most efficient way to plan meals

The Most Efficient Way to Plan Meals

I know we don’t want to think about it (or maybe we do!), but the next school year is right around the corner and with it, the schedule tends to clutter up very quickly when that happens.  I know one of the biggest stressors in our household is mealtime.  Do I need to cook?  What do I have available at home?  What do I want to cook?  Do I have to stop at the store on my way home? Enter meal planning!  I’m here to offer so many tips and tricks about the most efficient way to plan meals.  Save yourself stress, time, and yes even money!

most efficient way to plan mealsHow to Plan Your Weekly Meals

Planning for a weekly meal can prove to be a bit of a challenge, but let’s take a look at the most efficient ways to plan meals. Our schedules make it difficult to prepare a home-cooked meal on a regular basis. However, the benefits of a weakly meal far outweigh the minor inconveniences.

Foods prepared at home can prove to be much healthier compared to fast food. A lot of foods that are packaged in a box or a can are saturated with sodium, sugar, and the bad kind of fats. Foods in a box generally lack the vitamins that are essential to our bodies.

Basics of Balancing Nutrition in Your Meals

When you are working on efficiently planning your meals, you want each meal to have a good balance of nutrients. This means including enough carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. Depending on the diet you follow or dietary restrictions, it might include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy, and many other options. It is good to aim for a colorful plate, as that ensures you are getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

Cooking Methods

Experiment with different cooking methods. The temperature that you choose to cook can change the chemistry of the food. For example, cooking a tomato can increase its concentration of folate and antioxidants.

Changing up how you cook can also help with the meal prep process. For example, you can have multiple appliances going at once to cook different parts of your meals, such as potatoes in the air fryer, chicken breasts in the pressure cooker, and chili in the slow cooker. This frees up your oven and stove for other things, or you can skip the oven altogether and avoid getting your house too hot from all the cooking.

Start With Family Favorites

When you start working on what meals to prepare or even prep for the week, start with some favorites you know your family enjoys. You already know the ingredients and cooking process, so this is going to make it easy. It also ensures you have at least a few meals that you don’t have to think too much about.

Use Current Ingredients

Don’t buy all new ingredients! Meal planning is easier and more cost effective when you can work from what you already have, whether that is herbs or seasonings, meat in the freezer, or milk and butter in the fridge. You can even use some leftovers for different types of meals.

meal plan on a budgetHow to Meal Plan on a Budget

Do you find that your attempts to follow a healthy diet carve into your food budget? If so, it’s never too late to change your habits. Read on to learn how planning your meals in advance can actually help you save money on food. I mean, we don’t want just the most efficient way to plan meals, we also want the budget-friendly way too!

How to Stock Your Kitchen

Seasoned grocery shoppers will know that buying in bulk is always less expensive than purchasing smaller quantities. When you’re deciding which meals to prepare for the week, consider recipes that call for versatile ingredients, such as rice, beans, or pasta. Then attempt to incorporate these into as many meals as possible.

Also know that a well-stocked pantry is one of the greatest money-saving gifts you can give yourself. When you keep a multitude of spices, salts, condiments, and other cooking staples on hand, you won’t be starting from scratch for every meal. This will make it easier for you to choose recipes based on what you have available.

Tips for Staying Under Budget

  • Make a list and stick to it: Since you already know what you’ll be making, there’s no need to fill up the cart with superfluous items. Buy only what you need for the weekly menu. This requires having a grocery list each and every time you head to the store.
  • Take stock: Chances are, you already have the building blocks for a meal or two right in your fridge or freezer without realizing it. Before you go shopping, do a quick inventory of what you have on hand. Try to incorporate any ingredients that are either nearing their expiration date, or have been hanging around in the freezer for longer than a few months.
  • Keep it simple: There’s no need to go gourmet for every meal. A savory roast chicken accompanied by steamed veggies makes a perfectly appealing dinner, and you can use any leftovers to top a salad or two later in the week.

