Best Tips for Healthy Meal Planning
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None of us have got enough time in the day. Especially once you have kids. And you still want to stay away from industrial food. 24 hours just aren’t enough. Meal planning is, luckily for us, is an easy way to save time on a daily basis, simply by changing your shopping/routine a bit.
And to help you along the way, I’ve compiled these 19 Best Tips for Healthy Meal Planning. With a little help of fellow moms like us sharing their own best tips for healthy meal planning.
If you’ve got an awesome tip to share that isn’t covered here, feel free to share it with us, I’ll update this post regularly.
See, at some point in our clean eating journey, I was the only one in the family having to avoid processed food and cooking from scratch for health reasons. So I had to make plans, every day, to prepare food for the family, then for me. You can imagine that, by the time I was finished cooking for everybody else, my time and energy had run out, kids (then both under 5) and husband were *hangry* and we just had to sit down and eat. So I ate a lot of salads, topped up with whatever meat, fish or egg was cooked and ready to eat. For months.
But I was craving warm, cooked food. So I started cooking a large batch of veggies at the weekend, or in the evenings, for myself in the evenings. And soon found out that the rest of the tribe was eating away at my large batch before the week was over. So I researched new recipes. Cooked even larger batches in advance, that the whole family could eat. Together. That ticked all the boxes for my health.
And that’s how I started thinking of recipes ahead of time, shopping for them (I only ever do 1 shopping trip per week, this momma’s got no time for driving around…) and serving them to the whole family.
That’s basically Meal Planning. Some people like to prep their food in batches over the weekend and freeze their meals for the whole week. I don’t personally, but I can see the benefits. Check out my Pro and Cons list of Meal Prepping in this post on Healthy Meal Planning in 9 Easy Steps, see Step 8.
How can *you* create your own Clean Eating Meal Plan?
Meal Planning involves changing your routine. It’s not so much about what you eat, it’s about thinking about it a bit earlier and changing the steps you take to put food in your plate.
Clean Eating involves, by and far, changing what you eat and how you eat it. One little step at a time.
Related post – What is Clean Eating?
It’s a lot of changes, I hear you. Hopefully, you’ve already started taking baby steps towards eating cleaner food. If not, I have covered various ways you can start Eating Clean to give you ideas.
But I’m getting side-tracked.
Meal Planning is more about the process.
And this process is as individual as your family is, really. It will be different from anybody else, because you are different from anybody else.
We personally have to eat clean for health reasons, but you might want to eat cleaner food to save money. To avoid additives and GMOs. Lose weight. Eat a more vegetarian/vegan diet. Reduce your impact on the environment. Add vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in your diet.
Whatever the reasons, they are personal to you. So as much as other people’s experiences are useful, they are only tools to help you build your routine.
So along the way, you might need to tweak your new routine to suit you. I’ve asked my friends, family, and readers to share their very own Top Tips, which are all different. These are all great ideas to help you along.
Want to share your own Best Tip for Healthy Meal Planning? Please do so below and help everybody else out there:
19 Best Tips to Create a Clean Eating Meal Plan
The (not so) ultimate list of Tips for Healthy Meal Planning that works for you!
Tip 1. Start small
Meal planning can be as small or as involved as you want it to be. But it can also be quite overwhelming to start with.
So keep breakfasts and lunches the same, and focus on 2-3 dinners per week to start with. Then every school/work dinners. Then add lunches/breakfast, if needed.
We like to keep weekends fairly free here. Some families like their Friday pizza. Others have a No Cooking Evening so the cook can take a break.
Our breakfasts and lunches are fairly similar every day: Hubby and I usually eat leftovers and the girls’ lunchboxes are filled to their liking with a choice of proteins, starches, fruits and veggies from staples that we buy every week. It frees up our minds from having to scratch for food every day.
Tip 2. Keep it realistic
Yes, we’ve all seen images of freezers loaded with a month’s worth of meals and boxes neatly stacked up to the ceiling. But those didn’t just happen overnight. I bet they started with a few meals and a handful of boxes…
So start with meal planning for 1 week. It’s much more manageable as you’ll be able to fit all your groceries and prepared meals in a normal-sized fridge/freezer.
Note – If you’re ready for a bigger challenge, I’ve come across this awesome post about Seasonal Meal Planning. Definitely the next step up, but Leigh Ann makes the process easy. Food for though…
In the same line, pick recipes adapted to your cooking levels, so you don’t spend hours slaving over hot stove every night (defeating the whole time-saving purpose of meal planning).
