How To Make A Healthy Meal Plan
What do you like to do on Sundays? My Sundays typically consist of a little bit of meal planning, grocery shopping and meal prepping. I usually spend some time planning content for my blog & Instagram for the week ahead, too. When I really have my life together, I’ll even make it to church! In honor of my Sunday routine, I wanted to take a moment to talk about meal planning. I get a lot of questions about this process and “how I stay motivated” to do it every week. Keep reading for some of my top tips on How To Make A Healthy Meal Plan.
Confession: I’m not perfect
Before we get too far, I want to get something off my chest. I’m not perfect! We don’t meal plan every single week, and when we do, we don’t necessarily always follow it to a T. With that being said, simply having a plan in place makes it way more likely that we will prepare and eat healthy meals throughout the week. This is why I have come to rely so heavily on this tool over the years!
where do i even start with meal planning?
A lot of people are intimidated by the process of meal planning and simply don’t know where to start. I wanted to provide some quick, simple tips that I try to keep in mind when I create my meal plans each week. Hopefully this gives you the courage to get started! If nothing else, copy the sample meal plans that I have included in this post for the next couple of weeks just to get in the habit of having a plan and going to the grocery store to get all of the ingredients so you can follow through with it. Once you realize how much stress it takes out of your life, you will never look back!
The menu below is a good example of what a typical week might look like for the two of us. Keep in mind that I am currently planning meals for just Ethan and I. If you have kids or more people in your household, you will have to take that into consideration when you are choosing recipes.
factors to consider when meal planning
Next I am sharing some of the things that I like to take into consideration to make the meal planning process quick and painless week after week.
It Is Okay To Repeat Meals
We almost always have veggie flatbreads on Mondays, so one meal is automatically figured out for us, which makes things a little easier. If you have a family favorite similar to this that you never get tired of, don’t be afraid to throw it on the meal plan every week! There’s nothing wrong with a little repetition if you’re always satisfied. Once you get bored of it, then switch to a new favorite!
Take Advantage Of Leftovers
I like to choose 1-2 recipes each week that will make a large enough quantity for us to have leftovers for healthy work lunches. For example, a crockpot meal on Sundays to eat for the first few days, and another meal early to mid-week to get us through the rest of the week. This post is mainly focusing on healthy dinners, but lunches are important, too! Going out to eat for lunch every day really adds up, so meal planning can save you a ton of money, and ensure you are eating healthier. Lunch doesn’t have to be a boring sandwich and cup of yogurt every day!
Mix Up Cuisines & Protein Sources For Variety
I try to mix up cuisines and incorporate a few different sources of protein, rather than just chicken, chicken, and more chicken. I personally love chicken and know that there are so many different ways to prepare it and make it delicious; however, I know a lot of people get tired of it. This is a reminder that chicken is not the only healthy protein option, so keep that in mind!
Try to include some seafood in your meal plans as well, like shrimp, scallops, tilapia, salmon, cod – whatever you like! Frozen fish thaws quickly and it’s very easy to prepare, so I love having it on hand as a quick and healthy dinner option. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You might be pleasantly surprised! Some of our go-to protein options are lean ground chicken or turkey, chicken breasts, turkey burgers (I love the frozen ones from ALDI), salmon, tilapia, shrimp and Morning Star or Gardein meatless crumbles! Plant proteins are also a great thing to incorporate.
Incorporate Meatless Meals
I try to include at least one meatless meal per week. Why? Because diets that are lower in meat are typically healthier overall and may lead to a lower risk of heart disease. They tend to be higher in fiber, lower in saturated fat, and higher in vitamins and minerals, as long as you remember to include plenty of fruits and veggies, legumes and whole grains, of course! Reducing meat intake is better for the environment, too. Even a few meatless meals a week makes a difference. Usually our Monday flatbreads are the meatless meal of the week, but some of my other meatless favorites include:
- Mexi-Veggie Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili
- Butternut Squash & Black Bean Enchilada Skillet from Ambitious Kitchen
- One-Pan Mexican Quinoa from Damn Delicious
Not Every Meal Has To Be Instagram Worthy
It doesn’t say it on the meal plan above, but we typically have leftovers or whatever sounds good (read: as easy as possible) on Thursdays. I don’t know about you, but I am usually out of steam by Friday Eve. That might mean we have breakfast for dinner, smoothies, grilled cheese & tomato soup, salad, etc.