Once you’ve gotten into the habit of planning and prepping your week’s meals in advance, you’ll find it easy to stick to the schedule—and your budget.

leftovers when meal planningDealing with Leftovers While Meal Planning

There isn’t enough love for leftovers. People often waste a lot of food simply because they keep leftovers in the fridge, and never touch them. Instead of just scraping them into the trash bin, you should utilize those leftovers for your meal planning! There’s a very happy relationship between leftovers and meal planning. Leftovers definitely help out when you’re looking for the most efficient way to plan your meals.

Make Leftovers Your Meals

If you typically use a single day of the week to do the bulk of your cooking, then you should make that meal large enough for leftovers. Something like a casserole can easily feed a family of four and then some throughout the week. It makes for a great quick-grab breakfast that you don’t have to worry about cooking. Another example might be a steak that you cook and still have plenty of meat leftover. You can continue to eat that meat throughout the week. You can even utilize portions to ensure that you’re not overdoing it on how much protein and fat you consume.

Repurposing Leftovers

Let’s say you cook something in bulk on Sunday and you’re left with a lot of leftovers. However, you’re not the type of person who can eat the same kind of meal every day. You don’t have to toss out your leftovers either. Instead, repurpose them into a new meal for your meal planning. Let’s take the example of steak again.

Sure, you could just warm up the steak and use it as a meal. Or you could cut it up a bit more and make a steak burger out of it. Throw those pieces of meat between two buns and load it up with all of the extras that you desire. This is a chance to become a little creative in the kitchen. It will not only ensure you have a lot less cooking to do overall but you’ll also never get tired of your brand-new meal.

Cook Large Meals to Make Leftovers

Finally, you need to know what kind of meals are actually the best at creating leftovers. Sometimes you just need a really good pizza to get through the week. Why not make a veggie supreme pizza? Veggie-packed and large, it can easily feed you throughout the entire week.

Use your leftovers to your full advantage, even if that means purposely cooking in bulk so you can plan several meals from one type of recipe.

meal prep and planning ideasMost Efficient Ways to Prep Meals Ahead of Time

Meal planning is essential if you plan to change your diet and focus on more healthy eating options. Without a meal plan, it is easy to make a quick stop at a drive-by or order in food because nothing in the house is defrosted. The most efficient ways to plan meals will help you avoid this and lead a healthy and happy lifestyle. Meal planning allows you to become more organized with your food options and spend less time thinking about what to eat. It also ensures no food is wasted in your household and you save a lot of money eating real food as opposed to buying fast foods.

Meal planning is not stressful if you have a system in place. When making a meal plan, stick to weekly meals instead of longer periods to switch up your diet. If you make meal preps for longer periods, you can quickly get bored with the food forcing you to eat out. Prepping is the most vital part of meal planning. Prepping ensures you have everything in place in your fridge and all that is left to do is warm up the food.  

Meal Prep

The first tip to meal prep is keeping it simple. This can be done by picking one meal to eat throughout the week. This makes prepping easier and makes you feel less stressed for the week. For instance, for lunch, you can decide to eat rice and chicken for the week. Prep the chicken and rice that will last the whole week.

The second trick is to pre-cook your meals. Pre-cooking saves a lot of time for you during the week because you only have to warm the food when it is your meal time. For instance, cook a huge batch of rice or quinoa and store it in the fridge in portions.

Additionally, you can pre-cut all your vegetables and store them in airtight bags or containers for cooking. It is much easier to make one huge mess in the kitchen instead of several huge messes throughout the week. Therefore, cut all the vegetables you have from the market.

Lastly, always have your healthy snacks prepared for the week. This ensures you have something healthy to munch on in between meals or in the morning as you rush to work or school.

prepping a month of mealsPlanning Your Meals a Month Ahead of Time

Meal planning is a great tool for almost anyone. Whether you’re a busy parent who needs to know ahead of time what’s for dinner, or a single person living a busy life full of meetings and time with friends, meal planning can help you lead the healthy lifestyle you’ve always meant to.

By planning out every dinner, possibly even lunch and breakfast if your personality is super organized, you take the stress out of cooking. You can put the menu on your fridge and rest easy knowing that you won’t have to spend your commute wondering what you’re going to whip up, when in reality, you’re already so hungry you’ll eat the first thing you see in your fridge.

