Taking on any new project is intimidating.
Whether you’ve just accepted a challenging new job or moved into a new house filled with nothing but boxes – the temptation to simply bail out and walk away can be overwhelming.
That’s the same reason many people give up on diets shortly after starting them. And it’s the number-one hurdle you’ll have to clear when you’ve decided to try weekly meal planning.
Going to give it a go? There are three important rules to follow.
- Don’t panic.
- Get organized with a weekly meal plan template, a list of meal or recipe ideas and a weekly grocery list.
- Don’t panic.
Any initial “pain” will quickly be replaced by relief; the relief that you’ve gained more control over your life, and the relief that you’ll be coming home each night to a delicious, healthy meal.
Let’s demystify the process of meal planning by exploring the real key to success: your meal plan template.
Setting Up a Meal Planning Template
The Internet makes life simpler in an infinite number of ways, and this is one of them.
In your mother’s or grandmother’s day, they’d have to draw a chart on a piece of paper or in a notebook to be able to plan out meals for the entire week. Today, there are a number of websites that offer printable meal planners, although you have to deal with never-ending ads and recipes on many of those sites, just to find the “free” download for their printable weekly meal planner.
There’s an easier, DIY way. Just do a Google search for free printable calendars, and you’ll find a wealth of calendar layouts for either a single week or an entire month. These are the best tools for meal planning: printable and customizable blank calendar sheets that you can turn into your own monthly meal or weekly meal planner templates.
Once you have your calendar, highlight the days for which you need to plan meals, and cross off any nights when you’ll be going out for dinner. Also mark the nights when you’ll be eating late (or early) because of other commitments like sporting events or PTA meetings; you’ll want to plan something super-easy for those dinners. And note any day of the week when the whole family won’t be around for dinner, so you’ll know not to plan a big family meal.
That’s all there is to it. You now have your weekly meal planner template. Let’s start filling it in.
Planning Meals for the Week
There are two common approaches to filling out the meal planner.
The first method is easier, but some families find it makes mealtime a bit monotonous. Simply decide on themes or specific meals for each night of the week; for example, Monday is the night for grilled strip steak with green beans, or Wednesday is “pasta night.” This approach greatly cuts down on the time required for planning meals, but it also limits variety and experimentation.
The second way to do it is to keep a list of go-to meals or recipes that the family loves, plus a folder (hard copy or on your computer) with recipe ideas clipped from magazines or found online. You can then fill in your menu template with meals that appeal to you (and/or your family), remembering to use fast or easy recipes on the nights when you’ll have less time to prepare them. Many people allot an hour per week or month to search for new and interesting recipes to try, so they’re not always eating the same meals week after week.
Pro tip: Since the goal is to go shopping just once per week, try to schedule meals that use quickly-perishable ingredients toward the beginning of the week, and plan to have leftovers, recipes made from pre-cooked ingredients and pantry staples, or “freezer meals” at the end of the week.
Second pro tip: Try to pick several meals that use at least some of the same ingredients. You’ll save money by buying larger packages, and won’t end up tossing whatever’s left of ingredients you don’t use on a regular basis.
Third pro tip: Check your fridge and pantry before choosing meals for the week. You may have some leftover items you can use in the upcoming week’s menu; that’s always preferable to throwing them out, and it’s a great way to save money.
Once your menu planner is filled in, you know what you’ll be making for the week. Now it’s time to fill out your shopping list and head to the grocery store.
Go through each meal, a day at a time, and list everything you will need to prepare it. Be prepared: the list will be long, and your grocery bill may be larger than usual. Remember, though, you’ll be spending a lot less overall since you won’t be buying food every couple of days. The list shouldn’t simply list the foods you have to buy; be sure to also include the amount of each item you’ll need, in order to avoid expensive food waste.
You’ll be shopping for the entire week, so don’t neglect any “cooking extras” you may need like oil, spices and fresh herbs. Otherwise you’ll find yourself traipsing back to the store a second or third time during the week (or ordering repeatedly from Amazon Fresh). In fact, the first time you go grocery shopping with a meal plan in hand, it’s a good idea to stock up on pantry items like those oils and spices, as well as staples like rice, broth, sugar, flour and vinegar. (And set up some sort of tracker system, so you know when you’re running out of the staples.)
Once you get home from the store, it’s time for the final step.
Planning your meals definitely saves time and aggravation. But if you have to make those meals from scratch every weeknight, you may question whether the extra effort of setting up a meal plan template was worth it.
The solution is simple: prepping all of the ingredients you can, ahead of time. That may mean washing salad greens and chopping vegetables and storing them in air-tight containers, or cooking a lasagna that just has to be reheated and served at dinnertime. Allocating a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday for weekly meal prep will pay enormous dividends on a busy Thursday night, when you’re exhausted and just want to eat.
An Even Easier Alternative
Some folks are legitimately too busy to take even a few hours out of their week to do meal planning and shopping.
For those people – and for those who simply avoid the kitchen like the plague – there’s an alternative: having pre-cooked, healthy meals delivered right to the front door by a meal delivery service. And the best choice, by far, is Factor.
Factor is perfect for busy people who are concerned about healthy eating. All meals are designed by in-house nutritionists and prepared with fresh ingredients by expert chefs. Every week you choose your meals from an enormous online menu filled with delicious options; all are gluten-free and prepared with no refined sugars or GMOs, and all proteins are grass-fed and pasture-raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free. There are also numerous low-carb choices to fit diets like keto or Paleo.
You can order as few as four meals per week or as many as 18, and everything arrives fresh, ready to be put into the oven or microwave and can be enjoyed in just minutes. Factor is the most convenient, healthiest way to plan your weekly meals. In fact, it may change your eating habits forever.