In the first post of our Meal Planning 101 series, Why Meal Planning Will Save Your Sanity, I shared why meal planning is so beneficial (saves time and money while boosting health) and what, exactly, healthy meals and snacks look like. Today, let’s get into the “how” of planning your meals:
How do you plan meals that you really want to eat?
This is the fun part: where your great intentions about eating healthier come together with the actual food that you plan to eat. I like to take this first stage in three step
1. Make a list of the meals you want to try. The key to success here is to keep it simple. This is not the time to live out your culinary dreams as a sushi chef or maker of beautiful fresh ravioli. Instead, look to your current repertoire for ideas.
- Current go-to meals (what do you want to keep making?)
- Favorite takeout orders (what do you want to make healthier and less expensive versions of?)
- Simple meals you’ve been wanting to try (what have you seen lately that looks good?
2. Make a list of snacks you want to try. Snacks are more about convenience and logistics, especially for new parents. Think about things like:
- Does it need to be refrigerated?
- Will it go bad quickly?
- Can I send nuts to daycare for the big kid?
- Will my whole family eat it?
- Do I need snacks I can eat with one hand while nursing?
3. Start identifying ingredients that you can use multiple times per week. Meal planning is all about efficiency. You don’t want to buy one of everything because it would take forever to prep. Instead, focus on 2-3 fruits and vegetables each week that you can incorporate in different ways. For example:
- Peppers: use in breakfast sandwiches, stir fry, with hummus for a snack, saute and add to spaghetti
- Blueberries: add to yogurt parfait, serve with lunch, snack with cheese
- Carrots: serve with lunch, with hummus for snack, add to stir fry, grate into salads
- Apples: serve with breakfast sandwiches, with peanut butter for a snack, chopped up on salad
Same idea with protein and grains. You can bake a pan of several chicken breasts or thighs to use throughout the week or make a large pot of whole grain pasta to be used in various recipes.
Now give it a whirl. With these three elements, you can start putting together meals. Let’s say you love tacos from your local Mexican restaurant. Keeping the healthy eating plate in mind, think about how to recreate tacos at home with this week’s key ingredients. That might look like:
- Baking a big pan of chicken breasts during your One Hour Prep time and shredding the meat for your tacos
- Using lettuce, peppers, and avocados from your weekly veggies, plus staples like onions and garlic
- Pulling whole wheat tortillas from the pantry or freezer
- Topping with taste boosters like hot sauce or salsa
Any leftovers can turn into easy snacks. Spread extra avocado on whole wheat crackers or save some sliced up pepper for munching.
The first step to easy, efficient meal planning is to make sure that you’re planning meals that you like to eat. With the three steps above, you’re on your way to a meal planning routine that’s healthy and delicious.
To hear all of my tips, tricks, and strategies for meal planning that’s good for your body and your wallet, watch my Tinyhood University class, Meal Planning for New Parents.