Reasons to Meal Plan a Month in Advance

Meal planning can seem daunting at first, especially if you’ve never done it before. Sitting in front of a blank menu can be hard if you’re used to rummaging in your fridge until you find something that looks good every night. Filling in a week’s worth of meals can be tough, let alone a month. Tough as it may be, however, there are distinct advantages to meal planning a month in advance.

  1. By planning in advance, you’ll be able to slash your grocery bills, possibly in half. Stores want you to buy more than what’s on your list. They place tantalizing items on display that are hard to resist. The less often you’re at the store, the better. By planning a month in advance, you only need to do a large shopping trip once a month.  You can stop at a small store every week to restock on produce and milk. Plus, you’ll save more because you’ll be able to buy in bulk.
  2. It’s not as hard as you think. By setting up a meal rotation, you can easily set up a month of meals. This will save tons of time, leaving you free to cook and enjoy your meals.
  3. Meal planning can help make being healthy easier. Not only will it help relieve stress, it will let you plan your meals exactly, down to their macros. If you’re following a certain diet, meal planning is the only realistic way to stick with it. By planning far in advance, you’ll lower costs, be able to shop in bulk, and will save time. In a world that never stops running, it can feel refreshing to have a little time to rest.

Tips for Meal Planning a Month at a Time

In most respects, planning out your meals a month ahead of time, is the same as a weekly meal plan. There are just a few things to consider.  

  1. When and where to grocery shop. Just because you are planning a months’ worth of meals, doesn’t mean you are prepping and coking them all at the beginning of the month. You may want to split this up into weekly or bi-weekly grocery trips so your food doesn’t spoil.
  2. Whether or not to prepare them ahead of time. This is a really important decision to make, and one that will determine what types of meals you make. If you like freezer meals, you can definitely make more of them at once, as opposed to salads you put in jars, which won’t last nearly as long.
  3. Factoring in changes to your schedule. You probably know what is going on in the next week, but in the next month? Maybe not. This is why it’s good to have backup ideas for at least a few days out of the month when things may not go exactly according to plan.

meal planning for people who hate to cookThe Most Efficient Way to Plan Meals for People Who Hate to Cook

Not a big fan of cooking? Don’t worry – you’re not alone! Many people want to bring lunch to work or prep meals ahead of time, but struggle with the actual cooking part of it. Luckily, there are some options available, from more convenient methods of cooking, to choosing items that require absolutely no cooking or baking at all. Here are some tips for meal planning when you don’t want to cook much, or just don’t have time for it.

Utilize Different Appliances

If you aren’t interested in cooking elaborate meals, you don’t have to. In fact, you never have to turn on your stove or oven just to meal prep. But if you can turn on an appliance and just let it do its job, there are some options available to you.

  • Pressure Cooker – A pressure cooker is a type of appliance you plug in and cook foods with water and steam, as opposed to fire or an electric grill. It cooks foods in a different way, but there are many things you can do with it. You can cook chicken breasts or other types of meat, vegetables, pasta, baked potatoes, even hard boiled eggs.
  • Slow Cooker – The ultimate “set it and forget it” appliance is the slow cooker. This is great for people who don’t like to cook, since you just dump everything in and turn it on. A few hours later, your food is done.
  • Air Fryer – This is one of the newest and most popular cooking appliances around. It will cost you about $100 for a decent brand, but you get so much out of it. The air fryer is a way to cook food that is crispy and tastes fried, without actually being fried. No oil has to be used, and it cooks everything very quickly. You can make “fried” chicken in as little as 8-10 minutes, without ever turning on the stove.

Non-Cook Lunch and Dinner Options

If you want lunches and dinners that require absolutely no cooking at all, but don’t mind very minor prep work, here are some ideas:

  • Salads – Salads are healthy, pack a lot of vitamins and minerals, also something you can make without cooking anything. Want chicken on your salad, but don’t want to cook it? Just get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and shred it up. Doesn’t get easier than that!
  • Sandwiches – This might sound boring, but there are many ways to make sandwiches. You can use bread, rolls, tortillas for wraps, and so many other items for a sandwich. It is all customizable, from the protein to the veggies, and you don’t need to turn on the stove or oven if you don’t want to.
  • Pasta or rice in a cup – Yes, these require a microwave, but that’s it I promise! These handy little cups usually don’t even require water, though some do so read the instructions.

