Planning your meals makes it easier to eat healthy. Setting a menu in advance means you won’t have to worry about what you’ll eat throughout the week. And anything you cook yourself will likely be healthier than a comparable restaurant meal. Ready to give it a try? Here’s your six step guide for meal planning and some resources to help you get started.
Step 1: Find Time in Your Schedule
Can you spend a full Sunday in the kitchen? Or do you have only a half hour to cook most nights? Make a note of how much time you’ll have to cook and go grocery shopping. Rest assured, you can prepare healthy meals in any amount of time.
Step 2: Count How Many Meals You Need
Consider how often you’ll go out to eat and how often you’d like to eat home-cooked meals. Figure out the number of meals and snacks you need to prepare. Then consider how many times you’re willing to eat the same meal twice. For example, if you’d like to eat leftovers only once, you’ll want to choose recipes that make two total servings. Of course, you’ll also need to keep in mind the number of people that you’re cooking for.
Step 3: Choose Your Core Ingredients
Selecting one or two core ingredients for your meal plan will help you choose recipes that overlap with each other.
Core ingredients can be:
- A protein source: Let’s say you’d like to eat salmon this week to get more omega-3 fats. Plan to look for several recipes that pair well with salmon.
- What you have on hand: Look through your pantry and find ingredients you’d like to use up. Have dried lentils that have been in your cabinet for a while? Plan to make lentils a core ingredient in your meal plan.
- What’s in season: In-season produce is often more affordable and nutritious than out-of-season produce. You can use these foods to inspire your meal plan.
Step 4: Don’t Forget the Vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts provide fiber and a host of vitamins and minerals. Try to include a serving of non-starchy veggies in each meal you prepare. Choose recipes with non-starchy vegetables or plan to have vegetables on the side.
Step 5: Find Your Recipes
Once you’ve figured out how many meals you need to make, the amount of time you can devote to cooking, and your core ingredients, you’re ready to choose your recipes. Try searching our collection of one million-plus recipes to get started. You can search by ingredient, or browse dozens of helpful categories.
Here are some tips:
- If you’ve got plenty of time to cook, look for large-batch recipes like these main dishes and soups and stews.
- If you’re in a time crunch, choose a recipe that requires little active time (that is, how much time you’ll actually be working). Consider slow-cooker dishes, no-cook meals and 30-minute recipes.
- If you don’t want to eat leftovers this week, scale back larger recipes to make fewer servings. Or, make the whole recipe and freeze the leftovers for later. Explore these freezer-friendly meals that keep well.
Step 6: Schedule Your Meals
Try using our meal planning tool to schedule your recipes. It helps you visualize the meals you have planned for each day. Once your menu is set, you can instantly create a single, simplified grocery list for all your recipes to make shopping easier.
What helps you plan your meals? Share your tips in the comments below.
This blog was originally published on October 4, 2016. It was last updated on August 27, 2018.