Eating is one of the fundamentals of living, however, it’s one of the most neglected tasks in our daily lives. This is further emphasized by getting the most for your money in fast food chains and other quick restaurants. Slowly, we are starting to see a movement towards eating healthy. However, trends like Paleo, Clean Eating, and Vegan come with imagery of huge price tags or complicated recipes. Meal planning makes these healthy habits seem less overwhelming.
Meal Planning Starts with These 4 Steps:
- ☑️ Budget your money
- ☑️ Figure out what’s going on this week
- ☑️ Plan ideal prep times
- ☑️ Decide what to cook
1. Budget Money for your Meal Plan
The first part of deciding on a healthy lifestyle is figuring out what’s in your budget. Whether you get a set allowance from supporting sources, are on a meal plan, or are figuring it out yourself, set boundaries. Otherwise, that huge thing of nuts sound great as you’re picking them up but you face huge remorse when paying at the register.
Don’t forget to note the hidden budget items that are in groceries. Think: alcohol, coffee, and replacement items!
Action Item: Pick your type of grocery store.
Your budget will also help set what type of grocery store you should be looking for. If you’re more price sensitive, I would look for stores that rely on sales to attract customers (Bi-Lo, Food Lion). If you’re more health conscious, I would look for the options available around you (Farmer’s Markets, local stores, Trader Joe’s). If budget is not your main focus, I would check out higher end grocery stores for experimenting (Harris Teeter or Publix if you’re in the south).
Once you pick out your grocery store, figure out how you want to hear about their specials! When I’m home, my mom subscribes to Harris Teeter’s weekly e-specials. When I was in Columbia, I would check out the Bi-Lo circular online when I was about to grocery shop.
2. What’s Going on This Week?
Once you figure out where your time lies, you can also subtract that from the meals you need to cook. You may also find that eating out or quick trips to the coffee shop eat up most of your budget! The key to eating healthy is awareness.
Budgeting your time is also essential to planning exactly what you need. There’s nothing worse than paying for a meal twice and not being able to use the items you bought. It’s also worth planning out leftovers. If you’re going to pay for one meal, you might as well get a few different uses out of it.
Action Item: Lay everything out on a calendar!
After figuring out what you can spend, figure out where you are facing other constraints. Do you have plans to go out for coffee 3 times this week? Are you meeting someone for lunch or for dinner? Go ahead and subtract these items from your budget. Then add them to your meal calendar.
Once your meal calendar is established, you can figure out exactly how many meals you need to make in a week. I typically put everything into my Google Calendar and do the math from there. Depending on what else you have going on will also dictate the type of meals you create!
(Think: grab and go snacks, sit down meals, something to bring to a friend’s)
3. Figure Out Ideal Prep Times
This budget is by far the most forgot about when starting to meal plan! While setting aside a set day sounds great in theory, life happens! I found the best way was to split my prep time into two days. This allowed so many advantages:
- 👉 Access to two weeks of sales with different circulars saves money.
- 👉 Meat doesn’t sit in the fridge going bad. (looking at you, Salmon!.
- 👉 Plans change! This allowed me to be adaptable to what else I was making a priority.
- 👉 Variety is what was eaten each week. I was no longer eating the same thing for lunch and dinner every night of the week.
Action Item: When are you going to cook?
This action item is probably the most important piece of the puzzle. If you don’t have time to put things together, unfortunately, Disney animals aren’t going to come to your rescue. It’s important to realize when you can’t do everything. When this point sets in, find the specials in the area that will save you money, make good leftovers, and taste good!
4. Decide What to Cook
Once I began meal planning, this was by far the most adjustment. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where we constantly had snacks and other munchies at any given point in time. Slowly, I realized cutting processed snacks out of my food budget left me so many more calories in my lifestyle. If you need some good recipes to cook, check out my meal planning Pinterest boards!
However, I realized some weeks I greatly underestimated how much I could eat. This varied from stressful times to slow weeks. (According to my Fitbit, I walked 6 miles one day when I didn’t leave my couch. Apparently, I just type really fast!)To combat this, look back at your schedule. If you think it will be a busy or stressful week, load up on a few healthier snacks that will also last past the week if you don’t finish them.
My go to snack is trail mix!
Action Item: Make a grocery list (with snacks)!
Ah, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Looking at all of this other prep work can seem overwhelming the first few times you go through the process. However, once you figure out what you like, don’t like, and can execute within a week: your wallet and tummy will thank you!
In order to understand what you’re purchasing, figure out why you’re purchasing it! This will save you money in the long run and keep your cravings in check!
So just to recap, here are the action items again:
1. Pick your type of grocery store for your budget.
2. Lay everything out on a calendar!
3. When are you going to cook?
4. Make a grocery list (with snacks).
Do you have a favorite meal planning tip or recipe? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!