Last Thursday Ethan decided he wanted to make a “mac & cheese burger” using a Trader Joe’s chili lime chicken burger that we had in the freezer. I wanted to finish off all the leftovers we had in the fridge (I loathe wasting food), so I did! Along with some of his macaroni, of course. Random fact: mac & cheese is one of my favorite foods on the planet. Right from the box. I know, I’m fancy.
Don’t beat yourself up every time you eat something that doesn’t seem perfectly “healthy” according to Instagram food blogger standards. Look at the big picture vs. that one food choice. It will not make a difference in your progress toward your health goals, and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and fully enjoy the foods you LOVE actually helps prevent you from binging on them every time you see them. (For more on Intuitive Eating, click here or here or here.)
It’s Perfectly Okay To #TreatYoself
On Friday nights, we typically eat out. After a full week of cooking & eating nourishing meals, I like to think we deserve it! It’s nice to get out of the kitchen and relax, and it’s possible to make choices that help you feel your best when you go out to eat, too.
Last weekend we went out for pizza. I got a veggie pizza and I was perfectly satisfied! We even split an appetizer of pretzels and cheese dip beforehand. You don’t have to order a sad, dry salad or steamed veggies every time you go out to eat. Live a little! Like I mentioned before, once you stop labeling foods as “good” and “bad”, the better your relationship with food will be. As a result, you will feel less out of control when you are around the foods you previously categorized as “bad”. Becoming an intuitive eater and giving yourself permission to eat a variety of foods without guilt does not happen overnight. Check out the IE articles I linked previously if you need extra guidance or support, or buy the Intuitive Eating Book to help you get started.
Take Inventory to Save Money
After you create your meal plan, make your grocery list so you can go to the store and get everything you need for the week to be successful in following through with your plan. Don’t forget to take a quick inventory of your kitchen first (fridge, freezer & pantry) so you know what you already have on hand. This step helps you save money because you don’t buy a bunch of extra, unnecessary items!
Below are a few more sample meal plans to help you get started! I hope this post gave you a better idea of how I like to go about this process. It isn’t as scary as you thought, is it?!
Sample Meal Plan #2:
what “meal prep” means to me
As far as meal prepping goes, I personally don’t like making a ton of the same meals in advance, tossing them in Tupperware and eating them all week long. That just isn’t appetizing to me. I prefer to prep small components of my meals ahead of time so they are that much quicker to assemble on busy weeknights.
For example, on the weekend I will spend some time chopping up peppers and onions for flatbreads on Monday, or cauliflower, broccoli and sweet potatoes to roast mid-week. If I’m making something with a sauce during the week, I might prepare it ahead of time and measure out some of the other ingredients on Sunday to store in the fridge. Then I can easily throw it all together when the time comes! This works great for me, and allows us to still eat freshly cooked meals every night, without spending a ton of extra time chopping and measuring.
Knock it all out on Sunday (or whenever you have time to do this) — when you’re on a roll it goes so fast! I highly recommend buying this amazing veggie chopper to make it go even faster. Trust me; you will thank me later. Click here to check out more of my favorite kitchen tools that make healthy eating easy!
Sample Meal Plan #3:
Head to my post “How to Avoid The Sunday Scaries” for even more on this topic.
If you haven’t already, you can read my ALDI post to see some of my go-to dietitian-approved grocery picks. (Here is a more recent post: Restock Your Fridge with ALDI.)
I hope this post was helpful and you know exactly how to make a healthy meal plan now! Please let me know if you have any questions or comments on meal planning; I always love hearing from you! Pin this article on Pinterest so you can easily refer back next time you are in a meal planning rut.
As always, thank you for reading and have a great week!