ed. note: This post originally ran in September 2019, but we thought it felt particularly on-point for the coming weeks when we’re staying home and making the most of the ingredients we have on hand. Use this as your guide when you’re planning your next grocery store run or placing an order — the rituals of chopping, washing, and prepping have been really therapeutic to me the last few days, and there’s a certain peace of mind that comes from knowing we’ve got plenty of nourishing meals ready to go.
First rule of meal planning: do whatever works for you! If you love to do a grocery store run on your way home from work to grab ingredients for tonight’s dinner, I salute you. I’m personally one who loves the feeling of heading into a new week armed with a plan and a fridge full of groceries to make it happen. The key to good meal planning is finding what makes you feel prepared enough so that meals aren’t stressing you out – and you don’t find yourself sabotaging your healthy eating goals because you get home from work starving, and a bag of popcorn or greasy takeout is all you can think of on the fly.
Ever since I started posting my weekly meal plans on my Instagram stories each Sunday (you can check out the old ones in my Highlights reel), I’ve gotten a lot of questions from you guys, like “Is that really what you’re eating all week?” and “How do you do it?” The truth is, I’ve been doing my meal planning just like this since way before Instagram, and I swear that it’s easy enough for anyone to do with just a little practice and a few strategies in your back pocket. Read on to see exactly what my meal planning process looks like each week, and I’d love to hear in the comments if you’ve got any great meal planning tips that work for you!
1 – Make it a weekend ritual that you look forward to.
I love my Sunday ritual of sitting down and flipping through my cookbooks to dig out favorite recipes that have been earmarked with notes scribbled on them. I’ll also scroll through my Pinterest feed to look for recipes I’ve been meaning to make. The point is, I make the process fun and relaxing, because even when the weeks get hectic, I want to actually enjoy cooking a quick meal and sitting down to something delicious after a busy workday. I always keep a note on my phone titled “Recipes I Want to Try” full of links to different food blogs, so when I feel the need to shake things up, I always have a collection to pull from.
2 – Choose recipes that can do double duty.
When I zero in on a couple of recipes that I’m dying to make that week, I then think about how one or two of the main ingredients in those can be leveraged to make other meals that sound yummy. Can I pickup a rotisserie chicken and shred half of it for a soup one night, then chop it up for a salad another night? If I’m baking a big batch of cauliflower, why not throw in some sweet potatoes on a separate baking sheet that can be the building blocks for a grain bowl for dinner that week – and enough for a workday lunch, too?
3 – Think about how you’re going to feel based on your schedule.
Take a look at the schedule for the week ahead. Do you have happy hour or ballet drop-off after work on Tuesday? Plan something that you can cook faster than you can order takeout, because I guarantee everyone in the house is going to be hangry and ready to eat. Is the forecast calling for rain on Thursday? Think soup or curry or something similarly cozy that doesn’t require an outdoor grill. And if you’re like me, Friday night always calls for something a little more fun like tacos or grilled pizzas; kale salads are not gonna cut it at the end of a long week. #treatyoself
4 – Add your meal schedule to your calendar.
As I’m planning, I add a calendar appointment to each evening of my Google Calendar that says “DINNER,” and in the notes section I type the name and cookbook or link to the online recipe of what I plan to make that night. If I’m planning to go out or order in, I put that on the calendar, too. I try not to be too rigid about it; if I’ve put tacos on the calendar for Tuesday, but am feeling the spaghetti squash pasta that I’d planned for the next night, I’ll just swap them on the calendar with no harm done. And I still feel like I’ve got a plan!
5 – Try ordering your groceries online.
I used to love spending loads of time grocery shopping – and still do if I find myself with an especially unstructured weekend – but since that doesn’t happen too often, I’ve found that ordering my groceries online saves me tons of time and stress. I also find that I spend less money since I’m not prone to the impulse buys that I might if I’m browsing the aisles of the grocery store.
6 – Invest in some prep time right when you get home from the store (or your groceries get delivered.)
I shared a video of how I prep my groceries over here, and in addition to chopping and washing, I love to make a salad dressing that I can use all week, plus a sauce like pesto that can be tossed into pasta, top avocado toast, or be thinned out with vinegar for a vinaigrette. I usually don’t spend more than 30 minutes or so, but it’s amazing how a little time on the front end makes things feel so much more manageable on a busy weeknight.
7 – Always double soups and chilis so you can freeze the extra batch.
My freezer is always stocked with some kind of chicken soup, a curry dish, and usually a veggie chili. This is a seriously lifesaving technique for those nights when I get home later than expected and everyone’s starving, or for when I forget a crucial component to whatever recipe I’d planned to make that night. Knowing I can thaw out a delicious soup and top with a sprinkle of herbs and seeds for a gourmet-ready dinner gives me major peace of mind.
8 – Lunch = leftovers, with a twist.
Pretty much every day for lunch, I eat a big salad with whatever protein (salmon, chicken, beans, etc) is leftover from the previous night’s dinner on top. Which means I always make a little more than I think we’ll eat, and the leftovers never go to waste. This is also a perfect way to use up leftover roasted vegetables and mashed sweet potatoes — when in doubt, throw it in a grain bowl.