In honor of my Sunday ritual, I wanted to take a minute to talk a little more about meal planning. I still get a lot of questions about this process, and “how I stay motivated” to do it every week. I’m definitely not perfect, and we don’t always stick to our plan 100%, but simply having one in place makes it way more likely that we will have healthy meals throughout the week.
A lot of people are intimidated by the process of meal planning and simply don’t know where to start, so I wanted to provide some quick, simple tips that I try to keep in mind when I make 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.
Here are some of the things that I take into consideration when creating meal plans:
- We almost always have my 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!
2. 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 that will get us (especially Ethan) 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!
3. 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, but I know a lot of people get tired of it. It 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!
4. I try to include at least one meatless meal per week. Why? Because diets that are lower in meat are typically healthier overall and 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! 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 that we recently tried and fell in love with!
- One-Pan Mexican Quinoa from Damn Delicious (oops, these are all Mexican! Sorry, not sorry.)
5. It doesn’t say it on the meal plan listed above, but we typically have leftovers or whatever sounds good (+ as easy as possible) on Thursday nights. I don’t know about you guys, but I am usually out of steam by Friday Eve. That might mean we just have breakfast for dinner, a smoothie, grilled cheese & tomato soup, salad, etc. For example, 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), but I also had a small serving of macaroni because it’s one of my favorite foods in the whole wide world. A small serving was enough to satisfy me, and overall, my meal was still very healthy! 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.)
6. On Friday nights, we usually 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 still make choices that make you feel good when you go out to eat. For example, this past Friday we went out to eat and both got pizza. I genuinely love veggies, so I usually try to order something that still includes some of those colorful foods. 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 said, once you stop labeling foods as “good” and “bad”, the better your relationship with food will be, and the less out of control you will feel when you are around those “unhealthy” foods. Becoming an intuitive eater and giving yourself permission to eat a wide variety of foods without guilt doesn’t happen overnight. Check out the IE articles I linked previously if you want some guidance or support, or buy the Intuitive Eating Book to help you get started.
Here are a few sample meal plans that I have made over the past few months to help you get started! I hope this post gave you a better idea of how I go about this process. 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. Try 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 too, so you don’t buy a bunch of extra, unnecessary items!
Sample Meal Plan #2:
As far as meal prepping goes, I personally don’t like making a ton of meals in advance 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 Sundays I will spend some time chopping up peppers and onions for flatbreads, 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 recipe items on Sunday to store in the fridge, and 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! Buy this amazing veggie chopper to make it go even faster. Trust me; you will thank me later.
Sample Meal Plan #3:
Head to my post “How to Avoid The Sunday Scaries” for even more on this topic.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments on meal planning; I always love hearing from you!
As always, thank you for reading and have a great week!