getting bored with meal preppingHow to Avoid Getting Bored with Your Meals

Understandably, when you eat the same thing over and over through the week, your taste buds might start to become bored. Meal prep can be a great way to save money on groceries and ensure that you’re eating healthy. However, when you start to lose interest in your meals, you can become burned out. When that occurs, you’re not likely to keep sticking with the lifestyle. Since meal prep and planning can be such a great aspect to your life, you want to do everything that you can to stave off your boredom. This article will offer tips on how to stay interested in your meals throughout the week, even with all of these efficient ways to plan meals.

Add in Color

Sometimes all you need is a fresh dose of color to resume interest in eating your meals. After all, humans typically eat with their eyes first. Try cooking with many different colored vegetables and fruits. Then place those different colors throughout the week. For example, focus your first two meals on greens. Then, around the middle mark, perhaps fresh it up with some reds or purples. Utilize color to make your meal’s appearance fresh and exciting.

Make Backups

Perhaps you cooked a lasagna on the weekend. Most of the leftovers are gone so you don’t really have anything for the week. However, that doesn’t mean that the last portion should just go to waste. Instead, you make a backup meal out of it. Place the lasagna in the freezer. If at any point during your week you’re sick and tired of your current meals, then you have your backup meal–in this case, lasagna–to break up the monotony of your week.

Try Something New Each Week

For those who become bored quickly, you should try out a new recipe each week. This is a great way to further enhance your creativity in the kitchen. It can also keep your taste buds alive and excited. The more recipes that you have, the greater the variety of your meal plans.

Add Sauces

A quick and dirty way to make a meal more exciting is to add a different sauce to it. You can have the same meal every day but it can taste completely different each time depending upon what kind of sauce you use. When in doubt, make a new sauce and include it into your meals.  

kitchen appliances to plan mealsThe Best Kitchen Appliances for Meal Planning

Meal prep and planning is a great way to have meals prepared ahead of time, know exactly what you are eating each day of the week, and prepare for the busy days when you might not have time to go to the store or cook something from scratch after work.

While none of these are required, these handy tools and appliances really make the meal prep and planning process go much smoother.

Food Processor

If you plan to do a lot of chopping and dicing to prep your meals, particularly with lots of veggies, you need a food processor! This is going to save you so much time. The little extra time and energy it requires to wash this is nothing compared to dicing piles of veggies. Throw them in, turn it on, and voila!


You are probably no stranger to using a blender, but it has many uses aside from just making smoothies and margaritas. Some foods can also be cut up with a blender if you don’t have a food processor, or you need another appliance to run at the same time if you have some help in the kitchen on meal prep day. Think about what it can chop up for your smoothies, and it gives you a good idea of what this thing can do for other meal prep purposes.

Air Fryer and Pressure Cooker

Get one or both, and you will have some help in the kitchen for meal prep. They each work in different ways, and for different purposes. The pressure cooker uses water and air to cook foods, while the air fryer works by circulating air, often helped by putting a very small amount of oil on the food.

Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are still used frequently, and really help a lot when you are meal prepping. If you want to cook meals ahead of time, you can throw the ingredients in a slow cooker, turn it on, and let it cook while you prep other meals.

printable meal plannerUsing Printables for the Most Efficient Way to Plan Meals

Meal planning is one of the most important components of a healthy diet. Many people are too busy to prepare multiple healthy meals during the day. Instead of resorting to junk food or other quicker options, it’s beneficial to have meals prepared and planned beforehand. This allows people to have greater control over their diet. Although meal planning can have great results, this strategy takes some organization and preparation. Printables are a great way to simplify this process.

How are printables related to meal planning?

Meal planning is no different than any form of preparation. You’ll need some way to organize and remember the information that will be used to prepare meals in the future. Printables are a great way to organize this information in a digestible and easy-to-read format. Many printables will be divided into seven different sections denoting each day of the week. There may be divisions below these individual sections for each meal to be prepared that day. In addition to these categories, there may be a section for a grocery list or calorie counter.

