This time of year, meal planning is top of mind for many people looking to “get back on track”, “eat healthier”, or achieve other nutrition and health goals. Most of us know the many benefits of meal planning – it can save us time, money, stress, and help us to eat in a more balanced way! And yet, many of us struggle with this important task. It’s tedious and time consuming, it’s hard to come up with new and exciting recipes, managing family members’ preferences and picky eaters is difficult, maybe you just don’t really know where to start!
I hear you. It can be a tedious job to meal plan Every. Single. Week. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are lots of different ways to develop your personalized meal plan for your family – one that can have lots of variety and exciting flavours, can incorporate preferences and different nutrition needs for different family members, and doesn’t result in you making multiple dinners every night. Believe it or not, meal planning doesn’t have to take a long time or be super boring – when done right, it can inspire your creativity and get you excited about healthy eating!
Find the meal planning style that is right for you.
There are many different techniques to make a meal plan, and different strokes for different folks. That is, there’s no right way or wrong way, and you can even take components of one style and apply it to another. Some of the types of meal plans I see or suggest for clients include…
- Fully scheduled calendar – every meal for every day is laid out for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. There’s no guesswork or surprises. But there’s also little room for flexibliity on those days when things don’t go quite right.
- Loosely scheduled calendar – this is a way to describe several variations of the calendar meal plan…:
- Plan only dinners (which tends to be the most challenging meal for many of us!), and have a rotation of common breakfasts and lunches or plan for leftovers for lunch (this is my style!)
- Plan meals/recipes, but not necessarily the day they’ll be prepared and served. You have all the ingredients on hand to make your meals, but prepare things depending on what you want that day.
- Batch meal prep and container-style meal prep – cook several prepared meals one day, and simply grab and go each day. This is a great time saver for busy folks, though might not allow as much variety.
- Themes or Guidelines – instead of coming up with a recipe for each day of the week, this style assigns a particular theme or guideline for each day. For example, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday; or guidelines such as fish 2 times per week, a stir fry once a week, etc. This style can make it easier to come up with recipe ideas, as you can collect recipes based on themes and just plug them into your plan,
- Mix and Match Meal Prep – this style allows for maximum creativity in the kitchen, while still saving time and stress each day. Here, you prepare the basic ingredients for a meal once or twice a week. When it comes time to get a meal on the table, simply pick and choose from what you have in the fridge and reheat as desired. There’s no solid plan for each day, but you still loosely plan out what will be prepared at some point during the week. For example, you might marinade several meats, roast a big batch of veggies, and prepare a batch of rice or quinoa. At mealtime, you choose a protein, some veggies, and a grain. Meal done!
- Monthly Meal Planning – some folks choose to plan a full month of meals at a time. For people with very regular schedules, rarely have surprise visitors or events, great organizational skills, and lots of room in their freezers, this can be a great option! With this style, you plan a full month worth of meals, prepare everything at once and freeze. You just need to remember to take your meal out of the freezer in advance. Also helps if you have a love affair with your slow cooker or Instant Pot.
What style resonates with you?
Remember, there’s no one right or wrong way to make a meal plan, and you can borrow components of one to fit another if that makes more sense to you! For example, for my family, I usually use the “loosely scheduled” plan with a few components put together. I have a rotation of breakfast choices that I pick from based on what my kid will be served at daycare for morning snack that day. I then plan dinners, and plan my meals around some general guidelines (I like to have fish 1-2 times per week, an Asian dish once a week, and a vegetarian dish once a week). Sometimes I also like to use the mix-and-match style, especially when we have lots of leftovers after a holiday! You can change your mind and try out different styles from week to week, depending on your family’s needs at a given time.
Not sure what meal prep style might work for you, or just don’t really know where to start? I can help! Click the box below to book your free 15 minute discovery call and see how we can work together.