How To Start Meal Planning In 3 Simple Steps
(Plus one pro tip for TIME-STRAPPED parents!)
Step 1: BUILD A FOOD LIST
Before you sit down and start thinking about what you’ll have for dinner this week, create a list of foods that you (and your family, if you’re cooking for more than one) enjoy - and also those that might be an absolute no-go in your household.
When you’re building this list, cover all the different food groups, from fruits and vegetables, grains, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds to animal-based products like meat, fish and seafood, eggs and dairy. Unless you have food allergies or follow a specific diet (e.g. vegan), make sure to include at least a couple of different foods into each category and as you are doing that, prioritise whole foods and avoid heavily processed foods as much as you can.
If food preferences significantly differ from person to person, highlight those that are liked by everyone in the family and make them a core of your meal planning.
STEP 2: Decide which meals you need to prepare and for how many days
Whether you’re planning just for your yourself or the whole family, the second step is all about making sure that your weekly meal plan fits into your daily routine and the calendar for the upcoming week.
Do you eat breakfast and dinner at home, take snacks to the office and have lunch in your company’s canteen? Do your kids spend most of the day at the kindergarten and eat only breakfast and dinner at home? Will you be working late on Wednesday and need to have something ready to eat when you get home?
Whatever your schedule for the coming week is, write down the number of meals you need to make and what those are (e.g. breakfast, take-away snacks for kids and family dinner for Monday, only breakfast and snacks for Tuesday, etc).
Once you have that, consider how much time you’ll have to prepare food on each day of the week, so that you know exactly how many and which meals need to be prepared in advance, and which ones you can cook on the day.
STEP 3: Choose your meals for each day of the week
To create a smart meal plan, choose your meals based on the foods that the whole family likes and incorporate them into your meals throughout the week in different forms.
For example, if you all love potatoes, you can serve them mixed into a vegetable stew on a Monday, mashed and paired with grilled chicken on a Wednesday and oven-baked with steamed veggies and salmon on the weekend.
Also, think about how many meals you need to make in bulk ahead of time, for busy days when you don’t have time to spend too much time in the kitchen. These should be foods and dishes that will either last you a few days in the fridge or that you can freeze and then unfreeze easily.
Some that work really well are different kinds of soups and stews like this mouth-watering Coconut Stew With Quinoa, pre-prepared (unseasoned) salads, boiled eggs, low-sugar baked snacks like our Almond Bread and even some delicious breakfasts like these Overnight Oats.
And, to mix it up a bit, try to include one brand new dish that you’ve never made before into your menu every week and plan to make it on the weekend or another day when you have more time and can really enjoy the cooking experience.
PRO TIP FOR TIME-STRAPPED PARENTS: Share the love!
Listen, life is stressful enough and as a busy parent you really don’t need to take all of this on by yourself – your partner and your kids can help too! After all, everyone in the family eats, right?
When you’re creating your food list (Step 1) and thinking about the weekly schedule (Step 2) do this together with your family on a Saturday or Sunday and let each family member write down their own preferences and a weekly calendar. Then choose the meals you’re going to have (and that special weekend dish!) together and agree who’s going to prepare what to make that happen.
If veggies need to be cut for a salad or a stew today for your dinner on a Monday, perhaps your kids can do that (or if they are still very little they can wash them instead).
When food needs to be bought on a Saturday morning, maybe your partner can take your kids to the store where they can all work together to find the food items you need for your weekly meals.
Or when you’re making those delicious fruit bars that everyone will have for a snack during the week, your kids can shape them for you once the mix has been prepared and before you pop them in the oven.
Dividing the tasks will not only help to reduce the pressure and stress for you, but when done right, it can also increase quality time with your family and help your kids build healthy eating habits in the process!
At the end of the day, meal planning shouldn’t be stressful, but an easy way to provide you and your family with nutritious meals all year round and leave more time for all the other fun activities during the week!
Enjoyed these tips?
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