Meal Planning: What it is, Why, How it Works and Steps

Meal Planning: What it is, Why, How it Works and Simple Steps

You’ve heard the expression ‘a little planning goes a long way’. This is so true about meal planning.

The simple fact of knowing what to cook and have all the ingredients you need for cooking makes a huge difference.

Although meal planning has a lot of benefits just a few people take advantage, but this is mainly because the lack of practice more than anything else.

But what does meal planning really is and how does it work?

What is meal planning?

Meal planning is the series of steps you take to plan your meals, from knowing what to cook, shopping groceries and preparing meals so you can save time, money and eat healthier meals. You can plan for yourself or for your family, you can plan because you are going on a diet, because you want to save money or simply because you want to feel more organised.

But wait, isn’t that what I already do? You may ask, after all we all decide what to cook one way or another, we all shop groceries and we all prepare our meals. So what’s the difference?

The difference is that with meal planning you are doing all that in a organized fashion and once for a whole week or two instead of doing it on a daily basis or halfway doing it by not following a simple approach.

Why meal plan?

You may have an idea of the benefits of meal planning in helping you with food budget or saving time in meal preparation but the benefits of meal planning are more than just saving time and money.

Meal planning is really important whether you are planning for yourself or your family. On top of saving you money, time and reduce food waste, meal planning also helps you with food variety, decision fatigue, poor food choices not to mention it reduces stress because you will be better organized.

When you start meal planning, you have an objective that is personal and unique to your situation. But no doubt that main reason why to plan your meals is because of its practical benefits.

You can read more about the meal planning benefits and why it is important in these two articles:

Read more: why meal planning is important and the benefits of meal planning.

How does meal planning work?

Contrary to popular belief, meal planning is really simple.

It starts by setting aside time on a weekly basis to decide what to cook and organising from there all you are going to need during the week to cook your meals. For instance grocery shopping or preparing ingredients if needed.

That said meal planning works best when it is personalised to your needs, not when you follow one fit all type of approach.

As you can imagine meal planning for a single person is not the same as meal planning for a family.

Meal planning for a family requires more simplification and there are certain principles that can help you with that.

You can learn more about here:

Principles of meal planning for families.

But whether you are planning for yourself or your family meal planning follows the same general steps, which bring us to our next point: the simple steps of meal planning.

Meal planning simple steps

There are different approaches how you can go about meal planning but in general they can all be summarized in four basic simple steps.

Choose your meals

This meal planning step refers to choosing the recipes you want to cook, and it is perhaps the most important step in the planning. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the step where more people struggle with, hence the famous question, what to cook?

Pro tip: Whatever your objectives are, chose the meals that are aligned to them, for instance, if you need to save money chose meals where you will minimize food waste or if your objective is to save time chose meals that won’t take you more than 20 mins to prepare and cook, if you objective is to improve your cooking skills choose meals which preparation methods and ingredients are similar to the meals you already know how to cook.

Organise a grocery list

This meal planning step is where you will notice most of the efficiency of meal planning. Do not underestimate the time you take in shopping groceries while not knowing which ingredients to buy. A good meal plan should have a organized grocery list you rely on and even share with someone to help you with the grocery shopping.

The success of your meals depend on having all the ingredient in the right quantities, especially if it is a recipe you are trying for the first time or one you are not familiar with.

Prepare ingredients and cook meals

You can go two ways about preparing the ingredient and cooking the meals, you could either do this in advance or do it on the day.

It all depends what your preferences are, there is no right or wrong approach here, some people do meal preparation in advance because of their availability.

They prefer to spent time during the weekend perhaps when they have the time and chop the vegetables, marinade the meat and even cook some meals instead of doing all this on a day-to-day basis.

One of the meal planning steps is preparing ingredients and cooking meals

Do it again

Frequently planning is key, and it is where most people fail because they give up too early, they give up before seeing the benefits. It is hard to adopt a new routine and in general you will need few weeks to get used to it, but we guarantee you that if you stick to it, you will start noticing the benefits in as little as two weeks. So, plan frequently.

But juggling between what to cook, your food budget, your diet requirements, and your cooking skills can be overwhelming and that is why you could feel sometimes that meal planning is hard, but it does not have to be, in fact if you follow these essentials of meal planning to simplify the process and you will wonder why you couldn’t do it earlier.

Nevertheless, let see the common reasons why meal planning can be hard.

Why is meal planning so hard?

There is no luck of endless information and tips on how to cook, easy recipes, healthy meals, even how to plan meals. You might think that this amount of information make it easy for someone to apply in the real world. On the other hand, experience has taught us that all this information let us more confused and hopeless. We blindly follow a tip just to find out it does not work for us, or we try a new recipe because it look great in the photo just to come up with something we throw away.

The point is that not because there is more information you can put it in practice easily.

The reason? We all have a knowing-doing gap.

Now, things get really interesting when you try to do all that at once, that’s why we suggest starting small and with one objective at a time. If you are planning for a family, you can check this meal planning guidelines that we are sure will help you.

The truth is that meal planning is simple, you just need to start small, with a realistic goal in mind and following an approach that works for you, consider using a tool like an editable meal planner template to help you.

Here we’ve created one for you here: Free editable meal planner template.

What meal planning is not

We know meal planning is simple, for a start you have to have a simple goal and an approach that works for you and your family. This isn’t to say that there are cases where we may think we are planning our meals while by the contrary we are just making it more complicated that it should be.

Just in case you need to avoid this trap, let’s see what meal planning is not about:

You don’t need to be a chef to be successful at meal planning, the good news is that it is possible for all of us to adopt a simple meal planning approach.

And now that you know what meal planning is, are you ready to start?

2019Jun 1st