Meal planning is the act of asking the “what’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner” question once for the whole week instead of every day, and then shopping for and preparing the ingredients before cooking. Meal planning can also be defined as the act of planning what to make for meals and snacks and getting prepared by shopping for the necessary ingredients.
This planning is done effectively with the help of a meal planning template which categorizes between the meals being taken or planned and records and helps keep track of all of them for the user of it to be able to attain their objectives behind meal planning.
Planning and prepping for meals and snacks in advance helps you increase your chances of success, thus increasing the likelihood of a healthier and more nutritious food choice. Health and nutritional value aside, meal planning also helps you cut down on food wastage as it allows you to choose the correct number of meals to cook per day.
Meal planning is also a significant timesaving investment, as you no longer have to think about what should be on your daily menu. In the long run, it proves to be a cost-efficient, sustainable solution.
Advantages of Meal Planning
Meal planning with the help of a meal planning template is a good practice that, if done well, will have positive practical results and aspirational benefits to both you and your family. It is advantageous due to the following reasons:
Everyone can agree that saving as much money as possible is something that everyone tries to do, and meal planning is the best way to achieve this goal. While it helps avoid spending money at restaurants, meal planning also involves buying ingredients and items in bulk, which is a great money saver.
Time-saving is usually a result of being organized and efficient at time-consuming activities, such as searching for recipes, creating grocery lists, or reducing the number of times one visits the supermarket or grocery store. Planning meals and snacks is a great way that can help you save time during the week or when you have a tight schedule.
Healthier meals and snacks
A realistic meal plan allows you to think about what you like to eat and how your food choice is likely to nourish your body. With an effective meal plan, you can also monitor how you eat overall, rather than one meal at a time. This gives you a better sense of understanding whether you are meeting your overall healthy eating goals or not.
Planning meals in advance help you to manage food portions, meaning that you will be less likely to overeat or under-eat. This allows you to meet your lifestyle goals quickly.
Reduced food wastage
A proper laid-out meal plan allows you to plan your ingredients list based on the need. This means that you know how to use all the items purchased; hence no ingredients will be wasted. In addition, when each food has a purpose, there is a zero percent chance of other items in the refrigerator to go waste.
More food variety
Meal planning is always associated with a wide variety of food choices. By prepping meals ahead of time, you can include a range of healthy meals in the menu necessary for a well-balanced diet, such as fruits and vegetables. This reduces the chances of eating the same type of food, which may increase the risks of getting chronic health diseases.
Experimenting with new recipes
Since new recipes will take up more time in preparation and cooking, a meal plan can help one make the best out of their time, in that it will ensure one chooses the right time of the week when they have all the ingredients required to try the new recipe at home.
Improved cooking skills
Because meal planning allows one to include different varieties of food on their menu, it is easier for one to progressively learn how to cook different kinds of meals-from vegetables, cereals, meat, stir-fries, etc. for their families using a familiar cooking technique.
Meal planning is also crucial as it enables you to share the household chores. The mere act of creating a meal plan does not mean that you must do everything for yourself. Instead, it means that you can assign other duties such as grocery shopping, prepping the required ingredients for cooking a meal to your family members. The only vital thing to do is to make sure you inform them about their duties.
Being hungry and not knowing what to cook, or worse, not having the ingredients to prepare even a simple meal, is very stressful. For this reason, most people prefer to plan their meals such that they get things organized in the kitchen and avoid the stress that comes from not being prepared and the decision fatigue of coming up with new and healthy recipes every day.
Whether you are a skilled cook or a new cook, you need help, and meal planning can be a great helping tool. This is because it helps you progressively learn the entire meal preparation process involving discovering and planning new meals, organizing grocery lists, managing your food budget, perfecting choosing ingredients, and balancing food for you and your family.
Helps with aspirational diet
An aspirational diet is a unique eating plan recommended for people living with dysphagia, who often have trouble swallowing some foods. When individuals suffer from this condition, they are at risk for aspiration, meaning that food particles or liquid can enter their lungs by accident-causing pneumonia, among other medical complications. Health care providers usually recommend an aspirational diet for such kinds of patients, meaning that the person must follow a strict diet based on the severity of the condition. With a meal plan, you can strike a balance between finding common ingredients and cooking healthy meals for your family while still following the aspirational diet plan.
