Planning to Succeed: Meal Planning and Prep Tips & Tricks

I LOVE PLANNING. Like obnoxiously so. And I don’t mean just the super fun things like parties and vacations. I mean everything from the totally mundane daily to do list to my five year plans. We did not have much advance notice of our relocation to Ireland (understatement) so we planned and executed our entire wedding in five weeks from start to finish (along with the help of many amazing friends and family members). In the six days following the wedding, we packed up our entire Boston apartment in labeled boxes numerically coded and their contents detailed on a corresponding Excel spreadsheet for customs. I have detailed out every exercise set for every barre class that I have ever taught on a template that I created in my OneNote. Which reminds me, I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to my precious Microsoft OneNote notebooks and folders which also house my resolutions, my budgets, my packing lists, my Christmas shopping lists, and a meal plan with a grocery list for every.single.week since June 2014.   Some may call this excessive, I prefer to call it “comprehensive.”

Now I am fully aware that this is not necessarily normal, or even desirable, behavior for many other people, but one area of planning that I cannot encourage strongly enough would be around organizing your meals. I have talked about how this is so helpful to me in terms of reducing stress and decision making throughout the week, but it is worth mentioning again that meal planning and prep saves a lot of hours, effort, money, and potential guilt over less than ideal food choices when time is tight or options are limited. I personally do not like to eat the same things over and over every week or even month and I really love to incorporate a few new recipes along with some of the tried and true favorites. By setting aside some time to plan out my meals and grocery list for the week and then spending a few hours (usually two-ish) on the weekend in prep mode, I am able to satisfy my need for variety, free up time in my ever-over-packed schedule, and fuel myself with real and healthy foods.

Once you decide you want to give it a try, it may require some trial and error to find a system that works well for you. I have certainly refined my own process over time, and some of my tips and tricks are as follows:

  • Every week, I schedule 1/2-1 hour block for meal planning time in my calendar so that I know I will be organized before I need to go grocery shopping or run out of weekend to get ahead. You might not take this long, but at least you have it set aside to be safe.
  • Throughout the week, I keep an eye out for any new recipes or ideas which catch my eye or come to mind and either make a note of them, save the recipe, or screenshot a picture on my phone, saving them somewhere accessible.
  • I also created a standard template which has a grocery list section on the left which is organized by store section (produce, meats, spices, etc.) and a grid on the right for each of the days of week and some other miscellaneous categories. To save time, I save the staples and things that are one the list every week along with relevant quantities if specific.

My meal planning template/blank slate for each week.

  • When it comes to meal planning time, I start by checking our schedules to make notes of any days which are exceptions (dinner out, out of town, running from X to Y).
  • Then I populate each of the necessary days/times with meals from either my typical arsenal, cookbooks, or the ideas collected throughout the week. As I enter a meal onto the schedule, I immediately detail each of the ingredients in the grocery list with the amount needed as appropriate. Going line by line at this phase really helps to avoid multiple grocery runs, frustration or failed recipes caused by a missed ingredient. In this phase, I also flag the things that I can/should make in advance versus those which will wait.
  • If you can, try to leverage the same ingredients in a few recipes to avoid waste and reduce overall costs. Also, when you can cook once and eat two or three times, definitely do! Leftovers are a convenient for the busier days especially.   My meal plan usually includes only one or two breakfast options for the work week and I eat the same thing for lunch Monday – Friday for one week and then totally switch it up the next week.  My husband likes to have some type of muffin or bakery treat, so I generally make one batch and he eats it throughout the week.
  • After the list is complete, I take a physical inventory just before my grocery shopping to make sure I check off anything that I already have and don’t assume the things which are technically on hand are still fresh.  Because I use OneNote, my list syncs across my computer, iPad, and phone so I use that and check things off while taking stock and shopping. Pen and paper work just fine too 🙂
  • After finishing the grocery shopping, I start meal prep pretty much right away. I review the items that I flagged as able to be prepared in advance and plan an attack strategy to maximize my time. For example,
    • If there are several things to be baked, I try to share the oven space between multiple items which can be cooked at the same temperature and setting separate timers for each.
    • I wash all the produce at the same time and try to do all the chopping at once.
    • I try to pay special attention to the things that have long lead times and start those first (my coconut yogurt which has to incubate overnight, nuts or dates which must be soaked, meats which should be marinated, etc.).
  • I make sure that everything is cooled and stored properly to avoid any spoilage or messes and to preserve the deliciousness and fruits of my labor! Then I stick to the plan that I have outlined for the week. Any recipes which were a hit are saved for future use and any flops are deleted from circulation.

Let me know if you try any of these tips and how they work for you or if you have some other helpful hacks that I might be able to steal!

 

This week’s #sundaymealprep:

  • Coconut Yogurt – snack/breakfast
  • Whole30 Granola – snack/breakfast
  • Smoked Salmon Frittata and Lemon Caper Aioli – breakfast
  • Spiralized Zucchini Fritters with my Everything Bagel Seasoning – breakfast
  • Raw Brownie Bites (recipe coming soon!) – snack/dessert
  • Lemon Pepper Salmon – lunch
  • Roasted Cauliflower – lunch
  • Roasted Butternut Squash Noodles (for dinner recipe coming this week!)
  • Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce (for dinner recipe coming this week!)
  • Artichoke Basil Sauce (for dinner recipe coming this week!)
  • Ghee – weekly essential
  • Paleo Mayo – weekly essential
  • Bone Broth – weekly essential
  • Kombucha – weekly essential
  • Hard boiled eggs – snacks
  • Portioned Cashews – snacks

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