Preparing healthy and delicious meals 3 times every day can feel overwhelming on top of an already packed schedule. But, with some simple preparing and planning strategies, sticking to a healthy eating pattern can fit easily into a busy schedule. Try some of these meal-planning basics to ensure a nutritious and mouth watering menu despite your busy schedule.
The first step in weekly meal planning is to actually make a plan. Start by selecting 3-4 recipes for your week and put together a grocery shopping list. By having a few recipes you’ll not only get some variety in your intake for the week but you won’t be setting yourself up for a time-crunch failure of preparing more meals. This will also ensure you’re not wasting food; most meals you prepare won’t last more than 3-4 days refrigerated.
Start slow. You don’t have to plan every single meal for the week in order to see the benefits of menu planning and meal preparation. Instead, select the meal that tends to be your ‘problem meal,’ whether that’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Choose some core go-to recipes. If you have a select few favorite recipes that you love and make often, the preparation goes by quickly. You can then build upon your menu by selecting other menu items with overlapping ingredients to your core recipes.
Check which ingredients you already have on hand. Determining which foods you already have that need to be used can be a guide in planning menu items.
Make sure to have a stocked kitchen. Always have your go-to items on hand for quick meal prep and to make quick menu items easier and more healthy. Here is a guide to stocking a healthy kitchen. Add items to a running shopping list in your cellphone notes when you’re near empty to avoid running out.
Don’t feel like you have to focus on details. Try starting by writing down broad ideas for meals rather than specific recipes. Use a recipe framework to build a healthy meal in the moment based on the foods you have on hand.
Prepare ingredients that have variability. When prepping your meals for the week cook ingredients that can be used in a variety of dishes. Make a batch of your favorite grilled or roasted vegetables, one or two whole grains, and a couple protein selections. This will give you flexibility in choosing various dishes in the moment rather than having to have the exact meal planned. Meal options using this strategy are limitless and include stir-fries, salads, casseroles, sandwiches, tacos, and pizzas
Have vegetables and fruits ready to eat for the week. During your prep time some of the most important items to get ready are your produce items. Make sure to make time to dice, slice, or shred fruits and veggies. Place these foods in storage containers in pre-portioned sizes. These produce items can then be thrown into meals easily or grabbed for quick lunch sides or snacks. We are much more likely to eat a produce item that is already chopped compared to a whole item, including this in meal prep will improve your plant intake for the week.
Become a multi-tasker. Get more done during your meal prep time by doing multiple things simultaneously. Your bulk grains can be simmering while chicken is baking, veggies are roasting, and you’re chopping and portioning foods.
Schedule a time for meal prep. Especially at first you might have to schedule a specific time to dedicate to meal prep. This way you’ll have a block of a day dedicated to this and are less likely to skip or forget it. Perhaps you can even try setting a reminder on your phone the day prior.
Try setting a meal prep timer. The tendency is for people to become so involved with their weekly meal preparation that they end up spending an entire day making meals for the week. Meal planning does not have to take over your life. Instead, try to keep your meal prepping sessions short so that you don’t lose your whole weekend. Choose a two-hour window that works with your schedule and get as much meal prepping as you can done in that time frame, and hold yourself to it.
Reframe the way you think about your time spent cooking. Instead of dreading your weekly meal preparation, make it a time to look forward to. Make this time part of your weekly screen-free, self care practice. Choose an audio book, podcast, or your favorite music to make your meal prepping time more enjoyable.
Keep some meals on hand for those extra busy weeks. Things like chili, vegetable soups, or casseroles can be frozen and reheated deliciously to provide a healthy and quick meal option. Try to make meals like this in bulk when preparing them so that you can stock pile a few extra portions in the freezer for a later date. Rotisserie chicken, whole grain ravioli, or frozen pizza can be combined with a large portion of salad greens when in a pinch.
Select the right storage containers and keep them organized. I think we can all relate to frustrated searches through a Tupperware drawer, struggling to find matching lids. It may be helpful to purchase containers with matching lid sizes. Glass containers are best for a few reasons; you can see what is inside them easily for a quick grab and go on your way out the door, they’re microwave safe and wont release chemical into your food when heated, and won’t alter the taste of your food. If you are selecting plastic containers for your meal prep needs, make sure they’re BPA free.
Always remember your goals. Perhaps your priority is saving money, losing weight, or just to eat healthy during your week. Remembering why you are choosing to meal prep while doing so can be a huge motivator.