Steps of Meal Planning
Meal planning might seem like a structured, time-consuming, and daunting task, but the reality is far from that. The whole process of planning meals and snacks ahead of time can be approached using three key steps – selecting meals and their recipes, shopping for the required ingredients, and finally preparing those ingredients. Whereas these steps might seem obvious, there is a critical strategy within each of them that must be followed to make meal planning successful.
If you are a beginner, consult the following detailed guide to ensure that you approach meal planning with precision:
- Choose a suitable meal planning template to record meals and snacks. You can create one from scratch using printable excel spreadsheets on the computer, use a recipe binder or index, use an erasable board in the kitchen, or download a preferred meal planning template from this website.
- Consider your weekly schedule and decide what days need elementary meal solutions.
- Choose your recipes carefully. This is the critical step of meal planning as it sets the whole process in motion. To avoid premature failure in this step, consider the following tips on how to pick recipes wisely:
- Decide how many meals to plan for the week and the required ingredients.
- Find out where to get those recipes- are they available in the fridge, pantry, or do you need to go shopping?
- Choose recipes that you are already familiar with, or the ones you know are your family’s favorites and one new recipe.
- Select recipes based on common ingredients to avoid food waste.
- Finally, make sure that the meal plan includes foods you and your family need to eat.
- Create a grocery shopping list of the required menu ingredients.
Next, consider the ingredients that you need to make all your selected recipes. Approach this using a two-step process that is, making an ingredient followed by a grocery list. Once the grocery list is ready, visit the grocery store and strictly purchase items listed on the grocery list. Take some time to prepare recipes. Taking some time to prepare recipes helps to reduce the dreaded cooking fatigue and stress during the week. Keep in mind that the time and efforts you will need to put in depend on the types of recipes you have planned for the week.
Tip: To make a more innovative ingredient list, go through each recipe on the meal plan and list all the ingredients required. Afterward, countercheck the pantry or fridge and cross off anything already available.
- Take some time to prepare recipes. Taking some time to prepare recipes helps to reduce the dreaded cooking fatigue and stress during the week. Keep in mind that the time and efforts you will need to put in depend on the types of recipes you have planned for the week.
- Fill out the meal plan, indicating a recipe source and the time needed to cook the meals.
- Post the final menu plan on your fridge, kitchen, or a schedule book accessible to everyone in the house.
- Refer to the menu plan daily and follow it to the latter while ensuring that food is defrosted from the freezer at the right time.
- Ensure continuity
Once you are fully adopted to meal planning, you will realize that it is much easier to perfect the skill, and continuity ensures this. Review your meal plan weekly to find out where you need to improve. This way, you will be able to customize the whole practice to fit your family’s unique needs.
A meal planning template is a computerized food diary that can help you plan your meals, usually over 7 days. The meal planning template’s key objective is to ensure an improved quality of food consumption within the household, and it is usually achieved by looking at 6 principles. These principles include adequacy, balance, energy control, nutrient density, moderation, and variety.
Meal planning templates can be downloaded from the internet, personalized accordingly, and printed out for use. When done correctly, a meal planning template can make it convenient for you to identify what nutrition your body is missing while pointing out the key foods you need to remain healthy. It can also help you save much time and help keep your meal preparation simple.
Following are some free meal planning templates to help you;
Meal Planning Tips
To be better at meal planning, consider these expert tips:
- Set a realistic meal plan with the help of meal planning template and be considerate of time and the daily schedule. On your busier days, choose simple meals that you are familiar with or those that need shorter preparation and cooking periods.
- Consider including foods and snacks that are an all-time favorite for the family in the meal plan to increases chances of success and family mealtime happiness.
- Decide which meals and snacks to plan for and progressively add more meals when ready. For example, if one is a beginner, they can start planning for dinners only during the workweek or plan full-day meals for only 2-3 days a week.
Meal planning is an essential kitchen helping tool that should be adopted in every household. From improving health, enjoying better food choices and variety, reducing mealtime stress and decision fatigue, and helping in adhering to strict diet plans while saving money and time, everyone enjoys organization and preparation should prioritize meal planning.