Meal Planning Basics: How to Meal Plan

7 Easy Meal Planning Basic Tips

Meal Planning makes a big difference when it comes to sticking to a dietary change. It’s easy to cook a quick convenience food or head to a restaurant when everyone is hungry and nothing is defrosted, but a little planning can prevent this! If you have kids, you can let them be involved in the planning as well, which will help them get excited about the healthy foods you are cooking and be more willing to try them.

Here are seven tips to help you plan out weekly meals for your family:

1. Have A Daily Template

Rather than starting from scratch each week, I have a template of the general types of foods I cook each day of the week and the number of times I use each main food. In other words each week I cook:

  • 1-2 stir frys
  • 1 salad
  • 1 slow cooker or soup meal
  • 1 fish/seafood meal
  • 1-2 meals from a different cuisine from around the world
  • 1-2 prepare ahead oven meals

I try to use no meat more than twice so in a given week I might have 2 beef meals, 2 chicken meals, 1 fish meal and 2 pork or egg meals.

2. Focus On Core Recipes

As you find recipes your family enjoys, make them core recipes that get re-used every few weeks. Try to build up about 20 of these and you won’t ever be bored with your meals. Each week, use these core meals for 5 of your dinners and try something new for 2 dinners. If you get really motivated, build these 20 core meals for each season using seasonal produce and rotate with the seasons. This will also save money on produce.

3. Stretch Your Protein

Protein is typically the most expensive part of the meal so if you can use less expensive cuts of meat and stretch them, it might allow you to buy organic and grass-fed rather than conventional meats. This is another reason I love stir frys and casseroles- you can add more veggies and stretch the meat more than if you were just serving baked chicken. The slow cooker is also a great way to make tougher, cheaper cuts of meat more tender.

4. Mix it up with Spices

A basic easy recipe (like Chicken Squash Stir Fry or Pakistani Kima) can taste completely different just by changing the spices. Add some cumin and chili powder and you have a Mexican flavor, or some Curry for an Indian type flavor. Basil, Thyme, Oregano and Garlic give an Italian Flavor while Chinese 5 Spice gives an Asian Flair. I try to buy all my herbs in bulk since it saves money and I can batch cook and create my other DIY remedies that use them.

5. Travel the World In Your Kitchen

One of my dreams is to travel the world and try the different cuisines in each country. Since that isn’t possible right now, I try to create the same experience in my kitchen. With a little research and some healthy adjustments, you can create recipes from around the world. You might be surprised to find that your kids enjoy the flavors of Indian or Thai food or that you have a passion for French flavors.

6. Don’t Be A Short Order Cook

Want to raise a picky eater? Let your child eat whatever he/she wants and cater to his or her food preferences. Want to not raise a picky eater? Expose your children to healthy and diverse foods from a young age and don’t make any specific foods for them. My one year old gladly eats curries, cooked vegetables, liver and avocado because she’s never had crackers, toast, chicken nuggets or juice.

Not only is this more nutritious for kids, but it will really be a benefit to them in the long run. Don’t believe me? Check out the book Deep Nutrition.

We have two rules in our house:

  1. Kids are required to try one bite of everything cooked before they can have more of any one food (I only put one bite on their plate at first)
  2. If they are truly not hungry they are not required to eat BUT then can NOT complain about the food or interrupt the meal with a bad attitude.

Certainly, there are times when my kids are not happy with these rules or the foods they are served, but as with other areas of parenting, sometimes the best option for children is not always the one they enjoy most!

7. Eat Leftovers for Breakfast and Lunch

It can be tough to break the cereal and sandwich mindset but an easy, time-saving way to eat healthy is to make extra of foods and serve them again for breakfast and lunch. Most foods (except soups) can also be added to an omelet for breakfast or put with a salad for lunch. Cold meatza or barbecue actually makes a delicious breakfast or lunch.

Another easy trick is to make salads or store leftovers in mason jars (liquid ingredients at the bottom for salads, then meat/toppings, then lettuce) and store in the fridge. Then, the meal can be re-heated easily or dumped onto a plate to serve.

Sample Meal Plan

In order to help you get started, here’s a simple meal plan for you to try out over the next week.

Monday: Chicken Squash Stir Fry

Tuesday: Easy Coconut Shrimp

Wednesday: Pakistani Kima

Thursday: Chicken Carbonara

Friday: Chard Wrapped Salmon

Saturday: Steak and Sweet Pepper Salad

Sunday: Pork Chops and Baked Apples

An Easier Way to Meal Plan

Real Plans, a done-for-you meal planning service, can help take away the hassle of figuring out what to cook each day. You can plan your own meals each week by simply choosing my recipes, add your own, or choose from the hundreds of others that are included. You can automatically create a full meal plan and shopping list based on the recipes you choose and the number of people you are serving. You’ll also have the option to just print and use pre-planned meals. I highly recommend it!

Do you meal plan? What tips do you have that have helped you? Share below!

Meal planning makes a big difference in sticking to a healthy diet. These tips can help you and your family stick to it!

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