The Ultimate Beginner's Guide To Meal Planning

Are you tired of always thinking (or maybe hearing): "What's for dinner tonight?" If so, you're not alone. Millions of men and women are faced with that same vexing question every day. Many wonder if there is some way to eliminate the frustration that they feel when they don't know what to prepare for themselves and their families. 

Fortunately, there is: meal planning. Let's talk about what meal planning is, and how you can make it work for your unique situation. 

What is Meal Planning?

Meal planning is just what it sounds like: It's the process of planning out your meals for one week at a time, instead of taking it day by day. A meal plan is basically a written list of the dishes that you and your family like to eat, spread out over the course of a week, and organized so that all you have to do is shop for ingredients and prep them before cooking.

Of course, there are several factors that will affect the nature of your meal plan, such as:

  1. Your goals. For instance, do you want to plan out meals to eat healthier? To meet certain fitness goals? To save money? Or just to eliminate extra stress at the end of the day?

  2. How many mouths there are to feed. Obviously, a meal plan for a single person is going to look a lot different from a meal plan for a family of four (or six, or eight)!

  3. Dietary restrictions. This is a big one. For instance, if a member of your family is deathly allergic to peanuts, then you know right off the bat that any meal containing the slightest trace of peanuts is off the table. 

  4. Your culinary abilities. Let's face it: not all of us are cut out to be the next "Iron Chef." With that in mind, you need to know your limits when creating your meal plan. (Pre-cooked meat isn't a cop-out if cooking just isn't your thing.)

  5. Your schedule. If you have to go, go, go every day, and your head hasn't stopped spinning by the time you get home, then it may be wise to choose simple recipes that don't require a lot of prep or cook time. 

Common Meal Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Before we dive into the details of how to develop a workable meal plan, let's briefly discuss 3 common pitfalls that many beginners fall into:

  1. Not adding snacks and treats to your meal plan. Unless you're aiming for a hardcore diet, odds are you're going to want the occasional piece of chocolate whether it's on your meal plan or not. (And if you don't, your family members will!)

  2. Not adapting to your family's preferences. No matter how strictly you adhere to your meal plan, it's not going to do much good if your family members hate what you prepare, and decide to order a pizza instead.

  3. Not taking your busy schedule into account. If you're rushed for time, the last thing you need is to prepare a meal that takes a solid hour to make. 

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about some steps you can take to make meal planning a success for you!

1. Know Your Goals

Do you want to save money by eating in instead of dining out? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to build muscle? Do you simply want more variety in your diet? Whatever the case may be, it's important to clearly understand why you're developing a meal plan in the first place. Once you know your goals, it will be that much easier to stick to your plan.

2. Figure Out How Many Meals to Plan Per Week

Obviously, the number of meals you plan may be higher or lower depending on the week. For instance, you may not have to plan for breakfast or lunch each day (or any day). You may need to cook a larger meal on the weekend so that you can survive on leftovers come Monday evening. The possibilities are endless.

The key here is to be realistic. If you're not the type of person who can handle cooking every night, consider planning out 3 cooked dinners for the week, and then relying on leftovers and takeout for the remaining 4 days. Just don't burn yourself out at the beginning of your meal planning adventure — that wouldn't be fun for anyone!

3. Select Your Recipes

There are a ton of places to go for awesome recipes. You can explore the Internet for simple 30-minute meals that feature ingredients you like. You can lay down some cash for a cookbook from one of your favorite authors. Or you can reach out to family and friends for their suggestions.

Again, remember that your recipe doesn't have to be time-consuming or complicated in order to be effective. A simple dish like chicken, black beans and rice may not take long to prepare, but it still beats a bowl of cereal in terms of nutrition.

4. Make Your Shopping List

Make a list of all the ingredients you'll need for each recipe (as well as the quantities needed), and then go through your fridge and pantry to see what you already have available. Mark the items you find off the list, and voilà! Your shopping list is ready.

5. Prepare Your Meals

While some recipes may require you to prepare ingredients right before cooking, keep in mind that for many dishes you should be able to prepare ingredients ahead of time. For example, if a recipe calls for a chopped bell pepper, you may decide to take care of that earlier in the day, and then pull those chopped pieces out of the fridge in the evening when it's time to start meal prep.

6. Cook and Enjoy

Now that the majority of the work's been done, it's time to cook your meal and chow down! You'll be happy, your family will be happy, and everyone will be able to enjoy the delicious dish you've prepared.

If you'd like to add some tasty super food to your meal planning, be sure to check our selection out at Paleo Angel today!