Where can you find meal planning printables?

Websites focusing on health and fitness are the best places to find meal planning printables. These popular sites will usually have some templates that can be downloaded for free. Some templates can even be filled out online and then printed after completion. There are also some design websites that allow users to design their own printable for free. When designing your own printable, you can customize the format to fit your unique fitness goals and needs.

Here’s just a few beautiful ones that I’ve seen on Etsy (affiliate links):

How should you print and organize your templates?

Once you’ve found a printable to use with your meal planning, it’s time to print the template. Although you can use normal paper without any problems, it is advisable to print these meal planning templates on nicer paper that will last longer. If you’re interested in reusing a template week after week, you can place the printable in a protective sleeve or laminated shield. You’ll have a protected template, and you can write on top with an erasable marker.

How can you use your printables effectively?

Using a meal planning template effectively is as simple as remaining consistent and determined. You should start each week by writing down your intended meals for each day. If you have to purchase items from the grocery store, add these products to the grocery list section.

meal prep containersGuide to Using Meal Prep Containers

Whether you’re interested in dieting or just want to encourage yourself to eat healthier, your biggest tool is going to be meal planning. By having your week’s meals ready to go, you can cut down on the urge to choose convenient foods that aren’t always the best for you.   Meal planning is also an easy method of ensuring that you’re receiving all of the protein, vitamins, and nutrients that your body requires in a day. Choosing your meals is only half of meal planning. The other half is storage. Which containers are perfect for meal planning? That all depends on your needs. This article will discuss a few tips on how to choose the correct container for your meal planning.

Quality Matters

The first thing to remember, especially with meal containers you are bring with you to work or other places outside the home, is to choose the highest quality possible. This is going to help them last and keep your food as fresh as possible. Look for containers that come with airtight, leak-proof lids. These might be plastic or glass containers, depending on your budget and personal preference. Of course you don’t want it to leak, but being airtight will keep your food fresh, whether it is left out on the counter or your desk, or you are storing it in the fridge.

Glass Containers

There are a lot of benefits to using glass containers. They’re easier to clean, their lids are typically snug, and you can microwave them. For those who want to make their meal-times even more convenient, then you need to pick up a few glass containers. You’ll never have to worry about plastic melting in the microwave again. Or wondering what potential toxic materials are entering your food via the microwave. They can often be healthier for you and long-lasting, though expect to pay a little more for the glass containers. Many people don’t feel comfortable with glass while on-the-go, but again, it is completely a personal preference.

Portion-Focused Containers

One of the best tips for using containers to prep and plan your meals, is to use those with portions already included. These contain different compartments, making it easy to separate different parts of your meals, and has the bonus of portion control at the same time. Here are some benefits of compartment containers:

  • Everything is portioned out, which is handy for dieting.
  • It makes it easy to balance your meals in each compartment.
  • You keep your food from mixing together when you don’t want it to.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some meal planning tips and tricks for more productive meal planning?

Meal planning is an excellent strategy to use when trying to improve your food choices. During a busy day, it can be difficult to carve out enough time to prepare a healthy meal. The idea of having to prepare three meals each day can seem daunting and impossible. With the right meal planning strategy and the most efficient ways to plan your meals, you can kiss all of that stress and anxiety goodbye.   By cooking and prepping your meals for the week, you eliminate many of the worries that revolve around eating healthy during the day. In order to help you achieve your health goals, here are some tips and tricks for a more efficient meal planning strategy.

