Meal Planning for Busy People: A Step-by-Step Guide
Eating healthy food, no problem. But, preparing healthy food? That’s a whole different ball game, right?
You’re busy. Us too. We know that meal planning takes time, effort, and serious organization. When it comes to busybodies, the phrase, “I’m too busy for it,” often comes up. We get it. Even for us nutritionists, spending an entire day prepping food and cooking from scratch isn’t always our cup of tea.
But, at the same time, there’s also a learning curve. And with meal planning, just like with anything, you – eventually – master the skill and it becomes a whole lot easier.
To become a meal planning pro, you have to learn what works for you, what foods you like, what you don’t like, which ones are the easiest to prepare…The more you do it, the better you become at prepping.
We’re here to guide you along and make it easier for you. We’re helping teach you what we’ve learned through our own trial and error and mixing that up with our knowledge as nutritionists to give you the ultimate meal planning manifesto.
Developing a meal planning routine
Meal planning needs to be something that can easily be applied to your life. It shouldn’t involve whole days of prepping, but rather strategies that guide you and, ultimately, end up saving you time rather than creating a time-deficit.
Planning and prepping your meals can be done easily and effectively with just one to two hours set aside at some point throughout the week. Yes! It’s true!
Just like any domestic responsibility, meal prepping can seem like a daunting task sometimes, but when it’s all said and done, it ends up being something you are happy you’ve done. Kinda like that pile of laundry you’re dreading to fold; when it’s added to your schedule in a consistent fashion it’s just another part of your life. #Adulting.
You don’t have to stick to a set meal plan!
We’re not saying you have to stick to a set menu every, single week. That’s actually not our style. We’re intuitive eaters. So, when the moment to eat arises, we take stock of how we’re feeling and what we’re desiring and eat accordingly. When there’s a variety of pre-prepped ingredients all ready to go, we can create customized meals from that, like a salad, omelette or sandwich. Easy Peasy.
That being said, not all of our meal planning strategies involve actual food prep (i.e., chopping and cooking), but rather provide steps to create a planning system to start making healthy meals easier to accomplish consistently.
How to meal plan when you’re busy
STEP 1: BUY A PLANNER OR ORGANIZER
This is one of the biggest things that’s changed our meal planning game. We went out and bought a weekly whiteboard fridge planner. It’s perfect for adding your daily meal ideas, your recipes, ingredients, and whatever else you need to keep track of to stay planned and organized.
STEP 2: BUILD YOUR RECIPE DATABASE
This step is often overlooked when it comes to meal planning.
We’re not all chefs over here, so having a solid recipe database is essential for sticking to healthy eating. There’s nothing worse than looking in your fridge, feeling totally uninspired, and cooking plain chicken with plain veggies over and over again – blugh. It’s hard to stick to a healthy lifestyle when your food is boring.
Luckily there are THOUSANDS of healthy and delicious (delicious is key!) recipes out there that are easy to make and will keep you on your healthy track. Make sure you bookmark your recipes under a tab that is, specifically, dedicated to tried-and-true recipes that you and your whole family love!
Some of our favourite places to find delicious recipes (in our humble and personal opinions) are:
Tip: when searching for recipes, try using the search words “gluten-free” “vegan” “paleo” “healthy” “simple and healthy” or “dairy-free”. Although we don’t conform to one specific diet or way of eating, a lot of these search tags have incredibly delicious, whole food recipes that are healthy. We usually pick the best picture, to be honest.
STEP 3: SET UP YOUR FOOD SCHEDULE FOR THE WEEK
You know all of those amazing and delicious recipes you’ve been saving and testing? Start placing them in your planner (or new fridge whiteboard) and organizing your week.
You don’t have to make it a solid plan or be rigid about your meal plan. You can move the recipes around, change it up, and decide what you want to make depending on how you’re feeling in the day. That’s why those boards are erasable, you know.
Having a weekly food schedule makes it much more simple to get groceries, prep and cook some of the items you know you’ll be using in the week. When you plan ahead it helps you stick to your health goals and it’s also much more cost-effective.
STEP 4: ORGANIZE YOUR KITCHEN
It’s so easy to get home from the bulk store and just throw your bags with bulk flour or nuts in your cupboard and walk away. It’s way easier than taking the flour out of the bag, placing it in a resealable jar, making a little mess, wiping the counter…(you get the picture). But let us tell you, from the first-hand experience, that an organized kitchen makes it so much easier to eat healthy on a consistent basis.
When you’ve properly stored and organized your ingredients and items, your healthy trail-mix and granola are in eye’s view, your whole grain flours are easy to grab, your oats are right there waiting to be made into overnight breakfast jars. With an organized kitchen, you don’t have to rummage, pull out, make a mess searching, trying to decipher what’s in which bag.
And really, to organize your groceries when you get home may take 10 minutes extra, than just tossing and flopping on the couch, but the relief this organization brings when it comes to sticking to your healthy lifestyle is completely worth it.
STEP 5: SET ASIDE TWO HOURS TO CHOP AND BATCH COOK
This is another great habit to get into. It may seem like a lot at first, but picking one day of the week and dedicating an hour or two to the below will drastically reduce the stress of planning your daily meals:
- Chop vegetables
- Prep smoothie packs
- Cook quinoa/ brown rice
- Roast veggies
- Make salad jars
- Make overnight oats or chia pudding
- Make soup
When you do the prep work, all those healthy, delicious ingredients are now at your fingertips. This makes whipping up a fresh salad, sandwich or soup 1000x easier.
This is one of those steps that, 100%, helps keep you on track.
STEP 6: KNOW THE HEALTHIEST RESTAURANTS CLOSE BY
If you eat out more often than not, then knowing what and where the healthiest restaurants are, and how to navigate the menu is incredibly important. Armed with the right knowledge means that you can usually find something appropriate for your healthy lifestyle.
Most restaurants carry salads, vegetable soups, or grilled chicken breasts with veggies. No matter where you are, chances are there will be something to eat that’s not going to throw you off your game. It’s all about knowing what to eat, how to make the healthiest swaps, and the whereabouts of the healthiest menus.
Take a little time and do a quick google search into your local spots to get the deets on which takeout and sit down restaurants best suit your needs.
(And don’t forget that an indulgence here or there, when you feel like it, is all part of a balanced lifestyle. Learn more about intuitive eating here.)
STEP 7: ALWAYS HAVE HEALTHY SNACKS ON HAND
We’re both on the go a lot. One of the biggest roadblocks we encounter when running around and starving is not having any snacks packed. This results in, you guessed it, grabbing whatever is right in front of us – regardless of what that is.
If you know you are going to be on-the-go all day long, and incredibly busy, it’s best to pack nutrient-dense, high protein, fiber, and healthy fat snacks to keep your hunger and blood sugar levels balanced. Fueling yourself with the right snacks at those crucial times keeps that hanger (hungry anger) at bay and helps you make wiser decisions at mealtime.
Here’s a few of our favourite, delicious snack options to prep ahead of time and add to your bag:
- Trail mix with raw nuts, seeds & dark chocolate chips
- Veggies & hummus
- Hard-boiled egg & veggies
- Peanut butter & brown rice cakes
- Homemade protein muffins
- Quinoa Greek salad
Like we said, these meal prepping tips and strategies don’t happen overnight, especially if you aren’t used to planning ahead or aren’t used to cooking. But, it is all very achievable if you’re mentally prepared to…prepare.
Meal planning takes a bit of time to know what works best for you. But, the more you do it, the better you become at it, and the easier it is to add it to your schedule regularly. If you’re looking for another amazing meal prepping resource, make sure you download our free Healthy Pantry Shopping Staples list.