8 Household Items That Will Kickstart Your Meal Planning
Meal planning is a key component of eating well and an excellent way to manage time, save money, and reduce stress. Crafting a plan in advance – for what you’ll eat and how you’ll prep it - allows you to set yourself up for success; plus, stocking your kitchen with the tools you’ll need removes many of the barriers to following through and achieving your goals.
What is Meal Planning?
Meal planning means investing a little time up front to plan and prep your meals for the week. This might be all or some of your meals, whether a few dinners or every weekday lunch, and can help you see the big picture of your nutrient and food group intake across a week.
Meal planning can be as flexible as you need it to be: it can rely on a combination of ingredients you already have on hand as well as those you will purchase to round out your menu. You can use a calendar, a list, or an online meal planning app to sketch out your meals for the week ahead.
The Benefits of Healthy Meal Planning
Healthy meal planning is a great step to ensure you stay on track and well-nourished during even the busiest weeks.
Meal planning helps you commit to healthy options
Committing to your meals in advance means you’ll be less tempted to make a stop at the drive-thru on the way home. The CDC outlines that having a meal plan means healthy options are more readily available: a prepped meal or delicious ingredients awaiting you at the end of the workday can make you less likely to splurge on a less healthful option. Studies have indicated that a meal plan can help balance competing time demands and reduce barriers to healthy dietary practices.
Meal planning creates balance in your food across a week
Studies have shown that planning and eating meals at home can improve the variety and quality of nutrients one ingests. When you lay out your meals in a plan, you can see where you might be lacking or overdoing it. This can also be a helpful strategy in planning indulgences: there is more space for treats or “cheat meals” when you know the majority of your food in a week offers some nourishment.
Meal planning saves time and money
Planning ahead is an efficient way to streamline your grocery purchases and cut down on pricy takeout and prepared foods. When you grocery shop for foods you will definitely cook and consume, you save unnecessary stops at the store or the takeout counter, and you cut down on food waste. A meal plan differs from a meal kit in that it leaves a lot of the purchasing decisions and ingredients up to you. You can also economize on your time in the kitchen, especially if you double-up and prepare a few meals at a time.
The Different Types of Meal Plans
There are a plethora of meal plans to choose from, and what you choose will largely depend on how much time you have to cook and what your health goals and food preferences are.
The Whole30 plan is structured as a 30-day commitment to cutting out some of the most addictive foods we consume: carbohydrates (from grain, sugars, and legumes), dairy, and alcohol, as well as most processed foods. It can also be used a longer-term clean eating plan centered around eating unprocessed, whole, nutrient-dense foods.
A Paleo plan will have you eating like your ancestors, with no grains or dairy, but a variety of nourishing vegetables and fruits, free-range and wild-caught proteins, plant-based oils, nuts, and seeds.
A keto meal plan focuses on protein and healthy fats, including ingredients like meat, cheese, eggs, butter, and low-carb veggies. You’ll avoid foods high in sugar (including fruit), beans and legumes, starches, and alcohol. If you are a woman who is considering starting the ketogenic diet, make sure you read our comprehensive keto guide for women.
Vegetarian and Vegan
There is lots of variety to be found in a vegetarian meal plan, where you’ll work in dairy and eggs in addition to grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. A vegan meal plan goes a step further and eschews all animal products; it may sound tricky to do, but a bit of pre-planning will ensure your plant-based menu is balanced and delicious.
Cutting out gluten means cutting out wheat, rye, and barley, and the products that contain them as derivatives, but it doesn’t mean cutting out satisfying foods. A gluten-free plan will shape your meals around unique proteins, vegetables, fruits, gluten-free grains, and healthy fats.
8 Household Items That Will Help You Meal Plan
1. Magic Bullet
Small and portable, this ubiquitous high-powered blender is a great tool to whip up quick breakfast smoothies, flavorful sauces, and blended soups. You can even use it to quickly chop vegetables or mince garlic.
Our recipe pick: Avocado, ginger, and turmeric shake
2. Instant Pot
The ultimate time saver, the Instant Pot takes a lot of the guess-work out of cooking. Simply toss in your ingredients to cook everything from grains to proteins to full one-pot meals. A great meal plan will also include Instant Pot recipes to save time and money throughout a week.
Our recipe pick: Instant Pot banana-walnut oatmeal
3. Slow cooker
Set it and forget it: the slow cooker is your best ally when it comes to planning ahead. When you’ve planned ahead and prepped your ingredients for a slow cooker meal and added them to the cooker in the morning, you can expect to return home eight hours later to a ready-to-eat meal. Some of the best slow cooker recipes are those high in produce: you can customize with proteins and spices to your liking.
Our recipe pick: Slow cooker chicken mole with jicama-tomato salad
4. Baking sheets and roasting pans
You can accomplish a lot with a good baking sheet or roasting pan: chopped veggies and marinated proteins for meal prep are quick to prepare and require minimal technical cooking skills! You can toss them in the oven and work on other elements of your meal without worrying. They’re also great for crafting large batches of food at one time.
Our recipe pick: Bacon-wrapped tilapia with spinach & lemon aioli
5. Cast iron skillet
Sometimes the simplest tools are the most practical: we love a quality cast iron skillet for quick one-pan stovetop meals. You can also use them in the oven to fully cook or finish dishes.
Our recipe pick: Shakshuka with chickpeas and avocado
6. Food scale
If you like to follow recipes to the T, a food scale is a great way to make sure your measurements are accurate. If your meal plan includes batch cooking, a food scale can be a useful way to measure portions and divvy them up evenly across meals.
Our recipe pick: Baked penne with tomato & roasted vegetables
7. Food storage containers
Look for containers with separate compartments – like a bento box – to divide up individual components of your workday lunches. This makes preparing multiple meals in advance easy and keeps things from getting mushy in the fridge or in transit. Mason jars are also a fun way to craft beautiful, portable meals: overnight oats, fruit and yogurt, soups, and stacked salads all work well in this vintage-inspired vessels.
Our recipe pick: Berry cherry parfaits
8. Dry Erase Board
Keep track of your meal plan menu by posting it on a dry erase board in your kitchen. This can help keep you accountable to your plan and allows you to make changes easily. Consider assigning a theme to each weeknight to streamline your planning.
Meal Planning Tips and Tricks
There are several easy steps you can take to get started meal planning:
- Keep your favorite recipes organized online or on paper. When you come across things that inspire you, save or print for future reference; this will help keep things varied week to week by keeping inspiration at your fingertips.
- Have new recipes delivered to you by subscribing to food bloggers or an online meal planning service.
- Make your grocery list at the same time you write your meal plan for the week. Skip multiple trips to the store – and unnecessary spending – by planning your purchases in advance.
- Keep swappable staples on hand. Having a selection of staples like grains, legumes, and frozen vegetables can make last-minute ingredient swaps easier to accommodate.
- Subscribe to a meal planning service to do the research and planning for you. This can be a great way to save time and stress; plus, you can request custom meal plans based on your preferences. PlateJoy will work with what you have on hand and make a custom grocery list.
Meal planning can save you time and money, and keep you on track with your healthy eating goals. With so many nourishing foods and delicious recipes to choose from, the hardest part is deciding what to eat. PlateJoy does the hard work for you by creating a meal plan to suit your busy life. Check out thousands of meals waiting to come to life in your kitchen and start your own custom meal plan.