You come home from work, starving, staring at your fridge and get asked the infamous question – “What’s for Dinner?” Many people are starting to head back to work in the office, which means we are spending more time to travel back and forth to work, needing to plan and bring a lunch into the office and coming home later to make dinner. Meals can often be stressful and time-consuming to prepare when you don’t have a plan.
How would it feel to come home and throw a few ingredients together and get food on the table in 15-30 minutes? Planning out your meals for the week can save you time and headache. A well planned meal plan will get you and your family eating more home-cooked meals each week.
Download our one-week sample meal plan with grocery list and recipes to help you get started!
How to Meal Plan for the Week?
1. Plan out and write down your meals for the week
Planning out what you want to eat over the next 3-5 days is the first step to meal prepping.
Look up the recipes for the meals and save them in a folder on your phone / tablet/ computer or print them out and put them in a binder. Although some may find planning to be tedious, it is important as it will set you up for success! This step will allow you to create a grocery list based on the ingredients that you will need, and create an invaluable resource that you can refer back to time after time and create food combinations that you feel excited about cooking and eating! Don’t be afraid to take a look at what you already have in the house and try to work those foods into your meals. This will save you an extra trip to the grocery store and cuts down on any food waste that would have otherwise been tossed out or forgotten.
So – where do you start??
We’ve outlined a good rule of thumb when planning out your meals for the week:
- Choose 1 – 2 whole grains : Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, farro, barley, buckwheat noodles, whole wheat bread, tortilla – the list is endless and there are so many options to explore, if you’re up for a challenge! Whole grain is an easy way to boost the nutrient contents of your meal (ie. protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants and phytochemicals) and keep you fuller longer.
- Choose 2-3 protein options: It can be easy to get stuck on the protein category and resort to eating the same roasted chicken for 3 weeks in a row but try to explore different options each week to keep meals exciting – nutrition comes from having a variety of foods!
- Choose 3 – 4 fruits & vegetables: Does fruits and veggies always tend to go bad before you can eat it? Buy at least half of your produce (fruits and veggies) with a two-week shelf life : Veggies include Bell Peppers, Onion, Garlic, Celery, Asparagus, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Squash, Carrots, Beets, Canned Corn, Frozen Veggies. Fruits include Apples, Oranges, Pears, Grapes, Frozen Fruits, Canned Fruits in Juice, Dried Fruits.
Be sure to check out the fruit and veggie storage guide from Half Your Plate for tips to maximize the shelf life of your fresh produce and make use of your crisper drawer in the fridge for fresh fruits and vegetables (low humidity for fruits; high humidity for vegetables).
2. Prep your ingredients before putting them away !
There are a couple ways to prep your meals for the week; some prefer cooking all their meals in advance and others prefer simply preparing the ingredients beforehand to streamline the cooking process on the day of. Regardless of which side you’re on, prepping ingredients (washing, chopping, properly storing ingredients – mainly fresh fruits and veggies) can save you a ton of time.
Batch prepping your ingredients before putting them away from a grocery trip will not only save you time, but it’s also a great way to minimize dirty dishes and improve on efficiency. Having a small box of freshly cut cucumbers that is ready to snack on is a great option for those who prefer having all their snacks and meals prepared. For those who prefer cooking on the day of, having all the vegetables washed, cut, and ready to be thrown into the pot is easy and hassle-free as well. In both cases, healthy eating choices become easier because you’ve already done most of the work!
- Slice and chop carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and bell peppers
- Wash cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, cucumbers
- Wash and cut asparagus, zucchini
- Tear and wash lettuce leaves and wrap them in paper towels
- Wash and cut thick greens like kale or collard greens
- Peel garlic cloves and chop them in the food processor and freeze them in ice cube trays
- Grate ginger and freeze it in ice cube trays
- Combine spices ahead of time and store them in jars or prep bowls
3. Take advantage of the one-pan / one-pot meals
The main point of meal prepping is to reduce the amount of work required to make healthy food choices and the last thing you want is to prepare an array of foods only to have a massive mess in the kitchen to clean up! A strategy to avoid this mess is to cook food in large batches using similar cooking methods. For example, roasting sweet potatoes and pork chop on the same baking sheet at the same time in the oven to cut down on time and clean-up!
4. Portion out your leftovers
Once you finish cooking, take a couple extra minutes to portion out the extra food into Tupperware containers. By portioning out your food, you can visually see how much food you plan to eat and ensure each meal is balanced. Aim to follow the Canada Food Guide as a general rule of thumb by making half of your plate fruits &vegetables, a quarter of your plate grains, and the other quarter proteins. It’s also an easy way to make sure lunch is packed and ready to go regardless if you’re working from home or going into the office!
5. Designate a day each week to meal plan & meal prep
The prospect of meal prepping might seem daunting at first, but take it one step at a time! Designate a couple hours per week (e.g. Sunday afternoons or evenings) to plan your meals, grocery shop, and prep the ingredients. This way, meal prepping is a priority you have set and becomes part of your weekly routine. If meal prepping is new to you, start small and try to prepare 2 or 3 days of dinners for the next week to get comfortable with the process before undertaking a whole week’s worth of meals.
6. Take a break!
Plan to use up your leftovers and plan for a takeout night once every 1-2 weeks! You can also take advantage of meal prep kits once a month to give yourself that much needed break in order to keep things exciting and prevent burn-out, this also exposes you to new recipes if you feel like you’re getting stuck with your meal planning!
Meal prepping is a great strategy to prioritize nutritious meals and facilitate healthy eating choices. If healthy food is readily available, you are more likely to reach for it and incorporate it into your daily food choices! If you are new to meal prepping, remember to try it out for a couple days at a time first to get comfortable with the process. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or want to share your favorite meal prep recipe!
Connect with a BC dietitian nutritionist for your personalized meal plan today!