Your Ultimate Meal Planning Guide: 5 Simple Tips and Free Printable Template

Planning meals is one of the top things clients struggle with, and we understand the struggle! It takes time to plan, and think about what your upcoming week will be like, but trust us- it is worth every second. If you plan ahead, you won’t be faced with the ‘what’s for dinner?’ question every night when you are in-between work, school and evening activities and…on the verge of hangry. Smooth sailing ahead!

Mastering this skill will ensure you meet your needs nutritionally, on track towards your goals, and control that grocery bill that can creep up on you.

Did you know the average cost of a nutritious food basket per month was $974 for a family of 4 in BC and over $1000 in Northern Health in 2015? That’s from a PHSA report you can read more about here. Let’s help keep you on budget.

So how do you plan a week’s worth of meals in one shot?

Here are 5 simple tips to help you get started.

1. Think Ahead

Take a look at your calendar and see what you have scheduled. Do you or your kids have activities in the evenings? Planning on working late? Going out of town? Planning on eating out? You may need to think about some quick meals to throw together on busier nights. Leave those experimental meals or extravagant recipes for nights when you have more time to enjoy the cooking experience and ensure you are eating at a reasonable time.

2. Take an inventory

What do you already have in your fridge, freezer and pantry? Making use of foods you already have will cut down the grocery bill, and allow you to get creative with recipes. You can also have your go-to meals on standby. If you have a well stocked pantry, you should always be able to throw a quick meal together on those days your plans changed or you didn’t get a chance to meal plan or prep as much as you had wanted to. More on pantry staples later!

What meals are you already a pro at making? What recipes do you and your family love? Incorporate those into your meal plan, and start building a stock pile of your favourite recipes to draw ideas from in the future.

3. Pick your meal ideas!

Cook what you WANT to eat. From the list of meal ideas you and your family love, pick a handful of recipes so you know everyone will enjoy those meals. For the other meals, try a new ingredient or recipe to expand your meal inventory and broaden your taste horizons. Magazines, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and your own (or borrowed!) cookbooks are all great options for inspiration.

We also like to flip through grocery store flyers to get the latest deals and get inspiration from seasonal ingredients. I am always excited to try seasonal vegetables, while Paulo loves to try different proteins.

Get your kids involved! Pick recipes your kids will be able to help with at least a few times a week. Encouraging your kids to help prep and cook food enables them to learn important food skills that they will take with them when they leave the nest.

4. Write it down!

Once you have decided on some meal ideas, write them down! We created a meal planning template to make it easier to create balanced meals. Our template separates each meal into it’s components to ensure you get a bit of everything to satisfy your appetite and health. Protein, vegetables, complex carbs, healthy fats and FLAVOUR are all important parts of each meal. Input your meal ideas into the template and fill in the blanks to create your meals! You can either plan one meal (usually dinner) or print 3 copies and plan all 3!

Another tool we use at home is a white board that’s by the kitchen. We write down each dinner there so there are no surprises. No matter who is home, someone can start on dinner. You can put our template on your fridge or your own white board at home!

To get our free printable Ultimate Meal Planning Guide template, sign up to our email list! Existing email subscribers will automatically be sent the guide.

5. Cook once, eat twice

Make all the effort you put into planning and creating a healthy meal to good use! Make enough food to cover multiple meals and you’ll be guaranteed to enjoy a balanced and healthy meal over and over again. Nine times out of ten we make enough leftovers for lunch the next day which makes packing lunch ridiculously easy. Big batch cooking is the next step if you have space in your fridge and freezer!

Plan, THEN shop

Before you hit to grocery store, make a master ingredient list. This is a list of all the ingredients you need to make all the meals in your meal plan. From that list, you can then see what you already have, and make your grocery list from there.

Have a few places you tend to go for groceries? Split up the list by store and make a plan before you head out the door. We have been exploring online grocery shopping for pick up and delivery and holy cow is that a game changer for busy families! Highly recommended. More on navigating the grocery store later!

Happy planning!

To get our free printable Ultimate Meal Planning Guide template, sign up to our email list!

Curious about our take on what good nutrition is? Learn more here!

Your Dietitian, Erin