Meal Planning: What Works?

What is the best way to approach meal planning? Some tips and tricks to finding what works for you.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
3-minute read

Courtney writes;

"I am trying to plan meals each week and I'm wondering what you and others have found to be the best methods for approaching your planning. Do you use a cookbook or watch the sales, or use an online service (like your sponsor, emeals.com), or maybe some combination of these? Do you use paper or something online to keep up with recipes, grocery lists, and your plans? My husband and I enjoy eating healthy meals, but I'm struggling with the planning and wondering what works for others."

I can tell you what works for me, Courtney, and we can ask others in the Nutrition Diva community to share what works for them. But in order to find what works for you, you might want to think about a few questions, such as:

How often do you shop for groceries?

Do you have time and energy to cook every day? 

How important is it to stick to a food budget?

Do you do better with paper or pixels?

Are you comfortable improvising in the kitchen or do you prefer to follow a recipe?

Do you crave a lot of variety or prefer familiar favorites?

If you like to do your grocery shopping in smaller, more frequent trips, you can plan just few days at a time, which gives you a lot of flexibility if plans change. If you're someone who would rather do one massive shop every week or so, you'll need to plan for a longer time frame.

If you have tightly packed weekdays, you might find it useful to do most of your cooking on the weekend. Or, you might find preparing the evening meal a relaxing way to unwind in the evenings. 

If budget is a priority, I'd definitely take advantage of any featured sales, especially on fresh foods. And even though meal-planning services like emeals have a fee, they can actually save you money by eliminating food waste. You can also tell emeals where you shop for groceries and they will pick recipes based on current advertised sales! 

See also: More Ways to Save Money on Healthy Food

Subscribing to a cooking magazine can be an inexpensive way to get fresh inspiration and seasonal recipes. Cooking Light is one that focuses on healthier preparations and includes lots of features specifically designed to make meal-planning easier. Online recipe sites can be a great way to look for recipes using whatever ingredients you have on hand.  

See also: Ask the Diva: Good Online Recipe Sites?

How I Plan Meals

I'm a frequent shopper—I stop by the store every two or three days and that's about how far out I plan meals. I find cooking relaxing so I usually put together dinner in the evening. But I often make a big pot of soup, stew, or chili on the weekend, which we pack for lunch throughout the week.  

Although I have a big collection of cookbooks (which I love to read for fun), I only rarely get them out to cook with. I've come to rely on online recipe sites to locate new recipes, store my favorites, and pull them up for reference in the kitchen. But for my grocery list, I'm old school. I keep a pad on the kitchen counter where I jot down ingredients as I think of them or use them up. 

How Do You Plan Meals? 

My point is that there are a lot of ways to tackle this task and a lot of tools that can make it easier. But it's definitely not a one-size-fits-all thing. How about you, readers? What works for you? What advice can you give to Courtney? You can use the comments section below or visit my Facebook page to weigh in.

Here are some other articles from the archives, including some great tips from the Domestic CEO and the Clever Cookstr!

5 Tips to Make Family Meal Planning Easier

10 Tips to Save Money Shopping at Farmers Markets

How to Make Chinese Takeout-Style Meals at Home

How to Save Money on Groceries

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.