As a wellness coach, meal planning is something that comes up quite often with my coaching clients. Most people want to make healthier choices and figure out how to set themselves up for success. Planning and its big sister prepping are intended to be strategies to help streamline the decision making process and cut down on time spent on meals during busier days.
That being said, there is an incredible amount of information on this topic out there and as with anything else, too much information, or strategies that are too complicated can lead to an effect known as "analysis paralysis"- there is so much information that you don't know where to begin...so you don't.
Meal planning has many benefits and for me, the most important one is saving time in the evenings. If I have a busy day, I don't like having to decide what to have for dinner at the last minute. Chris, my husband, is really talented at throwing ingredients together, but I don't have as much practice. (Did I mention how lucky I am to have a partner who cooks amazing vegan food?!) It makes it much easier to have a plan and be prepared with all of the ingredients I'll need. In addition to saving time, I believe that meal planning saves money. Cooking at home is usually much less expensive than eating out. If I have a meal plan and the ingredients, I am much less likely to go out to eat. (And see Tip #2 below if you find yourself running out of time to cook due to a varied schedule)
The three tips I'm sharing with today are extremely basic- and this is the point. To give you a place to start if meal planning is something you're curious about.
Tip #1- Break Up The Week
In my experience, it has always been easier to meal plan for a few days at a time, rather than try to look at the whole entire week all at once. If I'm meal planning on a Sunday, I will usually meal plan through Wednesday evening. Then Wednesday, I will plan through the weekend. Fridays are usually the "takeout" night in our house (with delicious vegan Chinese food as the default) so that helps break up the planning even more. Breaking up the week into 2 sets of "mini-planning" makes the process a lot less overwhelming. It does require a potential second trip to the grocery store, but you aren't buying as many things, so hopefully you're out more quickly.
Tip #2- Have an Easy Backup Plan on Hand
Sometimes I will plan on these awesome dinners where I am trying a new recipe that might take a bit longer than usual to prepare. I also know that there are days where plans go awry, schedules get changed, and suddenly you don't have the hour you had set aside to make dinner. This is why I always have easy meal ingredients like pasta*, veggie burgers**, and salad fixings on hand. As I mentioned above, this will help to prevent an unplanned trip out to eat.
* I like the Organic Black Bean Spaghetti from Explore Cuisine- 25 grams of protein/serving!
** Another household favorite is the Morningstar Roasted Garlic and Quinoa burgers
Tip #3- Leftovers are Your Friends
99% of the time I plan on leftovers for lunch. It's so much easier to make a little extra of dinner the night before and pack it up in a container to grab the next day. Whether you work from home, in an office, or out in the field, it's really helpful to not have to worry about cobbling something together for lunch. Sometimes Chris will also take leftover quinoa, rice, and/or veggies from a previous meal to make a nice stir-fry with tofu. Using what you have in your fridge also reduces food waste and saves money.