Meal Planning 101

So you’ve filled your fridge full of fresh groceries on the weekend and you’re feeling ready to crush the week. Fast-forward a couple days, you get home starving from a long day, open up the fridge and wish the meals could materialize themselves. Alright take-out, you win this time.

We’ve all been there – in a perfect world, we’d be able to whip up a delicious meal from scratch every day. But you and I both know that in reality, ain’t nobody got time for that!

If you’re the type of person who rolls with the punches, that’s totally cool! But if you’re wondering how you can improve your daily eating habits, and the words MEAL PREP freak you out a bit, don’t worry – we’ve got your back! Meal planning does take some time, but it’s not as daunting as you think. Our free printable below is a great way to help you visualize and plan out your meals and tasks for the week.

Here are some tips to help you get going:

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Planning ahead makes CENTS

Save your hard earned dollars – look through flyers (print or online) for the best deals that week – then plan your meals around those ingredients. Some grocery stores now have apps that will show you their special offers for the week. Plan for one meatless meal a week (Check out this economical and tasty mac and cheese recipe.)

Stock Up

Keep your pantry and freezer stocked with basics that will allow you to whip up a quick meal when you’re in a time crunch. This can include whole-grain pasta, rice, lentils and beans, canned fish, and frozen fruit and vegetables.

Cook once, eat later

Make extra portions of the same ingredient that can transformed into something else later – for example, instead of cooking up one chicken breast for dinner, make a couple more and refrigerate for later in the week. It can easily be added to wraps or pasta. Cooked quinoa can be a side dish, tossed into a salad or stir fried. Making extra doesn’t necessarily add time to your prep, and it will save you time down the road.

The freezer is your friend

On that note, you can cook extra, but you don’t have to be eating leftovers all week. Freeze some extra portions, and you’ll thank yourself a couple months down the road when you’re tempted to call up your takeout spot. This hearty meat marinara freezes beautifully – just cook the pasta the day of! You can also portion a few meals individually for your own “microwave meals” to bring to work, or to heat up after a busy day.

Enlist Help

Don’t have much space in the freezer? Grab a friend and cook together! Sharing recipes help to keep things fresh. You can split the cost of groceries and the workload while enjoying each other’s company. This is also a great way to get the kids involved – have them help with washing and prepping produce, and measuring ingredients.

Let Your Appliances Do The Work

You don’t need to stand in front of the stove for hours. Take advantage of time-saving appliances such as a slow cooker, the oven, rice cooker or pressure cooker. Try baking chicken or fish instead of pan-frying – or try this slow cooker recipe for honey ginger chicken)!

Balance, balance, balance

Eat whatever you feel like – really. Don’t stress yourself out trying to plan an entire week’s worth of “clean eats” (What is that anyway? Food is food, people!). Just aim for each meal to consist of ½ veggies, ¼ whole grain or starchy vegetable, and ¼ protein. It’s all good.

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Get organized

Figure out days that work best in your schedule for menu planning, grocery shopping, and meal prepping. Keep an ongoing list of recipes you’d like to try (hello pinterest!) and grocery list handy.

Alright, now that we’ve got the basics down pat – use this free printable to help you plan your meals and groceries for the week. Set aside a couple hours one day a week to prepare as much as you can ahead of time – chop up veggies for salads and cooked recipes once and divvy them up as needed. Soups and stews can be easily made ahead of time (and taste better the longer they sit!) You can also get breakfasts done for busy mornings – try these recipes for overnight oats or breakfast muffins.

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Happy meal planning!

Click here to download meal planning tools:

Photography done by Johanna Adriaansen.  To learn more about Johanna click here or follow her on Instagram.
Please note the content of this post was written by Christy Lai, BSc. Human Nutritional Sciences.

Don’t forget to follow Carrots and Cake on Instagram to see tiny square snap shots of my life.

                 – With Love, Carrots and Cake,

Carrots and Cake Nita Sharda

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