What is Meal Planning?
Meal Planning is exactly what it sounds like…planning your meals! It can be as simple as noting dinner ideas as you see things that inspire you or a craving strikes throughout the week, or as intense as planning every single thing you eat, right down to midday snacks. While a simple concept, it can be a great tool for the busy home cook, no matter what your needs are. Some common pain points that can be solved with meal planning are trying to cut down on takeout, manage your food budget, or feeding a busy family efficiently and well. It also helps prevent food waste by utilizing ingredients that you already have on hand and having a strategy to make sure that leftovers don’t go bad. Meal Planning can be done on a weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly basis – whatever fits your lifestyle. Scroll down for our free printables to help get you started!
How is Meal Planning different from Meal Prepping?
Despite what might seem to be the case on some spots around the web, meal planning and prepping are two different things. Meal Planning is basically writing out what your meals will be for the week. Meal prepping is making your meals or at least a portion of them ahead of time so that they’re ready to go when it’s time to eat. Meal planning and prepping can go hand in hand. While you plan meals, note anything that can be made in advance like cooking grains, chopping vegetables, etc. This will cut down on cook time throughout the week, and we liken it to assembling your own DIY meal kits. So while meal prep can be a part of meal planning, it’s not necessary to meal plan successfully.
Do I need to spend all weekend planning and prepping to make it work?
The answer, we’re happy to report, is a resounding NO. If Pinterest-worthy images of perfectly portioned glass containers of meals stacked in a refrigerator give you cold feet, don’t worry – that is not a requirement for enjoying the benefits of meal planning! If, however, you have an hour to dedicate to prepping a few key items from your grocery haul before putting everything away, it could pay some big dividends throughout the work week. Start small by washing and chopping vegetables like carrots, onions, broccoli – anything hearty that won’t be worse for the wear hanging out in the fridge for a few days. From there you can work your way up to pre-cooking grains, large cuts of proteins, or whisking up sauces or marinades, just like they do at restaurants before opening to make service quicker.
How To Meal Plan: The Basics
- Decide how many meals you want to cook at home this week. Know you won’t have time to cook one night? Plan for leftovers the day prior, or build in a takeout night consciously.
- Choose your recipes, scale your desired number of servings, and write down what you’ll need to make them.
- Shop for your ingredients, and if you have time, set aside an hour for prep.
- Cook and enjoy your meals throughout the week, in the order that fits your schedule and mood the best.
- Save the recipes that were a hit, jot down any notes to streamline the process even further next time, and repeat!
Extra Credit: Common Challenges Meal Planning Can Help Solve
1. Save Money and Eliminate Food Waste
You already know to shop what’s on sale and cruise for coupons, but the best thing you can do to save money on food is to eat what you already have. Make shopping your pantry, fridge, and freezer your first step. What perishables do you need to use up? What’s threatening to form freezer burn in the depths of your chill chest? Is there an ingredient you have too much of that you’d like to try and incorporate into your meals? Plan your weekly menu around these ingredients and you’ll save more, waste less, and by doing so, make room in your pantry to rotate in new ingredients.
2. Save Time in the Kitchen
It’s a universal truth that there’s never enough time on the weeknights. If you want to reclaim some time throughout the week, your first step should be to incorporate a prep “power hour” into your weekend, during which you’ll pre-wash and chop veggies, cook off a batch of grains or a cut of protein of your choice. We like to think of this as building your own DIY meal kits to use throughout the week. You don’t *have* to do all of these things, but by taking a look at what the first steps of the recipes you want to make are, you’ll shave off precious time and effort every night, and by batch cooking your favorite grains and proteins (which often have the longest cook time) you’ll always be that much closer to a meal you know you’ll love.
3. Eat Healthier
If healthier eating habits are your goal, your first step should be to think about what produce is in season, and build your meals around it (bonus: this will also help save you money!). Cooking at home is almost always healthier than eating out since you know exactly what’s going into your food, and you also have more control over your portions. Not sure what a good portion looks like to start with, or unsure how to find recipes that are healthy and craveable? Using a meal kit service like Home Chef is a fool-proof way to take the guesswork out of balanced meals with healthy portions.
4. Discover New Recipes
If you’re looking to expand your recipe repertoire (and who isn’t?) but are worried that mixing things up on your family (or your weeknight groove) isn’t worth the hassle, your first step should be to choose one new recipe you’d like to try. If you’ve got picky eaters, put the recipe pick to a group vote, which will help avoid any potential curveballs at the dinner table come tasting time. If you’re a novice cook and aren’t even sure where to begin discovering new recipes, meal kits are a good choice again! They’re one of the best ways we can think of to try new ingredients and techniques with minimal risk since you’ll only receive just what you need of everything. That means you won’t get stuck with full jars of seasonings or condiments that you have no idea what else to do with. Plus, if you love a meal you make, you can hang on to the recipe card and recreate it any time the craving strikes.