Meal planning may take extra thought and time on the front end, but it can:
- Save money. When you prepare cost-effective meals at home, you reduce waste from spoiled food, and you don't eat out as much.
- Save time. Having a plan reduces the f time spent thinking about what you want each day and speeds grocery shopping.
- Improve nutrition. Intentionally have fruits and vegetables planned for each day and eat more nutrient-rich foods from cooking at home.
7 Tips for Meal Planning & Make-Ahead Meals
- Schedule time: It takes to plan, shop, prepare, and package your meals. Scheduling time in advance can save several hours throughout the week.
- Plan your menu: Take inventory of what you have. Research recipes that include those foods and assign them to specific days of the week.
- Make a grocery list: Making a list of foods you need before leaving for the grocery store is a great way to help you budget and limit waste. Start by writing down all of the foods you need, then cross off what you already have.
- Go Shopping: When scheduling time to meal plan, grocery shopping is often what takes the longest. Try shopping at off-peak hours. Weeknight evenings, after 7:00 pm is when most grocery stores have fewer customers.
- Prep your food: Prepping could simply be chopping fruits and veggies to speed up the cooking process later in the week or cooking 2 to 3 meals in advance to reheat later in the week.
- Packaging: Storage depends on the type of meals you make. Sometimes it is best to pre-portion meals in small containers. Consider using storage bags, small containers, or covered casserole dishes. Also, keep in mind that some meal components may be best separated until mealtime. For example, salads will wilt if they are dressed in advance.
- Freeze leftovers: Proper freezer usage can be your secret to success. Doubling recipes during preparation and cooking saves time. Be sure to take inventory of what is in your freezer on a regular basis.
Sources for Healthy Recipes
Salad in a Jar
A quick and easy meal to make ahead and package for lunch or dinner outside of your home is a salad in a jar. Prepare the night before or make a few on Sunday afternoon, then pour out on a plate when you're ready to eat it.
Assembling the salad:
- Dressing on the bottom. Make your own or choose a low-fat option, without added sugars.
- Fruits & veggies. Mix together different colors and flavors to create an exciting new dish in each jar.
- Starches & protein. Try a combination of beans, peas, or lentils with a whole grain, like quinoa or brown rice. You could also add pre-cooked lean meat or a cooked egg.
- Greens & lettuce. Try mixing dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, chard, and arugula to get a mixture of flavor and texture.
Use the tips above to plan one week of meals.
Use this blank calendar to help you assign meals to days.
This grocery list template can help get you organized.
Use one of the resources below to download a coupon to use during your shopping trip.
Phone apps: Checkout 51, Grocery IQ, Grocery Pal, Saving Star, and Weekly Ads & Sales
Newspaper or grocery store catalog