The Beginners Guide To Meal Planning

4 tips for improving meal planning

We wish there were a word for that feeling for when you look up at the clock at 6 PM and think, “Wow, I don’t have a single thing planned for dinner.” Perhaps it’s been a long day of decision making, and the thought of having to make yet another choice fills you with existential dread. Dramatic? Maybe. But we’ve all been there. It’s in moments like these that we’re more likely to make choices that are bad for both our bodies and our budgets.

According to one study administered by Home Chef, 82% of Americans get takeout at least once every two weeks, with 47% percent of people feeling like they’ve spent too much money on their meal and 52% feeling guilty immediately afterward. And let’s not forget to mention the amount of environmental waste created by these deliveries (although if you’re like me, you like to save containers for stashing leftovers). While we’re certainly proponents of indulging in your favorite local eateries at home on occasion—especially in a time when these businesses are struggling during the pandemic— we also think there’s a lot to be said for mastering the art of meal planning. By planning your meals for the week ahead, you will make healthier, more budget-friendly, and often more satisfying choices. Want to learn more? Here are my top four tips to make meal planning as successful as possible:

1. Invest in practical (and maybe even cute!) containers

There are so many options to choose from, often in a range of fun colors and patterns designed to make food storage feel like less of a chore. Once again, this is another opportunity to cut down on environmental waste, so start with a solid set of food storage containers like these from Rubbermaid. We also love these reusable silicone storage bags from Sur la Table. Think of them as plastic zip bags that can be used more than just a few times. Another fun item to consider is a bento box (and these for kids!). They’re great for packing lunches and keeping the different parts of your meal separated. Bonus points: Get removable food labels to mark your containers with their correlating day of the week.

2. Make a list of your favorite ten recipes

Variety might be the spice of life, but let’s be real—most people like to eat the same ten or so yummy recipes on repeat. Devote 15 minutes every week to researching recipes that excite and satisfy you, and then save them all in one place. We recommend an email folder, in your notes app, or even on Pinterest. Looking for recipes? Some of our favorite Instagram follows, such as Bon Appetit, Smitten Kitchen, and Half Baked Harvest, provide a source of much inspiration. Do your best not to plan meals when you’re hungry. Much like going to the grocery store when feeling peckish, you’re more likely to go overboard with the shopping list if planning when hungry.

3. Do all of your prep at once

I like Sundays. It might be tempting to spread your meal prep over a couple of days, but there’s a lot to be said for having to get out and clean your cutting boards and food processors only once a week. Running your dishwasher fewer times means less water waste—and best of all, fewer times that you have to unload the dishwasher. You do, however, want to be careful not to mix up prep for various meals when raw meat is involved. I like to designate one cutting board for meat and another for veggies. Bonus tip: Consider the weather. Not sure which meals to assign to which days? Take a look at the forecast. If you’re like most people, you’ll prefer soups on cooler days and lighter food on warmer days. These are all important factors to take into consideration.

4. Think about leftovers

Sure, there’s something about the word “leftovers” that’s just so… unappealing. But what if your Monday night roast chicken had a second opportunity to shine on Tuesday for lunch? Perhaps it would taste great on a low-carb whole wheat wrap with alfalfa sprouts, spinach, tomatoes, and feta cheese. When planning your meals for the week, give some consideration to which items are easy to repurpose. We find this is often the case with proteins. Grilling a gorgeous rib-eye for dinner? An avocado and steak salad might really hit the spot for lunch the next day. For the vegetarians out there, it’s easy to turn a whole-grain pasta into a cold pasta salad the next day. The possibilities are endless.

Blair Smith is a lifestyle and beauty writer who currently resides (and will likely stay forever) in Brooklyn, New York.

cooking | meal prep | recipes