It’s still the first week of the new year, and I know many of you are just getting started on your journey to eating better through meal prep. I wanted to help you out with figuring out just how to create a meal plan and share some of my favorite meal planning resources in this post.
My Meal Prep Style & Routine
Before I dive into my tips for creating a meal plan, I should probably share a bit about my meal prep style first. I meal prep once a week for 5-6 days at a time and reheat those prepped meals throughout the week. I know this method doesn’t work for everyone because of family needs or your own preferences, and that’s okay. There are plenty of other meal prep resources out there to help you out if you prefer to only prep ingredients for the week or prep multiple times per week. Check out some other meal prep bloggers like Meal Plan Addict, Sweet Peas and Saffron, or Fed and Fit if that describes you. But if your meal prep goals and style align more with mine, let’s dive in!
I’ve been meal prepping my way for over a decade and through the years, I’ve learned the hard way that trying to do all things related to meal prep in one day gets exhausting quickly. So here’s how (and when) I do it to keep things manageable and save my sanity…
- Review your schedule for the week ahead (Wednesday or Thursday).
- Find recipe inspiration (all week, esp. Wednesday).
- Make a plan (Thursday).
- Build a grocery list (Thursday).
- Get groceries (Friday or Saturday).
- Prep and cook! (Saturday and/or Sunday)
Will this Method Work for Feeding a Family?
You won’t like this answer, but: it depends. I don’t have kids and most of the time I’m meal prepping for just 1 person, which is admittedly far less complicated than planning and prepping for a whole family with different food preferences and schedules. Although I’m no expert when it comes to meal planning for a family, I do think that most busy parents can use the basic steps listed below to help them with meal planning for the week.
Things will likely start to look diverge from my method when it comes to the meal plan itself. Here are a few strategies you could use when making your plan to help fit your family’s needs:
- Plan out dinners to cook each night for the family, and intentionally make enough leftovers to fill up your lunch schedule for the week.
- Do a “buffet style” meal prep. With this method, not only are you chopping up ingredients and creating sauces/dressings ahead of time, but you’re also cooking your proteins and ensuring you’ve got a good variety of ingredients to build multiple meals out of different combos of the same ingredients. This can be a good option if you have picky eaters. I’m planning to do a more in depth post on buffet style prepping soon, so keep an eye out for it!
- Plan and prep ahead just breakfast and lunches for the adults/big kids. Plan for and cook family dinner each night.
- Do an ingredient prep only. This is similar to buffet style prep, but you don’t actually do any cooking during prep time. This one is still super valuable since prep work is usually the most time consuming part of cooking a meal…washing and cutting veggies, measuring ingredients, mixing up sauces, reading the recipe several times to make sure you add things at the right time, etc. Most of this can be done in advance to save time throughout the week.
And don’t forget that like I mentioned above, there are plenty of meal prep bloggers out there on the interwebs who meal plan and prep for their own families that can help! Check out some of my favorites like Meal Plan Addict, Sweet Peas and Saffron, or Fed and Fit.
Will You Make a Meal Plan for Me?
I get this question a lot and wanted to clarify that I don’t offer meal planning (or prepping) services for other people. I still work a full time job outside of this blog and couldn’t possibly find the time to do this for others. That said, I share all of my own weekly meal plans and recipes for FREE – go check them out here!
Creating Your Own Custom Meal Plan
Review Your Schedule for the Week Ahead
First things first, check out your schedule so you know when you can block off some time to meal prep. Although it’s not my own personal style, many meal preppers actually do 2 meal preps each week – once on Sunday and once on Wednesday. Some people go all in on Monday night. Regardless of which strategy works for you, visualizing it paper can be really helpful when meal planning.
Besides knowing when you’ll be able to meal prep, taking a look at your schedule will help you figure out how many meals you’ll need to prep. For example, if you know you’ll be out at a restaurant for a birthday party on Thursday night, you won’t need to plan for that meal. Or maybe the your oldest has an away game on Tuesday and you need to have a grab-and-go meal planned for that night. Whatever the case, putting a little time and thought into this first step will help you avoid food waste and frustration.
Find Recipe Inspiration
Usually on Wednesdays or Thursdays, I’ll start thinking about what I’d like to include on my menu for the following week. Inspiration might strike while I’m scrolling Instagram or Pinterest, or maybe I’ll even come up with a new recipe idea after eating at a restaurant or seeing something yummy on Food Network. It can also be really helpful to look in my pantry and freezer to see what ingredients I already have on hand that I need to use up.
For me, this process is probably more time consuming than it is for most since I’m always brainstorming new recipe ideas to share here. That said, if things ever get too complicated or tiring, I always have easy, reliable recipes in the back of my head that I know I love. You can find most of them in my latest meal prep book, which is all about my meal prep essentials!
Make a Plan
Once I have an idea of what I want to eat for the week, I build out my meal plan so I can figure out what and how much to buy at the grocery store. For me, this part of meal planning is pretty much done once I have my recipe inspiration. Each week I generally make the same breakfasts for each day, plus 4 servings of 3 different lunch/dinner recipes. That equals 12 meals, which means that I still allow myself some flexibility to grab takeout or eat something other than prepped food. Check out a sample meal plan in one of my weekly meal prep posts.
Build a Grocery List
Once I’ve created my meal plan, I build my grocery list. I try to get this done on Thursday nights, but of course it doesn’t always happen. Be sure to check your pantry/fridge for items you already have on hand
I know some of you are old school and love to write your grocery list on a little notepad and cross things off, but I much prefer a more tech-y approach. I use an app called AnyList on my phone so I always have my list with me and can easily add items or share a live, up-to-date list with a shopping partner in the store. I’m sure there are literally hundreds of grocery list apps available out there, and any number that will fit your needs/wants!
I love getting groceries on Friday afternoons on my way home from work. For me, this helps maximize my free time on weekends and helps me avoid the weekend crowds at the grocery store. Sometimes I’ll do this first thing on a Saturday morning instead, but I love just getting it out of the way so that I don’t have to think about it the rest of the weekend.
Prep and Cook!
Put on some good music or your favorite podcast, supportive shoes, and get to cooking. Sometimes I’ll cut up veggies on Saturday morning to make cooking faster on Sunday, but it’s really not necessary. I know there are plenty of busy parents out there who just prep ingredients for the week so that cooking and cleanup go faster on weeknights. Just do what fits into your schedule!
Helpful Meal Planning Apps and Resources
Here are just a few resources you might find helpful as you get started with meal planning!
- Grocery lists – AnyList, Our Groceries, Shopping List Ease
- Recipe organizer, meal planner, shopping list generator – Paprika, PrePear, MealPrepPro
No Printer? No Problem
These pre-printed meal plan templates are a great option if you can’t print off my free meal planning template.