The Art of Meal Planning

Holistic Nutritionist and Wellness Coach Maria Marlowe makes meal prep stress-free.

From Maria: If you find yourself scrambling to get dinner on the table every evening or stressed out over what to cook, consider weekly meal planning as a strategy to keep your sanity intact. Meal planning can save you money, minimize food waste and eliminate the anxiety over what’s for dinner (or breakfast or lunch, for that matter!). Once you get the hang of it, it should only take about 15-20 minutes to plan an entire week’s menu. I recommend creating the meal plan early Sunday morning, then preparing a shopping list, heading to the grocery store and prepping or batch-cooking anything you need that afternoon. Taking a few hours to plan, shop and prep on the weekend will shave hours off your weekday kitchen time and significantly minimize the chances of throwing up your hands and ordering takeout. Here’s how to meal plan like a pro. The Art of Meal Planning

1. Create a recipe arsenal

Whenever you come across a recipe you like in a cookbook or website, save it in one place. That could mean pinning it to a Pinterest board, adding it to a running list in your email, putting a sticky note in a cookbook or physically printing it and keeping it in your cupboard. The more organized you are with your lists (for example, having separate breakfast, lunch and dinner lists), the easier it will be when it comes time to plan. For inspiration check out these Pinterest boards: Healthy Breakfast Recipes, Healthy Lunch Recipes, Healthy Dinner Recipes.

2. Determine which meals you’ll need for the week

Using an empty weekly meal-planning calendar, cross out any meals you’ll be eating out for and won’t be responsible for.

3. Start with breakfast

Breakfast is typically the easiest meal to plan. To simplify your mornings while ensuring your diet is varied (so you don’t get bored), rotate two or three different breakfasts each week. You can also try making the same meal but swapping out a few of the ingredients. For example, make oatmeal every morning, but switch up what type of fruit and nuts you put on top or rotate different smoothie bowls.

4. Figure out your lunches

Bringing lunch to work ensures you get the healthiest meal, and will most certainly save you money. You can either prep your lunches in advance or use last night’s leftovers. If you’d prefer to make lunch in advance, try these salad jar recipes. You can make four or five at the beginning of the week and the air-tight mason jar will keep them fresh. If you’re using leftovers, make them more exciting by rolling them up in a piece of nori or rice paper to make a wrap, similar to these veggie pockets. Just remember to make enough dinner servings so you have leftovers.

5. Plan for dinner

After a long day at work, you probably want to get dinner on the table quickly. Choose easy recipes that take 20-30 minutes or less to prepare, or can be pre-prepped. Save the fancy, restaurant-inspired fare for the weekends. You can further minimize your time in the kitchen on weeknights by prepping your dinner ingredients on Sunday.

6. Make a shopping list

After you’ve decided what you’re going to cook, combine all the ingredient lists to make a grocery shopping list. This will greatly speed up your time at the store and keep you focused so you don’t buy things you don’t need.

7. Go grocery shopping

List in hand, head to your local grocer. Weekends do tend to be the busiest time, so try to get there before 11 a.m. for shorter lines. If you can manage to meal prep in advance, consider shopping online, at least for your dry goods. Thrive Market has a wide assortment of healthy pantry staples at great prices.

8. Batch cook and prep

When you get your groceries home, batch cook and prep whatever you can to shorten your kitchen time during the week—chop your veggies, pre-cook grains and beans, marinate fish, make dressings and roast vegetables. Invest in either a set of mason jars with airtight lids or glass storage containers to keep everything fresh.

9. Repeat meals

While having 21 different meals a week may sound good in theory, unless you have a personal chef and unlimited budget, you’re going to end up with a lot more work and a lot more waste. Instead, repeat meals, batch cook and jazz up your leftovers.

For more from Maria, read her recent columns on the site and visit her online at mariamarlowe.com. Images courtesy of Maria Marlowe.