  1. Start with Your Favorite Meals: Many people make the mistake of trying to cook something new every day. How exhausting! And expensive! When you’re focusing on getting healthier, the nutrients within the meal are much more important than the appearance or taste of the dish. Instead of focusing on creating something that would make Betty Crocker happy, you should stick with your favorite meals. Sticking with simple meals will make the preparation process much quicker and easier. You can always swap out a recipe or two with each passing week. It’s important to always focus on the nutrients rather than the taste.
  2. Use Leftovers as Much as You Can: Not every meal needs to be cooked from scratch. In fact, it’s a waste of valuable time to cook each meal from the very beginning. Instead, you should take a look in the refrigerator to see what’s available. Using items already in the fridge will accomplish a few goals. First and foremost, you’ll save a lot of time that would have been spent cooking or baking from scratch. Secondly, you won’t end up having a fridge full of random food items. Tomorrow’s meals should start from the leftovers you have laying around.
  3. Have Some Essential Ingredients: Meal planning isn’t about cooking something tasty and creating a nice presentation. You can save all that effort for your next date with the in-laws. During meal prep, you should only focus on getting your required calories and macronutrients for the week. At times, this will require you to stomach some less-than-satisfying combinations of grains, vegetables, and grains. It’s always a good idea to have some essential ingredients that can make these hardy meals more palatable. Peanut, barbecue, and Tabasco sauce are a few great options that can turn any meal into a tasty treat. To make your meal planning more efficient, having the basics on hand can go a long way.

What are some easy prep and meal planning ideas?

Perhaps you’ve decided to try out meal planning. You’ll likely find that it can be an effective method for ensuring that everyone in your home receives a healthy meal with little effort. For those who are busy or just plain exhausted after a day’s worth of work, then meal planning can completely change your life. Before you can start planning your meals, however, you need to have a few recipe ideas. To help ensure you get started the right way, here a few general recipe tips to keep in mind.

Store Recipes Somewhere Easily Accessible

Let’s be honest, we’re all lazy people. Some of us can become burned out on an idea at even the smallest hint of extra effort. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Work is difficult and exhausting. Add adult responsibilities on top of that and it’s no wonder you’re looking for minimal work. To ensure that your meal planning is successful, you need to store your recipes in an easily accessible place. More than that, they need to stay organized.

No one wants to spend a few minutes flipping through a book trying to find the right recipe. Organization is going to be your best friend in this regard. You may want to consider storing your recipes on a handle of one of your cupboards. Or just have it in the top drawer next to your cooking instruments.

Have a General Consensus of Everyone’s Tastes

One of the worst things that you can do is cook a meal large enough to have leftovers that carry you through the week only to find that no one likes it. That’s time, money, and effort wasted. Before you start looking or creating a recipe, you should speak to your family about what they like to eat and what they don’t like to eat. Be sure to include yourself in this interview, too. Once you have a taste collection, you can then start to look for and create recipes according to those tastes.

Stick with Themes

Another recipe idea is to stick with a theme for certain days. For example, Tuesdays can be taco night or soup night. This can make creating recipes easy. It also allows your week to be broken up just enough to ensure that you don’t get bored with the same meal.

Can you give me some ideas for a meal prep grocery list for beginners? That sounds like one of the most efficient ways to plan my meals!

Meal planning is all about convenience – it allows you to plan a week or more of meals ahead of time, often prepping them beforehand. It lets you see exactly what you will be eating each day of the week without worrying about it or wondering if you have the right ingredients, and also makes it easier to ensure your family has balanced meals.

Here are some tips for meal planning, especially when it comes to the details, like planning out your grocery list.

  • Take inventory first: Any meal planner knows that this is the first step. You need to know what you already have for a few different reasons. First of all, many leftovers can be used for different dishes, so you don’t have to waste them. It is also a good idea to take stock so you can really find the most efficient way to plan meals based around certain ingredients you have. And lastly, it keeps you from adding an item to your grocery list that you already have.
  • Start with the simplest meals first: You may only plan your dinners, or every meal of the day for each member of the family. To simplify this process, just start with the simplest meals on your list. For many people, this is breakfast. If you know you want to make an omelet every day for breakfast, you can write down the ingredients you need, and be done with that portion of the meal planning.
    • Make sure you not only write the meals you need for each one you are planning, but also the ingredients, and the amount of ingredients. Having more than one chicken dish? Look at the amount you need for each and get a good total of how much chicken o pick up if you have run out completely. This is going to prevent multiple trips to the store in the middle of the week.
  • Work on your grocery list: This one is completely up to you, but it does help to organize your list. You know what order you go in the grocery store, whether you start in produce or do the deli and bakery first, so that is how your list should be ordered. This is going to make shopping the fastest possible, and also avoid aisles with foods you don’t need, but are often tempting to you. Don’t need snacks? Avoid that aisle completely by having an organized list.

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