Do you want to start a meal plan? But don’t understand where to begin and how to follow every week. You have come to the right place. Here’s a list of easy and smart tips for newbies looking to join the world of meal planning.
The first thing as a beginner is to identify the difference between a meal plan and meal prep. You might have come across these terms when searching for meal planning ideas online. How to know whether you are meal planning or meal prepping for a week?
What is a Meal Plan?
A meal plan is a simple prepared list with ingredients and recipes for the major meals of the day; breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. They can be a particular ingredient, nutrient, diet, goal, or a random idea. The days, meals, and recipes depend on your food habits and choices.
What is a Meal Prep?
Meal Prep is a technique to cut, marinate, or cook produce in advance and storing them at optimal temperatures for easy consumption. We can meal prep raw vegetables, fruits, meat, legumes, pulses, whole grains, and seafood on a specific time for different recipes or meals for the day or week.
A meal plan includes with a meal prepping system, but meal prep may or may not include a meal plan.
Things to Consider as a Meal Planning Beginner
Whether you are a big fan of meal planning or looking to incorporate this practice into your daily routine, you must be ready to change a few things to master this craft. Meal planning has three major benefits; money, time, and energy. These do not change with any external circumstances. Meal planning for will save money on groceries, cook healthy meals, and spend lesser time in the kitchen.
As a beginner, you will find the act of planning a meal fun and interesting, but sticking to it will be the actual problem. If you want to create a meal planning habit in your life, you should first set these things right,
1. Get Priorities in Check:
Do you like to meal plan your weeks for fun or a purpose? You want to try this method just like another trending thing for the internet or you love this concept? Ask yourself why you are choosing to make a meal plan a habit in your life. As a beginner, I appreciate your interest in following a meal plan, but in the long haul, it can add a strain on your mind, time, and money if you are not willing to put in genuine effort.
If you’re a fan and trying to do a meal plan for fun, start implementing it for a day at first. Try if you like eating a set menu or not. If you love to cook new recipes on the spot, it can jeopardize your enthusiasm for a set menu concept. You may mix-match and try different menu plans for a few weeks to get into this concept. When you know your priorities, you can easily master meal planning.
At first, you feel that you are constantly thinking to put in meals every week. But as days go by, you will start liking the idea of spending only a day on food and focusing the rest on other valuable work.
2. Note Budget Constraints:
You read an article where meal planning was the best way to save money on food. So, it pumps you to jump into this habit?
Most people try to implement meal planning into their lives to save money. But if you have made a meal plan including exotic vegetables, fruits, and seafood for every day of the week, you are going to burn your pockets within a couple of weeks of planning your meals.
The first thing to write down on your meal planner is the ‘Budget’. How much are you willing to spend per week? What’s the maximum budget you can spend on groceries, produce, and protein every month? It’s not an option. Even if you earn a paycheck every day, you need to take note of your budget.
Also, don’t splurge on perishables because you will plan to cook or eat that produce by tomorrow, but you will have a change of mood by the end of the day and go for another bag of junk. Get only what you love to store and eat regularly instead of fancy products in the beginning stages of meal planning.
3. Set a Meal Plan Day:
Check your calendar and circle the most comfortable day as the “Meal Plan Day”. Why do you need a day allocated specifically for meal planning? Because you require leisure time, full of energy, and no-rush periods to meal plan. In the long run, it becomes easy to include meal planning as a priority in your calendar.
For me, Monday is grocery shopping and meal planning day. I have made a perfect schedule for myself, giving ample preference to plan my meals for the week on Monday. What if you have an unexpected meeting on the meal planning day? Try to have a backup. It can be a Sunday or Friday, depending upon your schedule.
Make it a habit to schedule meal planning day in your planner to follow this practice wholeheartedly. It saves time and energy in the long-run. You will not worry about doing a meal plan amid a client call. Also, don’t schedule meetings or important work on meal planning day. It can be chaotic.
4. Shop with a List:
Putting a list together is the best way to keep track of your actions and goals easily. Follow the same with your grocery shopping instead of winging it every time you visit the store.
Make a quick virtual shopping on your phone by checking your pantry, fridge, and freezer before heading to the store. Write a variety of fresh produce, staples, and snacks in your list to reduce frequent visits to the store.
If you shop online, use your cart as a list. Whenever you find something empty in your kitchen, go and add that to your cart. At the end of the week, when you purchase your grocery, you can be sure that you ordered the right items. I even plan my meals by checking my cart because I know what I am going to order for the next week.