And pick ingredients that you can easily find either at your usual shopping spot or at least locally. So you don’t spend the weekend running around for ingredients with unpronounceable names.
Keep your fancy recipes for the weekends or days when you genuinely have the time (and the energy) to cook.
Tip 3. Focus on 1 main ingredient
Find 2-3 recipes using the same ingredient (it’s cheaper and prepping can be done at the same time). So when bell peppers are in season, and we can pick up loads of it really cheap at the market, they’ll be on the table at every meal! Diced in a salad, sliced and braised with pasta, stuffed with a savory muffin mix or savory mince, you name it, they’ll be there!
Or prepare one ingredient in large quantity and use it up in a variety of dishes throughout the week. Like a large batch of chicken, which can be used in a soup, a salad, an oven bake and so on. Thanks for the tip, Jessie from Life As A Strawberry!
Tip 4. Bulk up
Irma Stretch (of the Fearless Affiliate fame, but a keen clean eater in her spare time) suggested this: “Purchase a freezer. Always having food on hand makes planning meals easier. It is cheaper to buy boxes of chicken breasts or bulk containers of meat. And if you have a warehouse-type store nearby, stock up on large bags (2kg) of frozen veggies.”
Double up on your quantities for a few meals a week, then freeze the leftovers. Here’s your back-up plan there and then. For those just-too-busy evenings. Sorted.
Tip 5. Streamline your shopping
Prepare a complete shopping list first, so you don’t go for last minute errands (coz you don’t have eggs… or sugar…).
Try and buy all your ingredients from the one shop. You save time by not having to shop around. You save money by not driving around. And if they happen to deliver for a small fee, you get more weekend time.
Tip 6. Get creative with themed meals
Think Taco Tuesdays, but for your family! It doesn’t have to be every week the same either, but it helps to find with new recipes within that theme.
I would definitely keep a Leftover day during the week, preferably just before your shopping trip. It saves money, avoids food wastage and creates space in the fridge for your fresh produce. Oh, and only takes minutes to put together! What’s not to love…
Here are a few ideas to get you going:
- Mexican/Italian/French day,
- Meatless day,
- Try something new day,
- Let’s cook together day,
- Mexican Mondays,
- Pizza night (home-made, of course),
- Breakfast-for-dinner day,
- No-cook day (raw food),
- Crockpot night, etc.
We’re big fans of Picnic dinners, where basically everything is presented in small bowls and we pick and choose what we want to eat. A sort of deconstructed meal. Works wonder on hot summer’s day with salad-type ingredients.
Tip 7. Teamwork gets it done
Enroll the better half (and the kids, if they’re old enough to not ask for pizza, pasta or chips every meal) to pick the recipes. Not only will they suggest ideas of recipes you might have forgotten about, but it will help choose a New Recipe of the Week that suits everybody.
Along the same line, get your team to check out those Best Tips for Healthy Meal Planning. We all remember and focus on different information, and this is quite a long list!
Tip 8. Create a thorough Recipe list
First, remember to write down a basic recipe list. Even if it’s only 2 recipes. It’s amazing how quickly we can get side-tracked when evenings get busy…
While writing down your list of recipes for the week,
- add the quantities it caters for (important for the shopping list…),
- where it’s from (cookbook, own recipes, Pinterest),
- how long it *actually* takes (once you’ve made it),
- any possible swaps (if you can’t find the right stuff in the shop or need to cater for a specific diet), etc.
Basically, anything that will save you time later on.
Tip 9. Check your Family calendar before picking your recipes
If you’re pushed for time on a busy evening, avoid those recipes that need to chill overnight or take 1 hour to prepare, let alone to cook.
Or avoid catering for a small number when friends or family have planned to drop by.
It also helps you shop wisely. Like, not buying BOGOFF cabbage heads on a week when nobody will be home… Got that t-shirt.
Tip 10. Keep your pantry and freezer stocked up
We all have staple items that we use on a regular basis, whether (carefully chosen) tins, dry groceries or frozen products. So a lot of your family recipes will be using those. Just make sure you add them to your shopping list to replenish them regularly.
Tip 11. Use up existing fresh products
…before buying new ones!
Check your fridge/fruit basket before heading to the shops, to make sure you’re not spending unnecessary money on items you already have at hand, and creating waste in the process.
Likewise, you might realize that the ingredients you needed for a specific recipe disappeared in the kids’ lunchboxes or during a late-night snack attack.
Tip 12. Only add one new recipe per week
Trying new things is great, food variety is awesome and it’s easy to get overzealous when browsing the Healthy Recipe section on Pinterest.
