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How to Meal Plan: 23 Helpful Tips

Health + Wellness

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By Ansley Hill

Meal planning and prepping are wonderful skills to have in your personal health and wellness tool kit.


A well-thought-out meal plan can help you improve your diet quality or reach a specific health goal while saving you time and money along the way (1Trusted Source).

Here are 23 simple tips for developing a successful meal planning habit.

1. Start Small

If you have never created a meal plan or are getting back into it after a long hiatus, it may feel a bit daunting.

Developing a meal planning habit is no different than making any other positive change in your life. Starting small and slowly building confidence is a great way to make sure your new habit is sustainable.

Begin by planning out just a few meals or snacks for the week ahead. Eventually, you'll figure out which planning strategies work best, and you can slowly build upon your plan by adding in more meals as you see fit.

2. Consider Each Food Group

Whether you're preparing meals for a week, month, or just a few days, it's important to make sure each food group is represented in your plan.

The healthiest meal plan emphasizes whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, high-quality protein, and healthy fats, while limiting sources of refined grains, added sugars, and excess salt (2Trusted Source).

As you scour through your favorite recipes, think about each of these food groups. If any of them are missing, make a point to fill in the gaps.

3. Get Organized

Good organization is a key component to any successful meal plan.

An organized kitchen, pantry, and refrigerator make everything from menu creation, grocery shopping, and meal prep a breeze, as you'll know exactly what you have on hand and where your tools and ingredients are.

There's no right or wrong way to organize your meal prep spaces. Just make sure it's a system that works for you.

4. Invest in Quality Storage Containers

Food storage containers are one of the most essential meal prep tools.

If you're currently working with a cupboard full of mismatched containers with missing lids, you may find the meal prep process very frustrating. It's well worth your time and money to invest in high-quality containers.

Before you make a purchase, consider each container's intended use. If you'll be freezing, microwaving, or cleaning them with a dishwasher, make sure you choose containers that are safe for doing so.

Glass containers are eco-friendly and microwave safe. They're widely available in stores and online.

It's also handy to have a variety of sizes for different types of foods.

5. Keep a Well-Stocked Pantry

Maintaining a baseline stock of pantry staples is a great way to streamline your meal prep process and simplify menu creation.

Here are a few examples of healthy and versatile foods to keep in your pantry:

  • Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, oats, bulgur, whole-wheat pasta, polenta
  • Legumes: canned or dried black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, lentils
  • Canned goods: low-sodium broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, artichokes, olives, corn, fruit (no added sugar), tuna, salmon, chicken
  • Oils: olive, avocado, coconut
  • Baking essentials: baking powder, baking soda, flour, cornstarch
  • Other: Almond butter, peanut butter, potatoes, mixed nuts, dried fruit

By keeping some of these basic essentials on hand, you only need to worry about picking up fresh items in your weekly grocery haul. This can help reduce stress and improve the efficiency of your meal planning efforts.

6. Keep a Variety of Spices on Hand

Herbs and spices can make the difference between a meal that's amazing and one that's just alright. For most people, a meal plan that's consistently comprised of delicious dishes just might be enough to make the meal planning habit stick.

In addition to being exceptional flavor-enhancers, herbs and spices are loaded with plant compounds that provide a variety of health benefits, such as reduced cellular damage and inflammation (3Trusted Source).

If you don't already have a solid stash of dried herbs and spices, just pick up 2–3 jars of your favorites each time you go grocery shopping and slowly build a collection.

7. Shop Your Pantry First

Before you sit down to make your meal plan, take an inventory of what you already have on hand.

Peruse all of your food storage areas, including your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator, and make a note of any specific foods you want or need to use up.

Doing this helps you move through the food you already have, reduces waste, and prevents you from unnecessarily buying the same things over and over again.

8. Consistently Make Time

The best way to integrate a meal planning routine into your lifestyle is to make it a priority. It can help to regularly carve out a block of time that is solely dedicated to planning.

For some people, crafting a meal plan can take as little as 10–15 minutes per week. If your plan also includes preparing some food items ahead of time or pre-portioning meals and snacks, you may need a few hours.

Regardless of your specific strategy, the key to success is making time and staying consistent.

9. Designate a Place for Saving and Storing Recipes

Avoid the unnecessary frustration of trying to remember recipes by saving them in a designated location that you can easily reference anytime.

This could be in a digital format on your computer, tablet, or cell phone, or a physical location in your house.

Keeping a space set aside for your recipes saves time and helps reduce any potential stress associated with meal planning.

10. Ask for Help

It can be challenging to always feel inspired to craft a brand-new menu each week — but you don't have to do it alone.

If you're responsible for meal planning and preparation for an entire household, don't be afraid to ask members of your family for input.

If you're primarily cooking for yourself, talk to your friends about what they're cooking or use online resources, such as social media or food blogs, for inspiration.

