Meal planning might be the best solution for you if you want to eat healthy, but you are often busy and don’t have time to make your meals. Plus, this strategy might also help you save money and keep you in shape.
Definition of meal planning
Meal planning means thinking about, and putting in writing all of the meals that you’re going to eat in a week.
Having a weekly meal plan allows you to organize your meals and have them prepared ahead of time. This way, you will avoid the last-minute stress of “what should I eat”.
However, if you don’t like to reheat your meals and you prefer to eat them as soon as you prepare them, the idea of a meal plan is to leave everything organized so that your preparations are more agile and quick.
It’s a simple way to have more control over your diet, and the perfect way to eat better, healthier and with natural ingredients. In addition, always having meals ready at home will help you avoid consuming fast and processed food.
It’s a strategy that allows you to save time and money and, once you get used to it, it’s a helpful tool that you can use.
The benefits of meal planning
The benefits of planning a weekly menu are numerous and even go beyond saving time and money. In fact, meal planning can have many advantages that help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Let’s see all of those benefits with more details:
1. Save time
You can save time that you invest in thinking about what you are going to eat each day.
You’ll also avoid those moments that you spend in front of the opened fridge, contemplating all of the ingredients inside, thinking about what to eat and to finally decide that you don’t have any food at home, ending in ordering some take-out.
You can save the time needed to buy your groceries. In fact, if you have already planned your weekly menu, you will only have to go shopping once or twice a week.
You’ll also save time while you are at the supermarket, walking around while thinking about what you should buy. Planning your meals in advance means having a grocery list ready, which will also help avoid buying foods that, in reality, you don’t want to consume.
Finally, you’ll be saving time for preparations and cleaning up after. Every time you cook, you have to use several utensils and, when you finish, you have to pick up everything and also clean it. However, if you follow a meal plan, the big preparations are going to be only once or twice a week.
2. Save money
The fact of having food ready at home, or even knowing in advance what you are going to cook, will prevent you from ordering take-out at the last minute, which is usually much more expensive than if you prepare your own meals.
In addition, having a shopping list when you go to the supermarket helps you avoid buying too much food, which translates into saving money.
3. Know what you’re eating
By preparing your meals at home, you have complete control of what you eat and the ingredients you use. You know the quality of the food and, in addition, you control the quantities.
4. Eat what you really like
Have you ever eaten out and had the experience that a dish you like is made with some ingredients that you dislike, or even worse, that you can’t eat?
Preparing your meals helps assure that what you are going to eat is food that you really enjoy and it’s suitable for your dietary requirements.
Remember that being satisfied with all of your meals helps eliminate cravings during the day.
5. Have control over the portion size you eat
Don’t you think that restaurants serve far too huge of portions and, although you know that it’s too much food for you, you don’t like to leave food on your plate and end up eating it all.
It’s true that you can get the rest to take home, but sometimes it’s not convenient for you to carry around a “doggy bag”. In addition, many restaurants use single-use plastic containers that you know are not environmentally friendly.
However, if you plan your meals ahead, you can control the quantities you cook and what you are going to eat.
6. It helps you choose healthy foods
On one side, since you are going to plan your meals ahead of time, you have the time to think about the ingredients that are best for you to consume.
On the other side, as we have seen above, since you are going to have a shopping list, you will avoid buying extra food and, above all, junk food.
A 2019 study showed that people who had planned their snacks after exercising made healthier choices.
7. Avoid wasting food
If you have your meals planned, it’s difficult to store ingredients that end up being wasted while they wait for you to find a recipe for them.
Also, by having your shopping list ready, you will buy only the quantities of food that are actually needed and used.
8. Ready meals in cases of emergencies
Do you know those moments when you suddenly notice that you’re starving? Or when you come home late and hungry and it seems that the only food that could help is junk food?
Well, emergency meals can help you in those cases. They can be planned in the weekly menu, stored in the freezer and are ready to be eaten.
9. Less stress
You wake up in the morning and one of your first thoughts is “What am I going to eat today?”. Does it sound familiar? Or maybe you come back hungry from a long day at work and you still have to think about what you’re going to fix.
Having it all organized helps you save energy and stress that would go into trying to find last minute solutions.
There is no need to remind you that stress is bad for your health, but with a little organization in the kitchen, it’s possible to eliminate a large amount of it.
10. Eat real, nutritious food and a variety of it
With meal planning, you are able to remember what you ate in previous weeks. This helps to choose different foods, allowing to maintain a regular intake of a wide variety of nutrients.
Also, if you make a list of the ingredients that you don’t favor and don’t usually eat, you can try to introduce them slowly into your diet.
11. Freedom to organize everything
Planning a weekly menu may seem somewhat rigid, but remember that you keep full control of everything and you can make changes, allowing for alterations to your liking.
You could decide, for example, to do a daily meal plan, instead of a weekly one, and get the meals ready for the same day or for the day after.
If you’d like to get the best tips to start your meal planning ASAP, go to my post “The Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Meal Planning“.
Difference between Meal Plan and Batch Cooking
We have discussed above the difference between Meal Plan and Meal Prep, but there is another expression often used nowadays that is also associated with maintaining good eating habits. I’m talking about the expression “Batch Cooking”.
If Meal Plan means planning our meals ahead of time for the week, then Batch Cooking gives more freedom when it comes to preparing meals.
Batch Cooking refers to the preparation of a few separate ingredients that, during the week, we will combine more spontaneously and to our liking.
For example, keeping in mind the ideal dish, we could prepare a type of cereal, a legume, a sauce with healthy fat, and a large number of varied vegetables.
Each day we would combine the ingredients and we could add more protein, animal or vegetable, cheese, eggs, etc.
You can read more about Batch Cooking in this blog post. Meanwhile, if you find the idea of planning your meals interesting, I encourage you to download this meal planning template for free.
Meal planning template
On the internet, you can find many free templates for meal planning and most of them suggest that you eat a snack between breakfast and lunch.
I used to do a mid-morning snack because I used to have an early breakfast. However, since I make sure to not eat anything for 12 hours a day, I eat my breakfast later and I make sure to be copious. This allows me to get to lunchtime without having to eat that extra midmorning snack.
If you need to have two snacks a day due to your schedule, using this template you can plan both of them in the same afternoon snack box.
As we have just seen, having the habit of planning a weekly menu has many advantages, but for some people, it may require a little effort at the beginning to get used to the system.
Like any other habit that you want to introduce into your life, I would like to invite you not to be too hard on yourself if, at first, you are not good at it and it costs you some effort.
And if you see that planning a weekly menu is not for you, it’s also good; you just need to find the solution that best suits your needs. If you think you need help with that, don’t hesitate to get in contact with me.
Your turn: Have you ever tried to do Meal Planning? If not, do you think you will give it a try? I’d love to hear your doubts, questions, and suggestions, so don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below.
As always, I appreciate you stopping by my blog, and if you think this post might help someone you know to make another step to a healthier lifestyle, please don’t hesitate and share it away!
Happy Healthy Living!
A big hug,
Claudia Canu is a former junk food and sugar addict transformed into a Health Motivator with a master’s degree in Nutrition. She has created this website not only to share her “Journey to her Healthy Forties” but also to help other busy women with basic knowledge about nutrition and who don’t love cooking, to live a healthier life, and achieve big goals.