The Ultimate Guide To Meal Planning

Healthy eating made easy.

By: Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC

Meal planning can be a life-saver when trying to follow a healthy lifestyle. Instead of winging it every evening when dinner time comes along, you will have a definitive plan that can act as a roadmap for your healthy meals. However, while meal planning can sound like a great idea for many, actually doing it can be a challenge. Having a guide to meal planning can help bridge the gap between wanting to meal plan and actually doing it. 

The Benefits of Meal Planning

Meal planning is a trend that is not going away any time soon — and for good reason!

Having a plan laid out for what you will eat can arm you to make the best choices, combat “impulse eating,” and may even save you money in the long run. Plus, the simple act of meal planning has been shown to result in people eating more fruit and vegetables and a greater variety of foods overall — always a positive change when people are trying to eat well. 

The Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning: 7 Hacks to Make Meal Planning Easier

It is hard to dispute that meal planning has its benefits for people trying to live a healthier life. But, actually doing the meal planning can appear to be an overwhelming fete to the meal-planning novice. 

To make meal planning more approachable, and dare we say enjoyable, here are seven hacks to make meal planning easier:

Stick With Recipes You Love and Rotate Them

Meal planning doesn’t have to mean coming up with new meals and recipes every single week. Many people have their staple meals that they enjoy eating and cooking. If you know that some tried-and-true meals work for you, plan on sprinkling them into your meal plan to make sure you are still eating food you love. 

Embrace Sauces, Spices, and Herbs to Add Variety to Proteins and Grains

While a piece of grilled chicken breast, brown rice, and steamed veggies are good-for-you choices, they can be quite bland and unexciting. Pre-made healthy sauces, herbs, and spices can take otherwise ho-hum meals to exciting with little effort — plan on leaning on these items to make some delicious and simple meals. 

Double Your Dinner Recipes and Plan on Eating Leftovers For Lunch

Many people don’t have the luxury of having time and space to whip up a gourmet lunch in the middle of a workweek. To save time and effort, plan on doubling some dinner recipes and saving a portion to enjoy at lunchtime the next day. Get creative with how you plan on recycling your dishes. If you enjoyed spaghetti and meatballs one evening, whip up a meatball sub for lunch the next day. Broiled salmon for dinner? Make a salmon salad sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch. The possibilities are endless. 

Categorize Your Grocery List

Never go to the grocery store armed without a grocery list. Once you have your weekly meals planned out, create a list of ingredients that you know you will need. Taking a further step and categorizing your ingredient list will save you a ton of time in the grocery store aisles. Group produce, frozen food, grains, and more with each other to snag what you need in no time.

Prep Your Food as Soon as You Get Them

Before you store your groceries in the pantry and fridge, take an extra step to chop, dice, and wash your food. Having pre-chopped onions and pre-washed grapes ready-to-go in your fridge will save you a ton of time and effort later in the week — making meal prepping easy-breezy. 

Take Time to Learn How Your Meals Should Be Balanced

Experts agree that most people’s plates should have a similar balance of food groups. The USDA’s MyPlate food guide recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with lean protein. Keeping this guide in mind will help make planning meals a bit easier while ensuring that you are getting the right types of foods into your body. 

Take Time to Write Out Your Meal Plan Every Week, and Keep The Plan in an Easily Accessible Place

Whether your plan is written out on a template you found online, on a chalkboard, or in a planner, being able to view your meal plan will help you mentally plan out your day and not have any surprises. Include snacks and beverages into your meal plan to make sure you have everything you need for your healthy eating days. 

More Meal Planning Inspiration

The Healthiest Foods For The Most Popular Eating Plans

A Registered Dietitian shares her top food choices for five popular eating plans, including plant-based, keto, Whole30, paleo, and the Mediterranean diet.

The Top 10 Recipes to Try if You Just Started a Clean Eating Plan

These recipes make healthy eating easy! 

Make Healthy Eating Easier With Meal Planning 

If you are usually a “play-it-by-ear” eater, taking some time to meal plan can make eating healthier so much easier. Having a plan at your fingertips will help you think about your food unemotionally and will allow you to look at your “big picture” with ease. And after a few weeks, the practice will likely become second-nature and will surely be an enjoyable habit to get into. Bon Appetit!

Ready to see just how easy meal planning can be? Consider joining FitOn PRO for access to personalized meal plans and exclusive recipes to reach your fitness goals faster without counting calories and with foods you’ll love to eat.