11. Track and Record Your Favorite Meals

It can be frustrating to forget a recipe that you or your family really enjoyed.

Or worse — forgetting how much you disliked a recipe, only to make it again and have to suffer through it a second time.

Avoid these culinary predicaments by keeping an ongoing record of your favorite and least favorite meals.

It's also helpful to keep notes of any edits you made or would like to make to a particular recipe, so you can quickly begin taking your culinary skills from amateur to expert.

12. Always Head to the Grocery Store Armed With a List (or Shop Online)

Going to the grocery store without a shopping list is a good way to waste time and end up buying a lot of things you don't need.

Having a list helps you stay focused and fight the temptation to buy food you don't have a plan to use just because it's on sale.

Depending on where you live, some larger grocery chains offer the option of shopping online and either picking up your groceries at a designated time or having them delivered.

You may be charged a fee for these services, but they can be a great tool for saving time and avoiding the long lines and distracting promotions you're likely to encounter at the store.

13. Avoid Shopping While You’re Hungry

Don't go to the grocery store when you're hungry, as doing so can increase the risk of impulse buys that you're likely to regret later.

If you feel a little twinge of hunger before you're heading to the store, don't hesitate to have a snack first, even if it's outside of your typical meal and snack routine.

14. Buy in Bulk

Take advantage of the bulk section of your local supermarket as a way to save money, buy only the amount you need, and reduce unnecessary packaging waste.

This part of the store is a great place to shop for pantry staples like rice, cereal, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and beans.

Bring your own containers so you don't have to use any plastic bags to carry your bulk items home.

15. Plan for and Repurpose Leftovers

If you don't want to spend time cooking every day of the week, plan to make enough to have leftovers.

Making a few extra servings of whatever you're cooking for dinner is a great way to have lunch for tomorrow without any extra effort.

If you're not a fan of leftovers, think about how you can repurpose them so they don't feel like leftovers.

For example, if you roast a whole chicken with root vegetables for dinner, shred the leftover chicken and use it for tacos, soup, or as a salad topping for lunch the next day.

16. Batch Cook

Batch cooking is when you prepare large quantities of individual foods for the purpose of using them in different ways throughout the week. This method is especially useful if you don't have much time to spend cooking during the week.

Try cooking a big batch of quinoa or rice and roasting a large tray of vegetables, tofu, or meat at the start of the week to use for salads, stir-fries, scrambles, or grain bowls.

You could also make a batch of chicken, tuna, or chickpea salad to use in sandwiches, eat with crackers, or add to salads.

17. Use Your Freezer

Cooking certain foods or meals in large batches and freezing them for later is a great way to save time, reduce waste, and stretch your food budget — all at the same time.

You can use this method for simple staples like broth, fresh bread, and tomato sauce, or for entire meals, such as lasagna, soup, enchiladas, and breakfast burritos.

18. Pre-Portion Your Meals

Pre-portioning your meals into individual containers is an excellent meal prep strategy, especially if you're trying to consume a specific amount of food.

This method is popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts who closely track their intake of calories and nutrients. It's also a great method for promoting weight loss or even just getting ahead when you're short on time.

To take advantage of this method, prepare a large meal that contains at least 4–6 servings. Portion each serving into an individual container and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. When you're ready, simply reheat and eat.

19. Wash and Prep Fruits and Vegetables Right Away

If your goal is to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, try washing and preparing them as soon as you get home from the farmer's market or grocery store.

If you open your refrigerator to find a freshly prepared fruit salad or carrot and celery sticks ready for snacking, you're more likely to reach for those items when you're hungry.

Anticipating your hunger and setting yourself up with healthy and convenient choices makes it easier to avoid reaching for the bag of potato chips or cookies just because they're quick and easy.

20. Prep Smart, Not Hard

Don't be afraid to acknowledge the need to cut corners.

If you're not great at chopping vegetables or don't have time to batch cook and pre-portion your meals, there are likely some healthy, prepared options at your local grocery store.

Pre-cut fruits and vegetables or prepared meals are usually more expensive, but if the convenience factor is what it takes to reduce stress in your life or get you to eat more vegetables, it may be well worth it.

Remember, not everyone's meal planning and preparation processes look the same. Having the wisdom to know when you need to scale back and improve efficiency can help you stick to your goals long term.

21. Use Your Slow or Pressure Cooker

low and pressure cookers can be lifesavers for meal prep, especially if you don't have time to stand over a stove.

These tools allow for more freedom and hands-off cooking, so you can meal prep while simultaneously finishing other chores or running errands.

22. Vary Your Menu

It's easy to get stuck in a dieting rut and eat the same foods day after day.

At best, your meals can quickly become boring and lead to a loss of culinary inspiration. At worst, the lack of variation could contribute to nutrient deficiencies (4Trusted Source).

