Do you know that you may be spending more than 400 hours a year in the kitchen cooking? No wonder that the one thing that makes cooking and eating healthy hard, it's lack of time. With so many commitments, responsibilities, and hobbies competing for your attention, cooking may be the last thing to do on your list.
Eating healthy is even harder if you don’t enjoy cooking. Takeaway dinners are convenient and oh-so-necessary sometimes, but they rarely pass the test for a healthy and sustainable way of eating.
So, what’s the solution?
Meal planning, of course!
If you already do meal planning, great! Have a look at my tips to see if there is anything you can improve to save more time. If you’re new, welcome! Meal planning will change the way you look at eating. So, let’s dive in.
Why Do Meal Planning?
I used to dread the question What’s for dinner? Mostly because I didn’t know what was for dinner. I was tired from working the whole day, and the last thing I wanted to do was to think about what to eat and then do the grocery shopping and cook.
This also meant that I ate dinner very late, or if I had a function after work, I would skip dinner altogether.
Yes, none of it was healthy or sustainable. Yes, I hated the moment when the magic question popped up. I lived like that for years until I discovered meal planning. I have heard about meal planning, and I guess you have heard about it too, but have you done it?
Meal planning is a lifesaver.
First of all, you save time. Not only the daily time thinking about what to have for dinner, but you also cut the time needed to do the grocery shopping. With meal planning, you also save time on the actual cooking, especially if you batch your food.
Secondly, meal planning reduces stress because you ask questions about meals only once a week instead of every night. It also removes the daily decision-making process that uses so much energy and time.
Thirdly, you save money. And this is an important component, especially with the current global financial situation. You save money when you buy exactly what you need.
But when you buy what you know you’re going to eat you reduce waste. There are literally tons of food wasted every day. You can stop it by eating what you’ve got in your fridge.
And finally, when you plan your meals, you ensure that you create balanced meals and deliver all the nutrients your body requires.
Meal Planning 101
I hope that you’re on board with meal planning now. Meal planning may seem like a daunting task or a chore, but it doesn’t have to be! You need a few meal planning essentials, savvy tips, and practically no tools to make it a success.
#1 Schedule Time
I am sorry to say, but you need to put the time in your calendar to do meal planning. Why? Because meal planning may not come to you naturally and it may not be a priority. And we both know what happens when something seems not that important.
It doesn’t get done.
So, do it right now. Look at your week ahead and schedule some time to do it. The time required will depend on how many people you need to cook for if you already have some ideas for meals, and how creative you want to get.
But don’t overthink it, make it as easy as possible.
I like to stick to the same day every week. This way I know not to plan anything for that evening because the time is already reserved. I also pick a time that aligns with other tasks, such as the time when I will do the weekly grocery shopping.
I have weeks when I don’t follow my plan, and frankly, everything else falls out of order. That is why I try to stick to my weekly meal planning time.
#2 Brainstorm Ideas
The second step in meal planning gets your creative juices flowing. It may be the best time of the whole process, or it may be the worst.
You may already have some ideas for your weekly meals, and that’s great. This will save you time for sure. But if you stare at your blank page, you need resources!
There are millions of cookbooks, food magazines, and websites to look for inspiration. And there is no limit to your imagination!
However, a word of caution. The rule of less is more applies here. I often catch myself browsing through websites or flipping pages of my favourite cookbooks but actually not producing any results.
It’s very easy to get swept up in the available choices, but it may mean that you spend hours and hours looking at recipes and not choosing any. That is why the best way is to put a time limit on your brainstorming.
You may also like to write down all the ideas you have and decide on them later. Because if you don’t cook a specific meal this week, you may plan it for the next week. This way you save even more time when you next plan your meals.
#3 Pick Your Recipes
Once you have done your brainstorming, you are ready to pick the recipes for the week. I have three rules I apply when it comes to deciding what to eat.
First, all meals need to contain all food groups. Regardless of whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner, meals need to be balance between complex carbohydrates, plant-based protein, and healthy fats. This way you ensure that you deliver all the necessary nutrients.
My second rule is to look at what I already have in the pantry. The easiest and cheapest way to eat healthily is to use what you’ve already got at home.
Sometimes, I may not have anything I fancy eating during the week. Or I had only just used it, and I don’t want my meals to be boring, and that’s ok. After all, you need variety in your food, and you don’t want to eat the same thing every week.
But sometimes just looking at what’s available can give me an idea for a meal.
I also cook in batches. Depending on the week, I’ll either have one or two dinners that are leftovers from the previous day. Those meals are usually easy to reheat such as soups, pasta sauces, or bakes.
#4 Create a Shopping List
Remember when you scheduled your time to do the meal planning? Scheduling the time when you do the grocery shopping is just as important.
For me, it’s all about maximizing my time and making the whole meal planning and cooking as painless as possible. That’s why I pick to do the grocery shopping in off-peak hours. If I can avoid it, I don’t shop at weekends.
There are simply too many people around, and grocery shopping takes much more time than I’m prepared to spend. There is also the option of home delivery, which will save you a lot of time.
Creating your shopping list is fairly straightforward. I don’t usually compose my shopping list based on what’s on special. Only because I don’t know what will be on special at the time when I plan my meals. And I find that doing it that way takes much more time.
I may sometimes get something outside of my shopping list or swap a thing or two (especially if something is on special and I can easily replace the original item), but I mostly stick to my grocery list.
#5 Make it Fun
When I started meal planning, it was a whole process. And because I was a beginner, it took me a lot of time and energy before I polished my process. At that time, I view meal planning as a chore.
But meal planning doesn’t need to feel like yet, another thing on your already exhausting to-do list.
Make it fun! There are no rules on how you do it, so have some joy along the way.
You may want to combine it with other activities or have a nice cup of tea when you do it.
You may also want to involve your family in the process, especially if you have young kids. You can get them to help you to look for recipes or brainstorm ideas. This activity will not only teach them how to be creative, but it will make them feel important and like their opinion matters.
Meal Planning for Beginners
I vividly remember my days before meal planning, and I would not go back. Meal planning not only saved me a lot of time and money, but also stress and headache.
It also changed the way I shop for groceries, so I don’t waste my time standing in long queues. I also don’t contribute to global food waste epidemic because I only buy what I plan to eat.
So, when are you going to do your meal planning this week?
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