But bear in mind that trying new recipes usually involves more effort, takes a little bit more time and can add a lot more stress to your evening routine.
So try and stay clear of meals that are completely foreign to your household and keep it simple during the week. Your weekends might be better suited for those.
Tip 13. Have a backup plan and be flexible
We live in a busy world and little can throw our schedule out all the time. Got stuck in traffic longer than expected? Last-minute late meeting at work? Late school assignment that needs your help?
Don’t fret. Just have a back-up meal at hand [see Tip 4 above]. It can be a frozen meal, a quick pantry recipe, an omelet or quiche, or your Leftover dinner. Right there.
Or you can just swap meals around if you have a quick recipe lined up for another day of the week. Like that.
Tip 14. Prioritize your recipes based on your fridge content
Highly perishable ingredients are best eaten earlier in the week. This way, you eat them at their highest nutrient value and you don’t end up trashing them. And having to buy fresher ones later in the week.
Meals using your Staple foods and Leftover meals are ideal for the end of the week.
Tip 15. Focus on time-saving hacks
Time is usually of the essence during weekdays. Try and find quick recipes (15-minute or 30-minute meals), make use of your crockpot, over-cater and freeze some meals for later, have a meal of leftovers, etc.
My favorite hack is what I call a fous-y-tout (to be pronounced phoo-zee-too with a French accent). Literally, Dump-it-all. I’m sure most families have got one of those recipes.
You basically take small leftovers and other bits and bobs from the fridge, and you make a meal of it. You can smother them with tomato sauce and herbs, or cheese and cream, and bake them. Or cover them with mash for a Pie of the day. Or beat some eggs over them for a one-of-a-kind quiche or omelet.
Be aware that most of those come up really truly delicious and you’ll never ever be able to repeat them again… You’ve been warned…
Tip 16. Establish a routine
…but be ready to change and improve. Meal Planning screams “I’m super-organized, efficient, totally in control”. But it’s actually merely a tool to help you along the way.
In an ideal world, we all want to really establish a Meal Planning routine and make this a weekly habit to eat better, save time and money.
In reality, though, we all live different lives and some of those Best Tips for Healthy Meal Planning might not work for you. Or at least not every week.
It’s OK, change what needs to be changed and start again the next week. No hard feelings.
Tip 17. Make use of cooking shortcuts
One-pot dishes are your best friends. Crockpots and sheet pans are a godsend for busy evenings. Loaded salads slash your cooking time (especially if you add leftovers, like cooked chicken or roasted veggies, to your fresh produce).
Saving time also happens ahead of cooking. Think about stuffing freezer bags with all your recipe ingredients ahead of time and throwing them all in a pot/crockpot during the week when you need it.
Extra tip – if your oven allows for it, prepare 2 sheet pans, rotating them half-way through to get them nicely roasted, and freeze one!
Tip 18. Create a Family Cookbook
This will help pick a few tried-and-trusted favorites every week. Saving you time and stress, as you could prepare them with your eyes closed.
You can add new favorites as you go along, to keep things interesting.
The ideal format is entirely up to you. I have a notebook from my pre-digital years with all my staple recipes. But I’m using my Notes on my smartphone for adding new ones these days. Which makes it easier to share, to tweak and to use when we’re away.
Find a system that works for you. S-note (for Samsung smartphone users), for example, allows for a search on 1 ingredient, which makes it a godsend for finding a recipe for whatever is left in your fridge.
If you have several cooks in the house, or if you use your tablet and your phone for your recipes, a shared platform like Evernote might come in handy.
Tip 19. Make use of tools
We live in a world where we have a wealth of information at our fingertips. Make the most of it.
Use Pinterest or recipe websites to find new recipes (don’t forget to save them!).
Get the Healthy Meal Planning Bundle. Not only does it come with a wealth of recipes, but you get free meal plans, printables, etc.
Check out a few meal planning apps. Some of them offer recipes, create your shopping list, and even get the ingredients delivered to your door. The Healthy Meal Planning Bundle come with a 1-month free subscription to RealPlans, so you can try this one out for free.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Meal Planning
Meal Planning is a tool. It can help you eat cleaner food, save you time and save you money. And keep your sanity at a decent level. That’s why I compile those Best Tips for Healthy Meal Planning.
But there’s no one-solution-fits-all here. Creating your meal planning routine is a process. There’s no right or wrong, only tips that don’t quite fit your own family or current situation.
So try it out, one tip at a time. And along the way, please share below the tips I missed but that work wonders for you!
Go well, eat well,