The Obstacle Meter – 05: Meal Planning

05: Meal Planning

I could really use some help planning out meals for the week.

In theory meal planning is easy: pick your recipes, pick your snacks, and plan out when you are going to eat them.  But do you know what?  I have never met anyone who I have asked to meal plan for themselves for a week and to follow it who have not had a real eye-opening experience.  The reality is, not too many people are good at meal planning and even fewer people enjoy meal planning.  And even if you are relatively good at it if you are like me, you find it to be a real pain in the ass sometimes. 

With that being said when it comes to healthy eating, meal planning is not optional, it is an absolute necessity and life saver!  The weeks that I fail to properly meal plan are usually kind of a disaster and really puts stress on all the other aspects of my week that I need to go well.

The first step to meal planning is making the DECISION to make meal planning a weekly priority.  The steps after that vary as do your individual obstacles but the following is a chronological checklist of steps to meal planning.

1) Find/Locate Recipes: cookbooks, recipe cards, recipe managers, online, etc.  Once you find your recipes, use a recipe manager such as the Paprika Recipe Manager to store them all in one easy to find place.

2) Choose Recipes: a minimum of 2 lunches and 3-4 dinners is recommended.  Consider the healthiness, number of calories, ability to produce leftovers, grocery store sales, variety, and taste preferences for the week.  Remember that variety and balance are keys to a healthy diet. Try choosing one recipe from several categories each week. For example, choose from fish, chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian.

If possible, I like to plan out one 30-minute dinner that is easy to make and one crockpot meal.  This leaves me with 2 dinners that will take a little bit more time to prep and cook but makes cooking dinner less daunting by cooking two easy meals and two regular meals rather than 4 regular/more challenging meals.

3) Plan at Least One Bridge/Emergency Meal: A bridge and/or emergency meal is a meal that you can pull out of the freezer and make to –bridge– you to your next grocery shopping time and in the process helps prevent you from having to make a short trip to the grocery store or eating out.  If you end up having to work late or are too tired to prepare a more ambitious meal, bridge meals can also be utilized here.  Examples of bridge meals include baked fish and sweet potato fries, spaghetti and cheesy bread or breakfast for dinner.

4) Decide when You can make the Food based on Your Schedule: this will also dictate the ratio of crockpot, 30-minute meals, pre-made meals, and more intensive meals that you will make for the week.  The last thing you need is to have to make a labor-intensive meal after an extra-long day at work.

5) Create a Grocery List: we recommend using a recipe manager such as the Paprika Recipe Manager not only keep track of your recipes but to be able to create a grocery list as well.  Paprika will save you a lot of time, paper, writing, and energy.  Just click on your desired recipes to create your grocery list.  You can also print off your list if you are a paper and pen kind of person.

6) Take a Pantry Inventory: there is nothing worse than purchasing an item that you already have and overcrowding your pantry.  Now you have extra items, and you cannot find anything because your pantry is so cluttered with items you do not need.

7) Throw out Old and Expired Food and Organize Your Fridge: this will facilitate being able to neatly organize your fridge upon your return from the grocery store.  It will also help prevent you from losing food in your fridge due to spoilage and expiration.

8) Coupons: at the very least, utilize the grocery store’s app to upload digital coupons to your account or saver card. Cutting coupons seems a bit old school these days but these can also save you some money at the store.

9) Do not Forget Your Reusable Bags: not to get all environmental activist here but the creation of massive amounts of plastic is one of the worst (of many) things that we as humans have done to our planet.  Invest in 4-5 reusable bags, you will not regret 

10) Plan a Time to go to the Grocery Store: optimally you will perform the previous steps and immediately go to the store but sometimes (i.e., you are on your way to work and will shop after) you will need to go later.  Put –Going to the Grocery Store– in your weekly planner.  We all have the best intentions of getting to the store but if you are like me, you tend to put it off until you HAVE to go because you have run out of food.  Running out of food opens you up to all sorts of unplanned and unhealthy eating.

11) Travel to the Store, Shop, Check Out, and Travel Home: creating a great grocery list prevents you from having to travel to the store multiple times and from purchasing additional items that will put a dent in your food budget, add calories and temptations to your pantry, and increase your food waste.

To save additional time on travel you may want to consider grocery shopping on your way home from work or while running other errands.  Scheduling grocery pick up or delivery is also a time saver and can also prevent you from purchasing unnecessary items.

12) Putting Groceries Away: you have already inventoried your pantry and cleaned out your fridge.  An additional tip is to organize your fridge (and pantry) in a way that makes sense to you.  For example, my milk, yogurt, eggs, veggies, and meats are housed in very specific parts of my fridge (they each have their own places).  In addition, to your pantry and fridge, re-organize your fruit bowl, putting the new items at the bottom and the old items on top.

13) Prep Fruit and Veggies: if you have the time and it makes sense for you, cut up fruits and veggies for fresh eating as there is never a good time to do this.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have had strawberries or some other fruit that requires some cutting/prepping go bad in my fridge because I did not take the 5 minutes to cut them up.  Make it a priority to prepare them.  Additionally, if you are extra ambitious, cut up the veggies that you are using for your lunches and dinners for the week.

14) Find Time to Prepare Your Meals: based on your schedule decide when you are going to prepare each one of your meals.  Do you have time in the morning but not in the evening, sounds like a crockpot meal will be your best bet. No time in the morning or the evening, maybe leftovers will serve you best.  You may also want to consider making two meals (for example one lunch and one dinner) when you have time.

15) Other Resources: meal-kits, pre-made meals, meal delivery, and of course eating out are other food options.  Ideally, in terms of control over what you eat as well as cost you will make your own food when you can.  However, this just is not possible for everyone, and a more in-depth mix and match of meal options will be necessary.