Writing a physical or virtual list will always come in handy to meal plan and grocery shop without wasting time or money on unnecessary products.
5. Meal Prep on the Same Day of Shopping:
Ok, is this possible? 90% of people think shopping and meal prepping are two strenuous tasks that cannot be together. Maybe it’s right, but if you want to sort things and plan your meals on time, you might have to implement it.
The best part about doing both these together that you can make a list, shop, arrange the items, and meal prep within 3-4 hours and skip the tension for another day. The fresh produce gets prepped and stored immediately, which enriches its shelf life. You are free from washing, chopping, storing, and prepping food for the next 6 days.
Aren’t these benefits sufficient to change your mind about this tip? If you want to become a meal prepping pro, try doing this at least once a week in a month and compare the results with the rest of the weeks. You will understand why I emphasize on doing this as a meal planning beginner.
6. Get the Basics Ready:
Meal prepping is a lot more difficult compared to meal planning because the latter can be made with paper and pen but we need loads of energy and stamina to complete the former one. But when you combine meal planning and meal prepping together, you can see a drastic reduction in everyday stress during mealtime.
Meal prepping can be a boon for working professionals, moms, and bachelors. There are plenty of chances for you to feel tired and irritated to wash and chop the same product for every meal or get migraines and unbearable hunger pangs while cooking after a hectic day.
When you make a conscious choice to get the basics ready every week, you will thank yourself every meal for the rest of the days. Being an Indian, I always have a box of peeled onions, pureed tomatoes, and pickles in the fridge. These are my basics.
If I have the energy to cook a curry, I will use the chopped vegetables to whip up something quick or just add a tablespoon of pickle to cooked rice and satiate my hunger. Make sure you have the basics of your favorite cuisine always on hand even if you don’t meal plan for the week. It’s a life lesson.
7. Write Your Menu:
Always make a menu by writing it on a paper with a pen instead of typing it on a device. Does it sound superficial? The reason for asking you to use a pen and write a menu is because you will remember it easily. It can help you while shopping or prepping for a particular recipe.
You can take one step ahead by using colors or other stationery to make it aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. The more you love creating a menu plan on paper, the more you will enjoy doing it as a habit. You will look forward to creating a new menu for the week with interesting recipes.
Read cookbooks, menu plans, and recipe planners to get inspiration for creating your own meal plans. If you love this concept, you can print a colorful planner or buy one online. This will help you stick to meal planning as a beginner.
8. Invest in Safe and Easy-to-Handle Containers:
Containers matter the most in meal planning. As a beginner, invest a small amount of money on excellent quality and easy-to-handle containers. If you are a patient person, you can definitely go for glass containers as a beginner. Because you not only need a lot of patience to meal prep a variety of products, but also to clean them carefully every week.
I have invested in two dozen unbreakable acrylic containers for storing cooked food and food-grade plastic containers for chopped produce. I don’t have to be cautious about dropping them while washing every week.
Choose clear and unbreakable containers in the beginning and once you love this habit, you can invest in glass boxes. Having a transparent and air-tight container will prolong the shelf-life of your meal prep.
9. Keep Your Fridge at Optimal Temperatures:
Do most people wonder if they can meal prep without using a fridge? You can meal plan without a fridge but not meal prep. You can write down the meals and produce you need for the week and buy them every day. This is similar to cooking three meals a day but by deciding the recipes ahead of time.
Meal prepping requires a fridge. It can be a small single door one or a lavish double door fridge. When you store raw vegetables in the fridge, we can generally set the temperatures low. But once you chop, marinate or cook food, you need to set your fridge on optimal temperatures for extended shelf-life.
I usually set it -30 C which will freeze my products on the top shelf. I prefer to store meal prepped containers on the top shelf of the fridge. This has helped me keep the products in good condition for longer periods. You need to set the refrigerator at higher temperatures for avoiding spoilage.
10. Freeze in Advance:
As a beginner, you can explore the options of prepping ready-to-heat and freezer meals. These keep good and do not spoil for longer periods of time. You can freeze vegetables, fruits, meat, and cooked meals. It’s easy to prep freezer meals compared to prepping meals to store in the fridge.
You can freeze anything by following the right procedures and this can be a great motivation for meal planning beginners. Cook 5 meals for a week and store them in advance in the freezer. Thaw them in the fridge overnight to reheat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Frozen fruits work for smoothies, juices, and parfaits while vegetables will be best for stews and slow cooker dinners. Frozen raw and marinated meats come in handy for any meal of the day. You can freeze soups, gravies, and curries by batch cooking them for a week.