Meal planning and food prep can definitely save you money and reduce weeknight stress….. but it can also be a tad overwhelming and confusing. If you’re wanting to improve how you meal plan and food prep, these tips are for you.
1. Keep it simple
Trying to make all your meals for the week at the same time is not a great place to start. Meal prep for beginners is about starting simple and finding a style or system that works well for YOU. Perhaps that means prepping as little as one or two meals that you can grab throughout the week without having to think about it (you’d be surprised how much this small change will improve your life). Take the unnecessary pressure off yourself to ‘do it all’, and start by being a beginner. Over complicating things means ’life’ (and stress) can easily throw a spanner in the works – like the social event that falls on your Sunday, or the bout of unexpected sickness that hits your household, or that beautiful weather that’s calling you and your family outside to play.
TIP: Start with just one recipe. For example, overnight oats are an approachable and simple breakfast that takes minutes to prepare.
2. Planning is essential
Not planning before you prep will create a lot of food waste, it’s also why some people are under the impression that meal prep is time-consuming (ie. When you don’t plan ahead, the time you spend making decisions on the fly really adds up). Heres the often overlooked STEPS involved in meal planning and food prep:
- Check your calendar (Our schedules can change every week. What does the week ahead look like? Do you have any work meals or dinner dates? Maybe you don’t have set plans but its a busy week with couple of late finishes at work. All things to take into consideration when menu planning)
- Check your pantry / fridge / freezer (ie. what do you currently have in stock that needs to be used up?)
- Choose your recipes (see tip #3!)
- Confirm your menu plan (This often involves writing your menu plan down)
- Confirm your shopping list (This often involves writing your shopping list down)
- Do your food shop
- Do you cooking / prep (There may be multiple times you cook/prep over the week. Sundays are typically a good ‘cooking/prep’ day, but YOUR plan may include a midweek cook up, prepping some breakfasts in the evenings and packing lunchboxes a few mornings a week)
TIP: There are many advantages to doing one bigger prep on the weekend and one smaller prep halfway through the week. This strategy allows you to honour your cravings, eat a greater variety of meals, and adapt to your schedule’s last-minute changes.
3. Consider the kinds of meals you need
This sounds so simple and obvious, yet it can be easily overlooked. Much like life, meal planning is more successful when you keep things simple. Choose recipes based on the kind of meals you need. Busy week ahead? Use the slow cooker for mostly hands-off dinners. Tight on time? Give one pan or sheet pan recipes a go! Whether it’s budget dinners, vegan options, or meals with make-ahead potential, choose the recipes that meet your needs. So before you even go searching for recipes, write down a list of what you want the recipe to do for you. It might look something like the following:
- A recipe I can make in under 15minutes
- A vegetarian recipe
- A recipe that uses canned corn cause I have 3 cans in the pantry
- A recipe that doesn’t require re-heating and is easily portable so I can take it to work
That narrows down what you’re looking for. Now you can got about finding that recipe. You can comb through your fav recipe websites, or flip through a magazine or cookbook with your criteria in mind. You won’t be making a physical list like this every time you begin searching for recipes, but this technique highlights a way to think. Eventually, you start doing all this in your head!
TIP: Don’t choose meals based on how “healthy” they are because honestly if you’re cooking at home, chances are it will be healthier than what you’d normally get for takeout or at a restaurant. It’s hard to look forward to bland, boring “healthy” meals.
4. Make extra (or choose recipes that will provide leftovers)
Doubling batches can save you heaps of time in the long run because leftovers can easily be repurposed as weekday lunches or subsequent dinners. We typically make extra – we’ll eat one serve, then freeze another serve for dinner next month!
5. Cook what you know + try something new
Meal planning isn’t about cooking something new every day of the week. This might sound nice, but in reality it’s pretty unsustainable. But that doesn’t mean you should push away new recipes altogether! Build most of your meal plan with recipes you know and have made before, then add one new recipe every so often. It will keep you menus feeling new and expand your recipe repertoire at the same time.
TIP: Don’t try to cook new recipes on the busiest or most energy demanding days of your week!
6. Prep parts of meals
Having a few things prepared (as opposed to a full meal prepared) ahead of time can be seriously handy! Think about what you can prep on the weekend that could help make your weekly meals easier. Perhaps a big batch of roasted veggies is your side dish for dinner Monday night, or a pot of brown rice will be used to bulk up dinner Tuesday night, or some cut up some veggie sticks will be thrown into your lunchbox on Wednesday.
7. Say Yes to Support
Consider enlisting a little support from local businesses like BETTER ME SMOOTHIES (pre-made green smoothie packs), MADE TO NOURISH (locally made home made lunchbox foods and dinners), GREEN STREET CAFE (locally made meals) or similar.
8. Be kind to yourself
It’s best to respond to meal prep disappointments with self-compassion and patience. You’re only human, and especially when you’re first learning how to prep, you will make mistakes. Like any skill, you will improve over time.
TIP: Being more self compassionate (and less self-judgement) actually makes it more likely (not less likely) that you will persist with your meal planning pursuits – especially if/when they get a little difficult or challenging.
9. Have fun
Meal planning sounds like a lot of work and not enough fun, but you know it’s a good thing to do! Sometimes adding a little bit of fun can seriously help. Maybe get a pretty notebook, play your fav tunes whilst you plan, get the family involved, or include a ‘night off’ to plan (cause who doesn’t love a pizza party with family?!).
DISCLAIMER: Sharing the load is essential
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the mental load should NOT fall solely on women or mothers, though I know it most often does. Parenting is a team sport. Dividing household tasks (including the thinking, pre-planning and planning stages of tasks like meal planning and food prep) fairly with your partner/household/support team AND communicating openly about how you’re feeling, whats on your mind and what you need help with is crucial. Need help with this? You might like to check out the book FAIR PLAY by Eve Rodsky or check out the free resources available on The Mental Load Project website.
Want to improve your meal planning but not sure where to start (or how to progress)….
Check out THIS ARTICLE that for a bit of a look into how meal planning and food prep happens in my house. Or, SAY TO SUPPORT! and book a CLARITY AND CONFIDENCE CONSULT. CONSULTS are dedicated time for us to map out your next steps so you have confidence and clarity in moving forward with your health habits and goals. BOOK a CLARITY AND CONFIDENCE CONSULT HERE.
READY TO SAY YES TO YOURSELF AND YOUR HEALTH? OUR YES2YOU PROGRAM IS A GREAT PLACE TO START.