The thought of meal planning and prepping can feel daunting and overwhelming if it’s not something you're used to doing. With fall and back to school right around the corner, this can be the perfect time of year to establish some new habits and save you a ton of time in the long run. If doing weekly prep intimidates you, this post has you covered. Here are five simple things you can do to seamlessly incorporate meal planning and prepping into your routine.
Start by looking at your week ahead and determining how many meals you’ll need to be prepared for. Are you going out for dinner with friends on Friday night? Do you need something quick and easy on Tuesday’s because your daughter has soccer practice? Once you have a clear idea of what your week will look like, outline the number of meals you need to prepare each day and for which days of the week. This step not only simplifies the planning, but also reduces last-minute decisions that might lead to less healthy choices. In the HEAL Meal Planning Program our weekly meal plan includes 3 breakfast recipes, 4 mains and 2 snacks to set you up for the week. After a few weeks of receiving the weekly meal plan you'll have some go-to favourites you'll want to make week after week.
Once you decide what you’ll be cooking for the week, make a detailed list of everything you’ll need. Double check what you already have on hand and don’t forget to make note of staples items like spices, seasonings, salad dressings or other condiments. Taking your time with this step prevents multiple trips to the grocery store throughout the week, helps you avoid unnecessary purchases and can help reduce food waste. It can also be helpful to keep an ongoing list somewhere handy during the week so when you notice you’ve run out of something you can add it to your list right away.
It can also be helpful to make your list in the order you'll see things in the grocery store to help save you time. Include sections for produce, meat/protein, canned goods, bulk foods like nuts and seeds and miscellaneous items like cleaning supplies or food wrap. The more organized you are the quicker you can be in and out!
An organized pantry is a secret weapon for successful meal planning. Plus, doesn’t it just feel better to be in your kitchen when everything is organized? Take time to declutter and arrange your pantry, grouping items by categories such as, canned goods, spices, and snacks. This not only makes it easier to locate ingredients but also helps you keep track of what needs replenishing. Investing in clear storage containers and labels can take your pantry organization to the next level, and also helps keep ingredients fresh and accessible.
It can also be helpful to pre-make seasoning mixtures you typically use on a weekly basis. Things like taco seasoning, greek seasoning and fajita seasoning are great to have on hand for quick and easy meals. Again, find your favourite glass spice jars and labels and give your pantry a refresh!
Meal planning and prepping shouldn't feel overwhelming and in fact, it's a great opportunity to explore new recipes and flavours. Collect a diverse range of recipes from places like our HEAL website, cookbooks, or even try the HEAL Meal Planning Program for fresh ideas to your inbox every Thursday. Having new ideas prevents meal fatigue and keeps you inspired to keep up with your new habit of meal planning and prep. Plus, it adds excitement to your meals and encourages you to stick to healthy eating throughout the week.
Once you have a collection of meals or recipes you and your family like, keep track of them in a recipe book, binder or even somewhere digitally. When you're stuck for ideas flip through your collection and plan your meals based on the ones you know you love.
The final key to making this as simple as possible is allocating time in advance. If you work Monday-Friday, weekends are often the perfect opportunity to dedicate a few hours to cooking and assembling meals for the upcoming week. Block off a specific time slot, such as Sunday afternoon, to batch-cook proteins, chop vegetables, and assemble meals in portioned containers. Although it does take a bit of time upfront, meal prep can save you a ton of time during the week. You’ll also love having healthy options throughout the week, even on your busiest days. Remember, when you have healthy food in the fridge, you eat healthy food.
If you’ve never tried a full week of meal planning and prep, give it a go and see how you do. By following these five essential steps, you can establish a seamless routine that saves you time and money each week. With a well-crafted plan, an organized pantry, and some fresh inspiration, you'll find that maintaining a balanced diet even when you’re busy is more achievable than you think.