Meal Planning: What Is It and How Do I Do It?
Meal planning—my best friend does it, my roommate does it, and I feel like I should, too.
So what is it? Why is it helpful? How should I do it?
These are questions I’ve been asking myself and because I can be a lazy researcher, I’ve asked my friends for their opinions, too.
What is it?
If you google “meal planning,” you will be inundated with websites, images, and blogs about the topic. I found it almost overwhelming. Essentially, meal planning, or meal prepping, is when you set aside a day and time to map out what you (and your family, if you’re the head chef in the house!) will eat for the week. It not only involves outlining what you’ll eat, but can involve making an ultimate grocery shopping list, buying said groceries, and it can also include prepping meals for the upcoming week.
My best friend, who also lives in New York, likes to have her groceries delivered so she can buy a ton of fresh produce and meat and prep her meals for the week without having to continuously stop at the store. It helps keep her from buying unnecessary items or “extras,” and she can avoid splurging on random cravings she might be having if she’s shopping after work while hungry.
(Sounds like something both my waistline and my wallet might like.)
She has her groceries delivered on Saturday and she spends all day Sunday prepping and cooking as much as she can. This way, she has lunch packed and dinner planned so she can be sure to feed herself healthy, nutritious meals without agonizing over what to make.
She told me it also helps to meal prep on weeks she knows will be busy so she doesn’t come home too tired to eat dinner and just eat cereal, and because she already paid for the groceries — she knows she doesn’t want to let anything go to waste.
Why do it?
Some people use meal planning to stick to a nutrition or diet plan, and some people do it to save time or money. Whatever your purpose, it is important to do research and to make a plan that works for you and that you know you can stick to.
For me, the meal planning I do is mostly so I can save time and energy. A lot of the time, I get home from work too tired or too hungry to really spend the time making an elaborate meal.
My best week of meal planning (hey, practice makes perfect, right?) was not necessarily a week where I made the most delicious or elaborate dishes, but one where I was able to use all my groceries so I didn’t waste any food (or money!). I successfully made dinner for myself all five nights of my work week.
Look Mom, I can feed myself!
How do I do it?
How did I do that? The week prior, I had eaten take out two nights in a row and then bought lunch the next day and I felt so guilty about not taking better care of my bank account. I told myself I really wanted to make a change so I thought about areas I could improve upon.
I made a list of the meals I usually ate and asked my mom for some quick-and-easy recipes, and then mapped out a list of groceries and went shopping. I didn’t do any meal prep in terms of cooking, but just having bought the groceries helped me be prepared for dinner every night.
I’d spend the work day thinking about what groceries I had in my fridge and how I’d plan to use them, and often I’d get inspired enough to think about how I could use that night’s dinner leftovers and create tomorrow night’s meal.
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How can you get started?
Whether you’re hoping to save time, money, or stick to certain diet, you’ll need a plan. Your first step? Do some research. Talk to you friends to see how they manage their meals, because there’s always something new to learn from someone else’s perspective.
Then, think about what your goal is and how you’ll help yourself achieve it, and set a plan. Make a grocery list, carve out time in your schedule to cook a bunch of meals for the week and map out what your week will look like, meal-wise.
You may have to invest a bit at first with cooking supplies, staple ingredients, or even just tupperware to keep all your food, but it will pay off in the end when you get home from a tough Monday and already have a nice meal prepped that just needs to be thrown in the oven or heated on the stove.
Discussion: Do you meal plan or do you tend to wing it?