Planning and prepping your meals can make it easy to eat in a way that supports your goals – while saving you time and money!
There’s no wrong way to do it, the point is to make your life easier during the busy part of your week by doing some of the leg work up front.
This article will help you figure out the planning & prepping approach that makes sense for you.
What It’s Not
Meal planning isn’t just for Mom bloggers with elaborate dinners written in cursive on an Instagram worthy chalkboard.
Meal prep doesn’t have to mean slaving away in the kitchen allll damn day on Sunday, only to end up with a fridge full of matching Tupperware with the same bland meals in each one.
I don’t want either of those to be my life. You probably don’t, either.
Planning & prep will look different for most of us.
If you don’t mind eating the same thing every day, prepping all your meals in advance makes the work week super easy.
Or maybe you’re cool with prepping breakfast and eating leftovers for lunch but would rather have a fresh dinner each night.
If you just want to make it a little easier to grab a carrot instead of carrot cake, a small amount of forethought will help with that, too.
It’s just a matter of identifying where you’re being inefficient or going rogue during the week and coming up with a streamlined process to overcome that.
Planning & prep:
- pre-commits you to healthy eating since all you have to do is eat what you already made.
- cuts down on mindless eating by making by making your planned meals the easiest and most accessible options.
- saves money by cutting down on meals out and food waste.
- frees up time and energy throughout the week when don’t have to figure out meals on fly.
- makes hitting your calorie & macro targets much, much easier.
Before Grocery Shopping
Review The Upcoming Week
Just winging your nutrition and hoping for the best is a recipe (get it?!) for disaster. You need to have some sort of plan going into the week because flying by the seat of your pants rarely ends well.
How many people are you cooking for? How many meals do you need each day for each person?
- I cook for myself and my husband.
- We’re busiest in the mornings so I make sure I prep those in advance.
- I work from home so I can throw together my midday meals in-the-moment.
- He needs a lunch 4 days a week so I usually make sure I make enough at dinner so he can take leftovers.
If I didn’t think about these things in advance, I’d have no idea what, or how much, I was shopping for each week.
See what you already have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry so that you know what you need to buy.
If you’re super Type A, you can make lists of what’s in each of those places so that you can see what you have at-a-glance.
If you’re not, give those areas a once over each week so that you don’t end up with 4 back-up BBQ sauces but constantly out of mustard (speaking from experience here.)
Decide What To Make
You can prepare individual ingredients, instead of actual recipes (see mix-and-matcher below.) If you do want to make some complete meals, here are some ideas:
Make a list of tried & true recipes
Unless you just landed on this planet or eat 100% of your meals out, you have some idea of what meals work.
Even if they’re not “healthy”, there’s always a way to tweak them to be more aligned with your goals OR fit them into your diet as is!
Print those recipes and put them in a binder.
Each week, pick 1 new recipe to try. If it’s a hit, or even has potential with some modifications next time, print it and put it in the binder. You can organize these by meal, base, time to make, whatever works!
When you’re planning for the week or feeling low on inspiration, you just flip through your personal cookbook and pick from the pre-vetted recipes.
Having at least some general idea of what you’ll be making will help you immensely when it comes to writing your grocery list. If you don’t know what you’re making, you won’t know what to buy.
Make a list of your favorite meals out
When you’re feeling inspired or in need of something new or that feels like a treat, find a recipe for one of those meals and try your hand at making it yourself.
Get everyone involved
Let family members pick meals each week and give input on what you make.
Write a List
This article reviews 4 reasons you should be using a grocery list besides just not forgetting to buy what you need.
The Grocery Shopping Template in the Body Transformation Guide will help you organize yourself based on your needs for the week.
Download grocery store apps for coupons on what you’re already planning on buying.
Shop circulars and stock up on what’s on sale.
When You Get Home
How you proceed once you’ve secured the grocery bags is up to you. The following approaches will give you some ideas:
If you want to do as little as possible over the weekend but still set yourself up for success during the week, you’ll love this!
You don’t actually cook anything, but get yourself prepared by washing & chopping produce, defrosting meats, maybe organizing the fridge to putting together the ingredients you’ll need for each meal.
At the very least, you’re making it a little easier on yourself to choose fruits and veggies since they’ll already be mouth-ready.
If you’ve stocked up on sale produce, you can prep and freeze it raw for future use.
If you don’t enjoy cooking or doing think you’re very good at it, keep it simple.
Rather than feeling like you need to make entire meals that go together, think about prepping ingredients in advance that you can put together in different combinations throughout the week.
Batch cook a few proteins, veggies, and carbs and then mix-and-match based on what sounds good. (Don’t forget the healthy fats, but many of those don’t need to be prepared in advance.)
This was my approach for years and I talk about my exact process in this post.
The future planner
Make double of whatever you’re cooking and freeze the extra. Then when life gets crazy or you don’t have a chance to shop or cook, you just defrost & eat.
The same goes for having leftovers for lunch. Just make a bigger meal in the first place and you’re covered for another meal. Cook once, eat twice.
Between grocery delivery and meal prep companies, you can hire someone to do just about everything that you don’t want to do yourself.
If you really don’t want to do the leg work but do want the benefits, you can buy back your time by outsourcing. Maybe that’s doing a grocery pick-up so you don’t need to go in the store, delivery so you don’t need to leave the house, or using a company that does the actual cooking.
Meal prep companies vary in their offerings and with a little research, you’re likely to find one that fits your needs.
Additional Tips for Working Smarter, Not Harder
Prep twice per week for more variety & freshness – some of you side-eye anyone willing to eat 6 day old food. If that’s the case, plan 2 days each week to do smaller prep sessions. An hour or so on Sunday can cover you through Wednesday. While you’re making dinner Wednesday, you can put together meals to finish out the week.
(You might still get food poisoning from contaminated lettuce, though.)
Repurpose leftovers – maybe you make baked potatoes for dinner one night and then turn the leftovers into mashed potatoes the next night. Or make spaghetti and meatballs one night and meatball subs the next. You don’t need to have completely new ingredients to have a meal that seems different.
Recruit the kids to help – depending on their ages, kids can help wash or cut produce, measure ingredients, and put things into containers. The more involved they are in the process, the easier it’ll be to get their buy-in, not to mention it’s a great way to start teaching them about nutrition and developing a healthy relationship with food.
Have emergency options in the freezer and pantry – at some point, you’re definitely going to have a weekend where you just don’t make it to the store and doing any sort of prep is laughable. Rather than being SOL the entire week, make sure you have a freezer and pantry stash to get you through a couple of days.
- Canned: Tuna, beans, veggies, fruit
- Frozen: Veggies, fruit, potatoes, precooked burgers, meatballs, or grilled chicken
- Pantry: Pasta, microwave rice, nut butter, oil, protein powder, oats, dried fruit
Remember the point
The purpose is to make it easy to eat to support your goals during the week, not to cause you undue stress.
Start small, experiment with what helps you do that, and don’t overthink it!
What does meal prep look like for you?