To avoid this, make it a point to try cooking new foods or meals at regular intervals.

If you always choose brown rice, try swapping it for quinoa or barley. If you always eat broccoli, substitute cauliflower, asparagus, or romanesco for a change.

You can also consider letting the seasons change your menu for you. Eating fruits and vegetables that are in season helps you vary your diet and save money at the same time.

23. Make It Enjoyable

You're more likely to stick to your new meal planning habit if it's something you enjoy doing. Instead of thinking of it as something you have to do, try to mentally reframe it as a form of self-care.

If you're the household chef, consider making meal prep a family affair. Have your family help you chop vegetables or batch cook some soup for the week ahead, so these activities become quality time spent together instead of just another chore.

If you prefer to meal prep solo, throw on your favorite music, a podcast, or an audiobook while you do it. Before long, it may be something you look forward to.

The Bottom Line

Meal planning and preparation is a great way to make healthier food choices and save time and money.

Though it may seem overwhelming at first, there are a variety of strategies you can employ to develop a sustainable meal planning habit that works for your unique lifestyle.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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Brazilians living in The Netherlands organized a demonstration in solidarity with rainforest protectors and against the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 1 in The Hague, Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Tara Smith

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.

Bolsonaro ran for president promising to "integrate the Amazon into the Brazilian economy". Once elected, he slashed the Brazilian environmental protection agency budget by 95 percent and relaxed safeguards for mining projects on indigenous lands. Farmers cited their support for Bolsonaro's approach as they set fires to clear rainforest for cattle grazing.

Bolsonaro's vandalism will be most painful for the indigenous people who call the Amazon home. But destruction of the world's largest rainforest may accelerate climate change and so cause further suffering worldwide. For that reason, Brazil's former environment minister, Marina Silva, called the Amazon fires a crime against humanity.

From a legal perspective, this might be a helpful way of prosecuting environmental destruction. Crimes against humanity are international crimes, like genocide and war crimes, which are considered to harm both the immediate victims and humanity as a whole. As such, all of humankind has an interest in their punishment and deterrence.

Historical Precedent

Crimes against humanity were first classified as an international crime during the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. Two German Generals, Alfred Jodl and Lothar Rendulic, were charged with war crimes for implementing scorched earth policies in Finland and Norway. No one was charged with crimes against humanity for causing the unprecedented environmental damage that scarred the post-war landscapes though.

Our understanding of the Earth's ecology has matured since then, yet so has our capacity to pollute and destroy. It's now clear that the consequences of environmental destruction don't stop at national borders. All humanity is placed in jeopardy when burning rainforests flood the atmosphere with CO₂ and exacerbate climate change.

Holding someone like Bolsonaro to account for this by charging him with crimes against humanity would be a world first. If successful, it could set a precedent which might stimulate more aggressive legal action against environmental crimes. But do the Amazon fires fit the criteria?

Prosecuting crimes against humanity requires proof of widespread and systematic attacks against a civilian population. If a specific part of the global population is persecuted, this is an affront to the global conscience. In the same way, domestic crimes are an affront to the population of the state in which they occur.

When prosecuting prominent Nazis in Nuremberg, the US chief prosecutor, Robert Jackson, argued that crimes against humanity are committed by individuals, not abstract entities. Only by holding individuals accountable for their actions can widespread atrocities be deterred in future.

The International Criminal Court's Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has promised to apply the approach first developed in Nuremberg to prosecute individuals for international crimes that result in significant environmental damage. Her recommendations don't create new environmental crimes, such as "ecocide", which would punish severe environmental damage as a crime in itself. They do signal, however, a growing appreciation of the role that environmental damage plays in causing harm and suffering to people.

The International Criminal Court was asked in 2014 to open an investigation into allegations of land-grabbing by the Cambodian government. In Cambodia, large corporations and investment firms were being given prime agricultural land by the government, displacing up to 770,000 Cambodians from 4m hectares of land. Prosecuting these actions as crimes against humanity would be a positive first step towards holding individuals like Bolsonaro accountable.

But given the global consequences of the Amazon fires, could environmental destruction of this nature be legally considered a crime against all humanity? Defining it as such would be unprecedented. The same charge could apply to many politicians and business people. It's been argued that oil and gas executives who've funded disinformation about climate change for decades should be chief among them.

Charging individuals for environmental crimes against humanity could be an effective deterrent. But whether the law will develop in time to prosecute people like Bolsonaro is, as yet, uncertain. Until the International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity based on their environmental damage, holding individuals criminally accountable for climate change remains unlikely.

This story originally appeared in The Conversation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What's stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?

I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.

This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...

Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?

It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story was originally published by The Guardian, and is republished here as part of the Covering Climate Now partnership to strengthen the media's focus on the climate crisis.

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