Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

How to Meal Plan: 23 Helpful Tips

Health + Wellness

OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Oregano oil is an extract that is not as strong as the essential oil, but appears to be useful both when consumed or applied to the skin. Peakpx / CC by 1.0

By Alexandra Rowles

Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.

However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro meets Ronaldo Caiado, governor of the state of Goiás on June 5, 2020. Palácio do Planalto / CC BY 2.0

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over the world's second worst coronavirus outbreak after the U.S., said Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Read More Show Less
Although natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, it is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Skitterphoto / PIxabay

By Emily Grubert

Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.

Read More Show Less
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved two Lysol products as the first to effectively kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces, based on laboratory testing. Paul Hennessy / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveils the Green New Deal resolution in front of the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Judith Lewis Mernit

For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.

Read More Show Less
About 30,000 claims contending that Roundup caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are currently unsettled. Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana aren't just a loss for the ecosystem and global conservation efforts. Mario Micklisch / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Charli Shield

When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.

Read More Show Less