Meal planning may seem overwhelming, but it is simply deciding on and being ready for all of yours or your family’s meals for the week. Some simple planning ahead can make your Paleo lifestyle a little easier and healthier.
Meal Planning Benefits
There are many benefits to being prepared when it comes to meal times:
- Saves money: When you meal plan for the week, your grocery trips will become more focused, and your cart will be filled with foods that you planned to buy instead of foods that you picked up on impulse. Meal planning can also help limit the number of times that you get delivery or eat out and cooking at home is usually a less expensive option.
- Saves time: At first, meal planning might feel more time-consuming, but once you establish a routine, it will become much faster and easier. Planning your meals ahead of time will also help reduce the time you spend thinking about and coming up with meals during the week. This can also help cut back on last minute grocery store trips – a huge timesaver too!
- Variety: When you sit down and think about what you want to purchase or cook in advance, it will allow you to vary the cuisine, flavors, and recipes.
- Creates less stress: Meal planning takes the guesswork away and gives you a plan for what to cook for the week.
- Ensures healthier eating: When you plan your meals, you have more control of the ingredients. Although you don’t have to cook every meal on your Paleo diet, meal planning does provide great motivation to get back to the kitchen. Cooking your own food is one of the best ways to take control of your health!
- Prevents food waste: Meal planning promotes conscientious grocery shopping and helps you pay better attention to a food’s shelf life. When you plan ahead and stick to a list, you are less likely to buy extra foods that may go bad.
Meal planning is not the holy grail! There is so much focus on how meal planning can change your life that it becomes easy to blow its effects out of proportion. While it does solve so many problems it is important to customize your meal planning to your needs (which means bring clear on what those are) and give yourself lots of leeway to experiment and find a system that works for you.
Other Things Meal Planning Is Not
- A big tabbed binder with a full month of meals: Write it in your planner, on a paper you stick to the front of the fridge, in a Google doc, or on a whiteboard you hang in the kitchen. Just put it somewhere you’re going to see it
- Just for families of four: Meal planning is for everyone. But there are different strategies to employ depending on the number of people you’re planning for.
- A lot of work: You do a bit of concentrated work up front, but it’s smooth sailing once you begin to work your plan.
- Inflexible: There is so much room for experimentation, quick revisions, and customization in meal planning. It’s not set in stone.
Meal planning is also not entirely home cooked: We are huge fans of having some ready-to-go meals in your freezer.
Tips To Meal Plan Like A Pro
Determine Your Style.
Meal planning looks different for different people.
Some people plan the meals they are going to cook and eat for the week and use that to make a grocery list.
Other people cook and portion out all of their meals for the week using meal prep containers, so that limited cooking, if any, is done throughout the week.
For many, it is a combination of the two!
Choose the meal planning style that works best for you! Remember that the whole idea is to plan your meals for the week; you can prep or not prep as much as you want in advance.
Stock Your Pantry & Fridge
Keeping your pantry and fridge stocked with basic ingredients helps make meal planning easier and less intimidating.
Learn more about stocking your Paleo pantry in this article
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If you are starting off with limited ingredients, the initial investment might seem large. However, once you have these basic ingredients, recipe selection and grocery list development will be much easier!
Equip Your Kitchen.
Set yourself up for success! It is challenging to cook and store meals if you don’t have the necessary equipment. Proper kitchen equipment includes everything from knives and pans to storage bags and storage containers.
Schedule Planning & Shopping Days.
Figure out whichever day(s) works best for you! Try to keep these days consistent, as this will determine the days and meals that you plan.
Of course, there will be times that you will need to shop or plan on a different day, but staying consistent can help make meal planning part of your weekly routine.
Evaluate Your Week
Once you have the basic tools, staple ingredients, and a scheduled planning/shopping day, it’s time to actually start meal planning!
Think about the week ahead – early meetings that require grab-and-go breakfasts, a Friday lunch out with a friend, evening soccer practice with your kids, etc. Any event or situation that will alter your time or ability to cook should be noted. A late evening out might indicate a need for a crockpot or no-cook meal.
Have a look at your calendar for the coming week and determine the number of nights you want to make dinner at home. Remember there is no right or wrong number. On the nights that you’re cooking, what do those meals need to do? For example, on the nights that your kid has swim class, a 10-hour slow cooker recipe is a good idea. If it’s just you and your partner and she’s working late, you might need something that you can also bring as tomorrow’s lunch.
Decide On Your Meals
Decide how many meals you want to cook per week, how many meals you will eat out, and which meals you will rely on foods in your freezer. This is dependent on your schedule and lifestyle; you do not have to cook every meal!
A lot of people choose to focus their energy on dinner. Dinner leftovers also make great lunches.
Pinterest, a Google search, other cooking sites, and of course cookbooks are there to inspire.
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Choosing The Best Recipes
- Choose meals that bless you with leftovers: They’re the gift that keeps on giving.
- Cook recipes you know + one new recipe: This is a pro tip! Assemble that master list of recipes you know by heart, the ones you make week after week and know your family loves. Then add one or two new recipes each week, but only if you want.
- Pick recipes based on common ingredients: This is another pro move and that involves what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Shopping your home kitchen can help you decide on recipes and avoid wasted food. This is the money-saving aspect of meal planning in full effect.
- Cook things you really want to eat: You might have to spend some extra time uncovering recipes that are right for you, but it’s worth it if you still can’t wait to eat them.
Create A List & Go Shopping.
List all of the ingredients you will need to prepare the meals you planned for the week. Then, put them in order to match the layout of the grocery store. This might sound crazy, but it saves a lot of time!
Decide on which ingredients and recipes you want to spend time preparing. Do you want to cut a whole head of cauliflower, or do florets sound more appealing? Are you buying fresh, seasonal produce, or is frozen better at this time of the year?
Once at the grocery store, stick to the list, but remain flexible. Take advantage of sales and specials that can help lower your grocery bill!
Choose A Prep Day
This step is definitely optional, but busy, schedules lives could benefit from some advance prep!
You can decide how much time you want to commit based on what makes sense for you and your family. Meal prep Sunday (or any day) can be as basic as chopping vegetables, measuring spices, or washing and portioning fruits for packed lunches.
You can use this day to prepare breakfast foods, snacks, sauces, and broths or soups. You might choose to fully prepare their meals for the week. In this instance, be sure to consider shelf life. Not all foods can maintain their quality for a full week.
Follow Your Plan, Flexibly.
After all that effort you want to stick to your plan, but there are going to be days when unpredictable events arise or you simply lack the energy to make what you originally planned. That’s okay; simply have a back-up plan! Master some go-to pantry staple recipes, and learn basic culinary techniques (Paleo By Season is your perfect reference) so you can whip up a meal quickly without a recipe if needed.
You did it! Your Paleo meal plan is complete. Stick with it and each week it will get easier, you’ll plan more, and save more time and money. The time you invest on the front end will begin to pay off. You’ll be eating delicious food, showing off your cooking skills, and feeling like you have it all together. Because you do.