How to Meal Plan – one person’s way to plan healthy meals without a lot of fuss

Frustrated with what to cook for dinner? One thing that makes eating healthy a breeze is planning out your meals in advance. This can be as simple or as time consuming as you make it. Most weeks I plan out dinners for the week, and the weeks that I don’t plan I sure do regret it! The crazy thing is, I may not even stick to my plan, but just having one is a relief. It’s one less decision to make!

In our family, there are certain themes or categories of meals that we do on certain days of the week with room for a lot of flexibility. This is partly because of our schedule and partly just out of habit. Having a broad framework like this really helps to come up with ideas for each day and reduces decision making. I’ll bet you could think of a few “anchor” meals, themes or categories for your week as well that you could repeat week after week (with variations).

This week's meal plan on the white board in my kitchen

This week’s meal plan on the white board in my kitchen

Also, I try to make sure there are at least two servings of veggies included in each meal (often there are more). At virtually every meal we have a gigantic salad with a variety of veggies in it. If there aren’t a bunch of veggies already in the meal I’ll also fix another veggie as a side dish.

Here are some tips to keep your sanity with meal planning:

  • Plan at least a week in advance
  • Keep it simple.
  • Keep components separate as much as possible so everyone can customize their own meal. For example, I will often leave the meat out of my meals and just have a vegetarian version. Other people in my family like to have the meat. If you keep things separate everyone can be happy 🙂
  • Look in your cupboards/fridge to see what needs to be used
  • Create a flexible framework that works for your family’s situation. Here’s a Weekly Meal Plan Template that you can modify to plan for repeating themes/meals. This is a huge step toward not reinventing the wheel every single week.
  • Plan for leftovers. Make the best use of your time by making large quantities of beans, rice, sauteed veggies, broth, meat, etc. to use throughout the week or freeze for another week.
  • Take advantage of frozen vegetables. The quality is often as good or better than fresh depending on how “fresh” the store-bought veggies are.
  • Print out and save your favorite recipes. Make a folder or binder to flip through, but keep your favorites separate. You’ll soon discover that you have a few recipes you really like, but you can also spice things up by trying new ones every once in a while when you have more time.
  • Plan for a salad plus 1-2 veggie dishes at each meal.

Here’s what I mean by a framework . . .

My Template:

MondaysSpaghetti: Sometimes it’s vegetarian spaghetti, sometimes with chicken sausage, sometimes with ground turkey, and almost always with lots of veggies chopped up in it such as onions, zucchini, broccoli, parsley, greens, and especially mushrooms! If they’re chopped small enough no one will notice . . . I often have my sauce over zoodles (noodles made out of zucchini) and serve the rest of the family’s over quinoa, brown rice, or regular spaghetti. For a change, once in a while I might mix it up and do something like a vegan alfredo, pasta primavera or pesto pasta.

TuesdaysSoup: I often make a big pot of soup, or stew. I love, love, love to have soup in the fridge for lunches. I even like soup for breakfast sometimes!

WednesdaysAsian: I usually make some sort of stir fry veggies with either rice, noodles, or fried rice. Sometimes I’ll get fancy with homemade sushi or fresh spring rolls.

ThursdaysCasserole/Beans: This varies, but it could be something like a lentil-rice casserole, a quiche, a frittatta, or a baked pasta. It’s also a night that I often will have a crockpot full of beans ready. We might have some that night, some in refried beans the next night, and then some as leftovers for a few days after that.

FridaysMexican: It’s always taco night at our house on Fridays! I have a Ridiculously Easy Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken recipe we often use or else we use ground turkey, black beans, and/or refried beans. I also like to make sauteed veggies (onions, peppers, mushrooms) to go on the tacos! We usually also add lime juice, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. I especially love to add cilantro both for its flavor and for its heavy metal detoxifying qualities. I stay away from dairy when possible so I top them with avocado or a homemade vegan “sour cream”.

Saturdays and Sundays – Wild Cards: This just depends what the weekend holds. I work a lot on weekends, so often my husband bbqs or cooks one of his signature dishes, but if I have time, I love to get creative with new or more time-consuming meals, especially if we are entertaining! If we roast or bbq a chicken I usually double what we need so that I can use the extras in the coming week in soups, stir fries or casseroles. I also save bones to use in making a nourishing bone and veggie broth for recipes in following week.

A real week's meal plan

A real week’s meal plan

I hope this helps someone who struggles with meal planning 🙂

Do you meal plan already? I’d love to hear how you do it!

Blessings, Laurie

2 comments to How to Meal Plan – one person’s way to plan healthy meals without a lot of fuss

  • Nickie

    What an amazingly simple idea! I love the customize-able “Weekly Meal Plan Template”! . . . especially how you make up large quantities of basic things you can use later on to reduce prep times and add variety with little effort! I think it will help me actually USE the leftovers since they are already planned to be in a future meal! This would also really help on shopping trips – one week’s list & done! I much prefer this approach to the more precise menus I’ve adopted in the past . . . only to quickly get frustrated with them due to my family life’s chaotic and unpredictable nature!

    Thank you for keeping it simple with ‘real stuff’ I can use! 🙂

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