You've heard the good news: Meal planning is going to improve your life by saving you time and money while lowering your stress. And once and for all, it will eliminate those dreaded moments of standing in front of the fridge wondering what to make for dinner. You know some of the benefits, but perhaps you aren't exactly sure what meal planning is or even where to start. We are here to help.
What Is Meal Planning? Watch the Video.
So, what exactly is meal planning?
Meal planning is asking the question "what's for dinner?" once for the whole week, instead of every night, and then shopping for and prepping the ingredients before cooking. We believe the simplest way to approach meal planning is with three steps.
- Select your dinners (and their recipes, if needed).
- Shop for ingredients.
- Prepare those ingredients.
The Three Steps of Meal Planning
Looking at meal planning from the end point of the prepared meals has a way of feeling elusive and totally overwhelming to the uninitiated. This is why the three-step approach works; it breaks the process down into small steps that feel much more manageable.
Spread over the course of a weekend, here's what the three steps of meal planning can look like.
1. Select your recipes on Friday.
On Friday night, sit down with a notepad, your favorite cocktail, and your favorite recipe resource (check our recipes page for ideas). Select recipes based on your needs: Monday needs something comforting, Tuesday night demands something quick between work and art class, and Wednesday is for takeout. Writing down which meal you plan to have each day sets you up for success. It immediately frees your mind from asking and answering this question each night. Keep your list for the week somewhere accessible so you can refer back to it daily. Now you can make your shopping list.
2. Go grocery shopping on Saturday.
Hit the farmers market if that's your thing, or head to your favorite grocery store and get shopping out of the way on Saturday morning before enjoying your day.
Know before you go: 5 Things Expert Meal Planners Do Before They Go to the Grocery Store
3. Prep ingredients on Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, set aside an hour to chop vegetables, make a salad dressing, or marinate protein for the week.
Get inspired: The 5 Things I Prepare on Sunday Night for My Lunches
What Meal Planning Is Not
Meal planning can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be. There are no hard-and-fast rules, and there's not a one-size-fits-all approach. We all have different schedules, needs, and preferences, so developing a system that works for you is essential to creating a sustainable and long-lasting plan.
Cooking Every Day
Meal planning does not have to mean cooking three meals a day, seven days a week. Unless you want to. If you're just getting started with meal planning, start small and work your way up. For example, begin with cooking dinner three nights a week, and work your way up from there over time. Meal planning is a marathon, not a sprint, and it's important to pace yourself.
A Fancy Binder (Although That's a Good Idea!)
Meal planning does not have to be a three-ring binder filled with lists and dividers, or an intricately laid out bullet journal. It can be as simple as a piece of scrap paper tacked to the fridge with a list of dinners for each night of the week.
Set in Stone
Just because you mapped out all of your dinners for the week doesn't mean you have to stick to it. It sounds counterintuitive to meal planning, doesn't it? It's not, though. The point is, your meal plan isn't set in stone. If you're not feeling those chicken thighs you defrosted, save them for the next night and lean on a back-pocket recipe, like an egg and veggie scramble or tortellini.
Meal planning is totally flexible. There is an overarching structure in place to meet our goal of answering the question of what's for dinner, but how we put that into practice can look a bit different. And that is totally encouraged!
Your turn! Have you just started meal planning? Have you been doing it for years? We want to hear about the system that works for you — tell us about it in the comments!