Streamline Your Weekday Meals with Simple Planning Strategies
As a young professional juggling a full-time job, a side hustle, and preparing for a postgraduate education, I understand how hard it can be to find time- and cost-effective ways to consistently eat healthy, well-balanced meals. I’ve admittedly spent WAY too much money on meal delivery apps to avoid cooking, and I have even resorted to replacing meals with snacks or skipping meals altogether. 😱
Whether you’re a busy parent, college student, or young professional, meal prepping is a great way to make sure you and your family stay healthy and well-fed on a budget. Getting started can feel daunting, but once you get into a routine that works for you, it’ll feel less overwhelming and more rewarding! Here are a few pointers that helped me create a meal plan and stick to it.
Think about your “why”.
Reflect on and internalize your reasons for meal prepping so that you’re more likely to stick to it. Changing lifestyle habits can be challenging, so be patient with yourself and trust the process. If it helps, write your “why” on a sticky note and put it where you’ll see it like your refrigerator door. Here are some of the benefits of meal prepping to help you think it through:
- The average cost per meal is SO much cheaper than eating out.
- Saves you time and energy by only having to cook 1-2 times a week.
- Reduces the psychological burden of having to figure out what you're going to eat right before each meal.
- Environmental benefits like waste reduction.
- Health benefits from more home cooked meals and healthier eating habits.
If you’re anything like me, having a busy schedule can hinder our ability to make healthy eating choices, especially when we have to make a snap decision before every meal (usually when we’re already pretty hungry and tired). Planning in advance is not only a healthy option but also helps save time and money.
Create a calendar but give yourself some wiggle room.
Write down your food and meals for the week in a place everyone in the household can see, but feel free to use it more as a reference of what’s available rather than a rigid plan that might leave you feeling boxed in. You can use a sheet of paper, a chalkboard, or purchase one from Amazon. Having themed days like “Vegetarian Thursdays” or “Spaghetti Sundays” can help you come up with a variety of meals to keep or fun and interesting! It’s generally good practice to reserve 80% of the plan for tried and true meals that everyone will eat, and then 20% for new recipes that could be a hit or miss. Check out Angela Braniff’s 5 Tips to Make Meal Planning Easy for some more helpful tips!
Store and prep foods properly and only buy what you need.
Produce can go bad really quickly if not properly stored, so keep them in mason jars and glass containers until you’re ready to use them to increase their shelf life. Depending on the type of produce you’re storing, do some research on the best ways to keep it fresh for as long as possible!
Create a grocery list and stick to it. If you tend to impulsively add things to your cart, try ordering online and picking up the groceries from the store instead. And if you can, avoid grocery shopping when you’re hungry (speaking from experience… haha).
Take advantage of your freezer!
Throw all of your crockpot or slow cooker ingredients into a large ziplock bag or container and pop it into the freezer for quick, “lazy” at-home meals that take almost no time or effort at all for the days where you just don’t feel like cooking. You can also make and freeze homemade chicken nuggets, casseroles, breakfast burritos, quiches, and LOADS of other recipes that freeze really well. Your freezer is your best friend, and is still a healthier option than eating out most of the time. Allow yourself a few meals a week from the freezer to maintain that balance.
Have one “Make Your Own Dinner Night” per week.
If you cook for your family, have a “make your own dinner night” once a week to give yourself a break. Your little ones might need some help making a sandwich or quesadilla, but this will also help get them used to being in the kitchen.
Set realistic expectations.
Until you get the hang of it, adjusting to any lifestyle change can be challenging so give yourself some grace. It’s completely normal to slip up and go back to old habits once in a while, and if you find yourself ordering in again - it’s okay! Eating out once in a while isn’t a bad thing, and you can always resume meal planning/prepping whenever you feel up for it again. Remember, meal prepping and at-home-cooking is meant to reduce stress, not create it! If you find meal prepping hard to stick to, try to find ways to make it more fun and enjoyable. Maybe cooking with a friend or your partner could be just the push you need!
Happy eating! Let us know if you have any ideas, tips, or questions for us by sending us a message on our socials or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sofia, from GoBe Team