When you make the commitment to eating healthier, the most immediate realization is that you’ll be spending more time cooking for yourself and your family. If you’re a kitchen-master, it probably won’t phase you, but what if the idea of planning and executing a week’s worth of meals makes you break out into a cold sweat?
You can purchase meal plans online these days, but they can be costly and you may still need to adjust them to suit your tastes and budget. Luckily, you can use my three-part system for meal planning like a pro. At first, it may take a bit more work to sit down and plan meals, but as you get more familiar with the process, it’ll become second-nature.
Part 1: Develop a Template
This is how you’ll structure your week. Can you do a big grocery shop on Saturday and a big cook-up day on Sunday? Great! Schedule that in. Are Tuesdays your busiest weekday? Good. You’ll be relying on your fridge stockpile for easy grab and go meals on that day. Do you go out to eat on Friday nights? That’s one less dinner you’ll need to plan for.
Print off a blank calendar for the week, and schedule this stuff in. To keep it manageable for the first month, recycle your meal plan.
For example, Monday might be:
Breakfast: Hard boiled eggs with veggies and fruit
Lunch: Slow cooked meat with roasted veggies and avocado
Dinner: Big salad with pre-cooked protein and homemade dressing
Next Monday, repeat this template. Sure, you might change out the veggies or the meat, but you’ve got a guideline.
Part 2: Do a Weekly Cook-Up
Ideally, you’ll pick a day off where you can spend a couple hours in the kitchen. I like Sundays for this because it sets me up with a fridge full of food for the week ahead. You’ll be able to reach into the fridge and either reheat a meal or assemble components you’ve already prepared into a complete meal.
I like to cook enough that I have enough for the first three days of the week or so. Leftovers are still good within this time frame, and it’s not so much food that you may end up wasting it. Sometime mid-week, say Thursday, you may need to do another, smaller cook-up day to get you through to the weekend. There are no hard and fast rules, but pick days that work for your schedule.
Some things I like to do on my weekly cook-up day:
• Hard boil a dozen eggs for quick breakfasts or snacks
• Make a batch of egg muffins or a frittata
• Roast a couple trays of mixed veggies
• Roast half a dozen sweet potatoes
• Make a couple sauces such as paleo mayo or your favorite dressing
• Cook a batch of soup or a stew
• Use the slow cooker to get a big chunk of protein ready to roll into meals ahead
I don’t necessarily do all of them, so pick and choose what works for you. Bonus points for preparing meals that can go into the freezer for defrosting when you’re busiest. Soups, stews, curries and slow cooked meat do well here.
Part 3: Find Your Favorite Recipes
Now you have a basic template and your weekly cook-up day scheduled, so it’s time to fill in with recipes.
Just a note: Meals don’t have to be complicated to be delicious and satisfying. Meat with a side of veggies and a sweet potato, topped with a quick homemade sauce compose many of the meals in our household. You won’t find me trying to master a complex, multi-step dish on a busy weeknight. My motto is KISS: Keep it super simple.
If you want to browse your favorite blogs for inspiration, that can certainly work, but be careful not to fall into overwhelm. Stick to three sites or less so you’re not spending hours scouring the Web for recipes. I recommend looking for recipes one to two days before you do your big weekly shopping day so you can make an ingredient list and get everything you need.
Some of My Other Favorite Tips
You don’t have to slave over a soup pot for hours and hours to create every meal. By including a variety of techniques, you can actually minimize cooking time. Eating a mix of raw and cooked veggies will help.
Every week I like to include:
• One-skillet meals
• Baked egg dishes
• Vegetables hashes
• Roasted vegetables
• Sautéed vegetables
• Raw salads or slaws
• Grilled, pan-fried or baked meats / fish
• Easy sauces or dressings
• Meals that can be frozen for later
You can eat breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast. The first meal of the day does NOT have to be a Paleo version of a traditionally carb-heavy dish. You can really eat anything for breakfast. In fact, mine is usually eggs with leftover meat and raw veggies or fruit. Simple.
Try a meal exchange
Coordinate with friends into creating a meal exchange. Basically how it works is this: Cook and prepare a main dish, side dish and sauce for your friends and yourself. Swap meals and you’ll have instant variety!