning
Here are just some of the benefits of meal planning, from saving time to portion control, to saving money and reducing stress.
1. Saves Time
Planning your meals ahead of time will save you time throughout the week. We tend to spend a lot of time deciding what to eat, shopping, cooking and cleaning up. Planning ahead means no more last minute trips to the shops / wasting time cleaning up after dinner when you could be sitting and relaxing.
2. Portion Control
If you’re looking to lose weight, meal planning and preparing in advance can help you know your calories/macros for the day, and also help you portion control.
3. Reduces Food Waste
We’re all guilty of food waste from time to time, and meal planning and prepping greatly reduces what ends up being thrown out of the fridge at the end of the week.
4. Lowers Stress
Planning out your meals and cooking ahead of time can reduce any unnecessary stress associated with cooking dinner. We all know the feeling of racing home from work and trying to get a healthy and nutritious dinner on the table. With pre-planned and pre-cooked meals, all you need to do at the end of the day is heat, eat and relax.
5. Saves Money
Meal planning means being prepared, which also reduces impulse buying at the shops. You’ll also save money by not ordering UberEats on the nights your fridge is looking a little empty, because when you successfully meal plan and meal prep, your fridge/freezer will always be fully stocked.
6. Reduce Takeout Meals
With meal planning, you’re much less likely to order takeout food as a last minute option. This is good for your wallet and your waistline.
7. Better Variety
Busy schedules often mean cooking things we are familiar with because it’s fast and easy. But with meal planning, you’ll have the extra time and resources to plan out your meals in advance and get creative in the kitchen. This can help you boost your nutritional intake, while also keeping things interesting for your tastebuds.
How to Find the Best Recipes to Meal Plan
Finding the best recipes to meal plan will depend on a bunch of things, like:
- Your goals (weight loss/weight gain/maintenance)
- How many people you’re cooking for
- Your dietary requirements (vegan/gluten-free)
- Taste preferences
- Your budget
Honestly, one of the best ways to find recipes to plan meals is to go online and bookmark recipes you like the look of. Pinterest is a great resource for finding delicious new recipes, as are cooking blogs.
3 Key Meal Planning Steps
1. Do a Pantry/Freezer Inventory
The best way to start meal planning is to make a list of all the pantry basics you have and get a general idea of what’s in your freezer, including their use-by dates. You can base your recipes for the week around this, which will also help eliminate food waste.
2. Create Recipe List
With your inventory of food you already have, start googling some meals you can make. If you have chicken and veggies in the freezer, you can simply Google: “Recipes with chicken and vegetables”. If you have nothing in your freezer/pantry and are starting from scratch, you have even more freedom! Check out Pinterest, food blogs and cookbooks to find tasty meals you want to eat during the week ahead.
It’s a good idea when you’re starting out to choose basic meal prep recipes. When you’re making enough food to get you through 5 (or even 7) days, you don’t want to be struggling to get through the recipes. It’ll just demotivate you!
Once you’ve found your recipes, pop them all in a table like below:
|Monday||Overnight oats||Chicken salad||Risotto||Carrot sticks & hummus|
|Tuesday||Overnight oats||Risotto||Spaghetti bolognese||Carrot sticks & hummus|
|Wednesday||Egg muffin||Chicken salad||Beef casserole||Handful of nuts|
|Thursday||Protein smoothie||Soup||Spaghetti bolognese||Choc protein muffin|
|Friday||Egg muffin||Chickpea salad||Free meal||Handful of nuts|
|Saturday||Smoothie||Beef casserole||Satay skewers||Iced latte and apple|
|Sunday||Choc protein muffin||Satay skewers||Free meal||Choc protein muffin|
Once you are used to meal planning and have found some meal favourites you keep coming back to, this process will start to take less and less time.
Pro tip: Just because you’re meal prepping for the whole week doesn’t mean you need 21 different recipes. You can choose 3-4 recipes to cook in bulk and then freeze, so you enjoy the meals spread out across the week (especially good if you don’t like eating the same meal two days in a row).
With your recipes, you can start making a list of what you need to buy at the shops (but first….
3. Make Your Shopping List & Shop
Whether you like to write it down on paper or use an app, having a shopping list of everything you need will help make the trip to the grocery store much easier. Click & Collect is also a life-saver and great for when you’re buying in bulk.
With all this said in done… Now’s the time to move on to MEAL PREPPING.
3 Ways to Meal Prep for the Week
Setting aside a specific prep/cooking day each week is a good way to stay on track (many people do Sunday). You’ll need several hours when you first get started, but as you keep practising you’ll find the time you take to meal prep will get shorter and shorter.
There are a few ways to prepare meals, and all of them involve preparing food in advance to make eating throughout the week much easier. There’s no one right way to do it, but here are three common techniques:
- Batch cooking: Batch cooking involves making multiple recipes at once (oike on the weekend) and freezing to use later on.
- Individually portioned meals: Similar to batch cooking, but this is more for making one meal at a time and dividing portions into containers ahead of time to grab and go when you need.
- Prepped ingredients: This involves chopping, peeling, slicing, dicing and roasting ahead of time and using prepared ingredients at a later date.
The Best Food for Meal Prepping
- Frozen vegetables: Frozen veggies are already washed, chopped and ready to be roasted, steamed or cooked however you like.
- Root vegetables: Root vegetables (like potatoes) are healthy, filling, and will last longer in your fridge.
- Hard fresh vegetables: Things like celery, carrots, capsicum, radish and other crunchy veggies work well because they can be chopped in advance and ready to grab and go.
- Whole grains: Oats, quinoa, barley and buckwheat are ideal grains to use in breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Pulses: Chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas are an easy source of plant-based protein you can add to any meal.
- Lean protein: Frozen fish or canned fish is a great source of protein for meal prepping because it lasts for ages. You can also buy chicken, turkey, beef and pork and freeze to last longer.
- Whole fruits: Fruit is good for meal prepping, but steer clear of fruit that oxidises quickly. Bananas, berries, mango and pineapple are long-lasting, making them good meal prepping options.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds are tasty, protein-rich and an easy meal prepping ingredient to use in almost any meal.
Tools for Meal Prepping
Meal planning and prepping success is easy with the right tools to help you stay organised.
Food Storage Containers: The right meal prepping containers can make a world of difference. Buy different sizes and shapes to make sure you always have the right fit on hand. Also, find containers that are freezer- and microwave-friendly to make storing and heating your meals even easier.
A Meal-Planning App: There are plenty of free and paid apps that you can use to keep track of your meal plan. Paprika Recipe Manager for example allows you to make meal plans, organise your recipes, and create grocery lists.
Label Maker: You don’t have to invest in a label maker, but it can be a handy way to keep track of your meals in the fridge and freezer. You can also just use masking tape and a sharpie. We recommend labelling them with the recipe name and date..
Meal Plan Templates & Resources
- Canva meal planning template
- Pinterest meal planning ideas
- Reddit meal prep Sundays
- Best online food blogs
- Budget Bytes
- Healthy meal ideas and menu planning
Keep Reading Meal Prepping Tips:
- How to plan meals in advance
- How to create a grocery list
- How to incorporate variety into your meals