Easy Meal Planning and Preparation

I love to share meal planning and preparation tips with all my clients. A few simple strategies help save both time and money. While this kind of organizing may not be your favorite thing, I want to emphasize that advance planning really is the key to saving time, stress, and calories as the need for quick “emergency” takeout or dining out meals will be greatly reduced. One of my favorite sayings is “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Essentially, it should save you time in the kitchen and make it easier for you to eat healthier during the week. I recommend starting with a few days, and then add every week. Some people do a weekly meal planning (usually my strategy), some manage to do even an entire month.

Don’t try all new recipes – stick to the “tried and true” recipes that you know are healthy, easy to prepare, and are family favorites. Then gradually add new recipes to your repertoire.

Here are some of my favorite ideas how to plan ahead and make your meals easier and faster and your life less stressful. I hope you will find some that apply to you.

  1. Have an outline of the week and plan a few days ahead (download an example here). You can do this on your computer, paper calendar, notebook.
  2. If you go with an outline, don’t feel obligated to have a new meal or recipe for every day of the month. Fill the days with favorite recipes your family likes, then slowly add more. If your family loves a specific healthy and beloved recipe, there is no problem with having it a few times a month, or even more often.
  3. Look at the calendar and plan for eating out, potlucks, the kids’ soccer or baseball schedule and plan ahead for times in the car. Prepare a healthy sandwich and cut up veggies/ fruits rather than doing fast food or snacks out of a bag.
  4. For some people, it works well to have a designated pasta day, a rice day, a casserole day, a soup and salad day, a slow cooker day, a pizza day etc. For example, if your Monday is a  pasta day, for every Monday you would find a new or beloved pasta recipe.
  5. Plan for pizza and movie or pizza and game night! Jamie Oliver has a great pizza dough recipe that works well for designing your own pizzas.
  6. Once a week, plan a leftover day! The leftovers can be rolled into a tortilla, together with salsa or guacamole, or topped on a salad with the sky being the limit. Empty the fridge and mix and match. It’s like raiding the refrigerator! Use tortillas, collard/ cabbage greens or seaweed (nori) to wrap up greens and leftovers. Spread with yummy sauce. This is a great idea for lunches the next day, too.
  7. Block off some time on the weekend (or any day) to plan the week, the shopping list, and to get started with some meals (preparation), to create a “food bank” in your fridge.
  8. The “food bank” can be a pasta sauce, a big container of rice, a couple of salad sauces, containers with cut up veggies and a favorite soup, all prepared in one session. I usually start a few meals on a Sunday afternoon or evening.
  9. Then use this food bank to do some “mix & match” like with clothes. The pasta sauce can go with pasta one day, the next day the leftover of that sauce can be the base of the soup. Or added to rice. Mix with different veggies or a salad and it is an entirely new meal.
  10. Plan some recipes before you hit the farmers market (I usually make my list before I hit my local farmers’ market in Saratoga, CA.)
  11. Always double up any recipe. It is the “double up method” – cook once, eat twice. For example, if you need rice for one dish, double it up and use the extra rice for fried rice the next day or a couple of days later. Always double up sauces, soups, casseroles, lasagnas and then freeze for days you won’t have time to cook, like on that busy soccer evening.
  12. Double batch of whatever you make – serve with a different veggie or salad and it looks like a new meal.
  13. Cook large batches of favorite pasta sauces or salad sauces or soups and then refrigerate and freeze. When you bake something like muffins, double up and freeze (great for lunch boxes and snacks).
  14. Prepare a couple of veggies that store well (roasted cabbage, roasted sweet potato etc).
  15. Do prep work ahead of time, like chopping of veggies in small pockets of free time. Cut up all the veggies for the stirfry at dinner already in the morning. Cut up onions, carrots, or peppers last a few days in the fridge. Spiralize zucchini. I often cut up all the veggies for dinner already in the morning and then have them ready when I get home.
  16. If you are not sure what to make for breakfasts, consider smoothies and overnight oatmeal. They can be made ahead and in large batches for the entire family. Here is my favorite overnight oatmeal recipe, compiled in a video.

Some extra ideas:

  1. Frozen veggies and fruit are always a good option as they are picked a their peak of ripeness and then flash frozen. This is a healthier choice than out of season produce that travels thousands of miles to your local store.
  2. If you use certain herbs a lot (we use a lot of cilantro!), consider planting them in your garden or in pots on your balcony.
  3. Find a routine that works for you.
  4. Stock up on good containers for your home and on the go. Try to avoid ziplock bags and single use containers as these multiply your home’s’ trash output.
  5. Involve the whole family. Kids can help (depending on their age) with tasks such as meal planning, chopping, measuring, and stirring. They can even have a designated day of the week that they are responsible for a meal for the family.
  6. Try out some kitchen tools and appliances that might save you time such as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, Instapot.
  7. Share with a friend! A couple of my friends and I love to bake different breads, so we double up our own baking which doesn’t require any additional time, then we share our loaves of bread!

What are your favorite meal planning and preparation tips? Please share! I would love to hear from you!