15 Fuss-Free Ways to Meal Plan Like a Pro
Proper meal planning is one of the best ways to eat better, spend less and be organized for a delicious week ahead. We’ve rounded up some of our very best tips and tricks to keep you on track and make the process as easy as can be.
The best meal planning tips
Proper meal planning is one of the best ways to eat better, spend less and be organized for a delicious week ahead. We’ve rounded up the best food-prep tips and tricks to make the process as easy as pie.
1) Don’t start from scratch
The toughest part about meal planning is the empty calendar and trying to figure out what meals you’ll be filling your week with. To make things easier, keep a running list of quick weeknight meals you’ve made and that your family enjoys. Jot them down on your phone or in a notebook you always have on hand. That way, when it comes time to meal plan you’ll always have an inspiration point to start with – and that’s half the battle.
2) Waste not want not
Start with a quick inventory of what you have in your fridge and pantry. This will give you a clear idea of what vegetables and fruit might need to be used up first and what staple ingredients you need to buy. This makes it much easier to draft up an efficient grocery list, avoids waste and will make you feel more organized.
3) Invest in good containers
Having the right size containers to store leftovers to take for lunch makes it easier (and more enjoyable) to prep and store food. Opt for containers with room for dressings if you make a lot of salads. They are a perfect two-in-one vessels for lunches on-the-go.
Try: Fuel Salad On The Go, $20 at Kitchen Stuff Plus
4) Don’t forget the most important meal of the day
Starting the day with a healthful breakfast is part of successful meal planning. “To make filling and healthy breakfasts, try to aim for 20 grams of protein per meal by adding plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs or tofu to your morning routine,” suggests registered dietitian Abby Langer, owner of Abby Langer Nutrition. Start with a base you can make-ahead – like overnight oats, chia pudding or a mini muffin frittata – so all you have to do in the morning is to add toppings and enjoy.
5) Prep, prep, prep
Spending a couple hours in the kitchen over the weekend prepping ingredients for your weekly recipes will save you precious time during the week and allow you to get dinner on the table faster on hectic evenings. “I like to BBQ or roast vegetables ahead of time. They seem to stay fresher for longer when they’re cooked and it makes it easy to add them to meals when they’re ready to go,” says Langer. You can also cook rice, quinoa or other grains ahead of time so they can be reheated or stirred into salads during the week.
Try: Cuisinart MSC-800 Cook Central 4-in-1 Multi-Cooker, $749 at amazon.ca.
6) Leftover love
Plan for leftovers when you’re making a recipe. It’s often worth doubling a recipe so you automatically have food already prepped for the next day’s lunch or dinner. Right before serving dinner, remove the extra portions to airtight containers so you have the right amount of food for dinner tonight and a meal tomorrow.
Try: DII Collapsible Silicone Containers, $28, at amazon.ca.
7) Don’t be too hard on yourself
No matter how organized or motivated you are to meal plan, be kind to yourself and allow for a little flexibility. Dinner plans sometimes fall through, you might have to stay a couple extra hours at work on one night or have a last-minute appointment. If the meal you had planned for that night doesn’t pan out, opt to pick up a hearty to-go salad on your way home or turn to a quick meal you know you can make with pantry staples.
8) Make the most of your freezer
Stock your freezer with staples you can use for quick meals at any time. Ingredients like frozen peas, edamame, seafood, ground beef, soups and berries make it easy to whip up meals in no time.
Try: Uxcell Plastic Family Kitchen Refrigerator Freezer Food Fresh Keeping Storage Box Green, $5.87, at amazon.ca.
9) Get the whole family involved
Meal plan as a family so every has a role to play. This will make it easier to stick to the meal plan as well as get extra helping hands when it comes time to chopping, prepping and putting together meals.
Try: DeLonghi DFP950 Die-cast 3-in-1 Food Processor, Blender and Scale, $1,044.79, at amazon.ca.
10) Use all the tools at your disposal
Chopping fresh fruit and veggies, browning meat and prepping aromatics takes time. With the right tools, kitchen tasks can be quicker to achieve. This small tool will make processing garlic a breeze.
Try: Williams Sonoma Garlic Press, $19.95 at Williams Sonoma
11) Zest and grate
Use a trusty microplane, a very fine zesting tool, to zest oranges, lemons and limes or to easily grate chocolate and fresh ginger for any recipe.
Try: Microplane Premium Rasp Grater & Zester, $20 at Kitchen Stuff Plus.
12) Done in a flash
Use your food processor to its full potential: the different blades will allow you to chop and shred veggies much faster than you can by hand. You can also use it to chop nuts, make dips or spreads (hello, homemade pesto!), purée cooked vegetables or make a homemade dough in a matter of minutes. And once you’re done, pop the food processor in your dishwasher for easy cleanup.
Try: Cuisinart 8-Cup Food Processor, $199.99 at amazon.ca.
13) Double duty
When meal planning, opt for recipes you can cook in large amounts and reuse in different recipes. A big batch of tomato sauce can be used in pasta dishes, as a base for soup or to top grilled chicken, while roasted veggies can be used as a side dish, tossed in a salad or added to a lunch sandwich.
Check out our latest recipes every day at besthealthmag.ca/recipes.
14) Label and organize
It might seem obvious, but a clean and organized kitchen will do wonders to help you stay on track for the week. Spend a few minutes cleaning your space before you start meal planning – or cooking – and keep things tidy so it’s easier to find whatever you need for any given recipe.
Try School Smarts Chalboard Label Stickers, $14.99 at amazon.ca.
15) Don’t meal plan when you’re hungry
Grocery shopping on an empty stomach is never a good idea – and meal planning right before lunch or dinner isn’t the best idea either. You will most likely end up planning for too much food and not having a clear idea of what you actually need for the week. So grab a healthy snack, a cup of tea and then move on to making your meal decisions for the week ahead.