Meal planning is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your wellness stays on track, but it’s also one of the most frustrating and difficult things you can do.
But, it doesn’t have to be. Meal planning can be easy and straightforward once you get into the groove.
In this article, Michelle Dudash, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist, Cordon Bleu-certified chef and columnist of DishwithDudash.com, dishes up 6 simple tips to make meal planning easy and accessible.
1. Having a properly stocked kitchen is the single most important thing you can do to get nutritious meals on the table with minimal effort.
That doesn’t mean you have to have a lot of food, just the right foods. For example, keep one type of whole-grain rice on hand at all times, a couple types of legumes, like chickpeas, and always have at least one type of dinnertime vegetable. Then, no matter if you planned out actual meals, you always have the essential ingredients needed to throw together a nourishing, balanced meal. You can download my free clean eating grocery list at www.michelledudash.com/grocerylist.
I recommend always having a piece of paper stuck to the fridge where family members can jot down things they need from the store the moment they realize they’re running low or are out of an ingredient. It’s a running list that is ready whenever you decide to shop.
2. Tune into how many meals you’ll actually need each week.
Take a look at your schedule for the week and figure out how many dinners you’ll be at home. Then work backwards. If you’re home 4 nights, you know what you need to plan for. I recommend working in a cook-once-eat-twice recipe and also a slow cooker meal. Make one night of cooking count for at least one lunch and another dinner.
4. Develop a grocery shopping routine.
For example, I usually order my groceries online on Sunday night and have them delivered Monday. Avoid doing your big shopping trip after a long workday when you’re hungry and tired. Otherwise, you never know what will end up in your grocery cart.
Speaking of grocery delivery, it may sound like a bit of a luxury. But after you consider all of the impulse items you curtailed, the car mileage you saved and 1 to 2 hours of your precious time, most busy people really can’t afford not to. Plus, the more you buy, the more you save on delivery costs, typically.
5. Have your go-to recipes all in one place.
Make photocopies of your favorite recipes that you can keep in a binder, recipe box or folder, so come time for meal planning and cooking, you don’t have to go looking around. Even for recipes “in your head,” it’s smart to write the ingredients that you don’t always have on hand, on a note card.
Planning ahead can be as detailed as writing out a monthly or weekly calendar of dinner menus, or as free-spirited as simply having three fresh proteins and vegetables on hand for the week for dinnertime. So, plan your meals out on the weekend and grocery shop, so you have everything you need for busy weekdays.
6. Make one-pot or make-ahead meals whenever possible.
One-pot meals that contain a vegetable, protein, and perhaps a starch are a lifesaver, time saver, and dish saver! Recipes that you can make ahead in the slow cooker or have ready to just pop in the oven open up space during the mad evening rush.