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Meal Planning 101: Getting Started

Published on: 08/09/2022

The words meal planning often conjure up images of tedious work to create an even more tedious meal plan that tells you exactly what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it. These images are filled with stress and distress. These images make me want to throw my hands in the air and not do any meal planning. With these images, it’s no wonder that people don’t like meal planning. 

These images are not meal planning. These images are the diet culture co-opted version of meal planning and this isn’t at all what I want for you and your meal planning life. So, let’s dive into what meal planning really is and how you get started on your journey to meal planning bliss!

What is meal planning?

Meal planning is simply a tool. 

It’s a tool to help you be prepared for the week ahead. There is some real value in being prepared for the week. This being prepared for the week doesn’t necessarily have to be in regards to food – it can be picking out your outfits for the week, it can be making sure that your calendar is ready to go, it can be making sure that you have a full tank of gas before the week starts – however, meal planning is an easy way to be prepared that will help you out more than once as you move through your days.

It’s a tool to help you be able to answer the “what’s for {dinner/lunch/breakfast}” question before it’s even asked. This is such a dreaded question. I know that I sometimes dread the question and I’m usually the one asking it! It doesn’t have to be a dreaded question and meal planning can help. Meal planning can give you the answer to this question and even better, meal planning can allow you to say back “would you like {insert awesome meal planned meal} or {insert other awesome meal planned meal}?”

It’s a tool to help you meet your intuitive eating and nutrition goals. It can help you meet these goals by giving you a way and a process to build the goals in. Let’s say that you have a goal to eat fewer lunches out because you want to save money. With meal planning, you can either plan for lunches that can be prepped and brought to work or you can plan for dinners that make leftovers that you can bring to work. Let’s look at another goal – you want to try one new food or meal each week. You can plan this by having “New Meal/Food Wednesdays (or any other day)” and then you can decide what new meal or food you want to try on that day.

If you shift your mindset to meal planning being a tool that can help you be prepared and help you reach your goals, how does that feel?

Getting Started

I hope that by thinking about meal planning as a tool, you can see how valuable meal planning really is but I fully understand that you may still have some reservations because those images that I mentioned in the beginning make meal planning seem like a lot of work. Let’s chat about some things that you can start doing today to get your meal planning process started and what you can do to make this process easy.

Tip #1 – Start meal planning by thinking about dinner. Let’s be honest, most people don’t need or want a ton of variety with breakfast and lunch is typically about whatever is convenient. But dinner typically needs more thought. Here are some things to consider and decide on in regards to dinner:

  • How many dinners do you want to cook and/or prepare each week? Think about the maximum number first. Realistically, most of us don’t want to cook and/or prepare 7 dinners each week. I typically recommend a maximum number of 4-5. Once you decide on your maximum number, you can decide how many dinners you’re going to cook and/or prepare each week.
  • How many dinners can you cook and/or prepare this week? Look at your schedule. What’s going on? Do you have events in the evening? How many days can you, realistically, cook and/or prepare this week.

Tip #2 – Pick your meals. This is often a place where decision paralysis sets in. There are SO many options. You can end up staring at Pinterest or google for hours if you don’t have a strategy. To come up with a meal picking strategy, think about the meals that you’ve been cooking lately. Do they come from a specific website or cookbook? If so, then your strategy may be to use recipes and ideas from that website/cookbook. Do you put together meals with whatever is on hand, awesome! Your strategy may be to pick up foods so that you can create. This means that you’ll want to think about what protein options, vegetable or fruit options, and carbohydrate options you need for the week.

Tips #3 – Make your list as you go. As you put your dinner ideas together, make your grocery list too. Write down every ingredient that you need. Even if you think you have it, write it down. When you have finished writing down the things you need for your dinner ideas, don’t forget to add other items that you might need; you wouldn’t want to forget the coffee!

Tip #4 – Grocery shopping! The first stop on your grocery shopping trip should be your own kitchen. Take your list into your kitchen and shop in your own pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. As you shop in your kitchen, mark things off on your list that you already have. Once you’ve finished in your kitchen, you’re ready to head to the grocery store or order your groceries online.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and picked up something to help you get started meal planning. Follow Friendly Nutrition on Instagram and Facebook for more meal planning thoughts and tips!

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About Jessica
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Jessica is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and trained FODMAP Coach. She started Friendly Nutrition to help you find balance, peace, and joy in eating, in your relationship with food, and in your relationship with your gut.

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