Learn how to get more organized and plan your meals for the week so you can stay on track with your health and fitness goals.
Weekly Meal Planning
If meal prep is something you want to try but you're having trouble sticking to a meal plan or even just the THOUGHT of meal planning terrifies and overwhelms you, then this post is for you!
I've been meal planning in some way or form for YEARS now. With a crazy busy schedule that isn't always the same from week to week, I really do have to plan ahead if I want to save money and eat healthy.
Honestly, healthy eating can feel like a full-time job if you don't know how to stay organized or determine what your time constraints are.
I'm here to help you with your weekly meal planning and give you a system to follow so that you can stay organized and meal plan efficiently without any confusion. Read on to learn my exact meal planning routine that you can implement and apply to your busy schedule each week!
Make a master list of recipes
When you're unsure of what meals to list in your weekly meal plan, I reference my “Master List” of recipes. Start documenting the recipes you like and don't like, whether that's on paper in a notebook or in a blank Word doc on your computer. Odds are, you have made at least ten recipes in your life that you know and like!
While you have a “Recipes you like” section, you can also start a “Recipes you want to try” section so that you're able to easily find inspiration for your weekly meal plan without being overwhelmed with a ton of choices. This way, you can try new things and actually put a plan in place to make them. And when you don’t know what to make for dinner, you can make one of the meals from the “Recipes you like” section!
From there, it'll be easy to add recipes to your weekly meal plan. All you have to do is copy and paste!
Choose recipes that work with the same ingredients
This is an area of meal planning I really struggle with. I always want to try so many recipes that I neglect to let some of them overlap when it comes to ingredients. You want to try and look for recipes that use many of the same kinds of veggies and protein so you're not going out and buying 30 different items for five different recipes.
Try to find some overlap. Make Chicken Tikka Masala one night, then Fiesta Chicken Rice Bowls the next – both use chicken breasts, jarred crushed tomatoes, bell peppers, rice and cilantro. Try to do this for as many recipes as possible during the week. It's still more than possible to have a ton of variety with meal prep while using a lot of the same ingredients!
Pencil in your planning time each week
If you have trouble with the planning itself, then you need to plan to, well, PLAN! Take a pause and really think about when you get a quiet moment to yourself each week. Maybe that's a weekend morning, on your lunch break or in the evening. Identify those periods of time that you have a moment to spare and you’re least stressed and arrange to make your weekly meal plan during those times.
When you start to get some practice, meal planning should only take 5 to 10 minutes each week. Make sure to do it when you’re least stressed out, and if it helps, pencil it down in your calendar or commit to doing it at a certain date and time each week so that it becomes a habit.
Fill out your meal planner
I've got a handy little meal planner you can download for free when you subscribe to my 5-Day Meal Prep Challenge (SIGN UP HERE). You can write down your meals for the week and also mark down the nights you're out for dinner so that you can anticipate what recipes you'll want to make and when you're going to eat them.
Writing out your shopping list on the same page or a page next to it also helps, because you know what ingredients you need for which recipes and can see it all with a quick glance. I also send you a grocery list template (pictured below) when you sign up for the challenge.
Keep your meal planner pinned up on the fridge or somewhere in the kitchen so that you can easily see what you're going to make each night. It’s so easy!
Factor in your social plans for the week
Make your meal plans based on what you've got going on during the week. Got soccer or yoga after work or activities for the kids? Maybe make a slow cooker or an Instant Pot recipe that night that will be ready when you get home. Or plan on having some leftover chicken and veggies kicking around or prep another meal that you can reheat. Freezer meals are another great option for busy nights!
You'll also want to factor in the fact that some nights you just won't feel like cooking, like the weekends, and that's okay! I almost never cook on Saturday nights. I make sure to leave that night blank so I don't pick up extra ingredients that will go to waste. It's okay to factor takeout and restaurants into your meal plan – in fact, that will reduce the amount you eat out since it's all written down and planned out.
You'll have to find a groove with this but it gets easier with practice!
How many recipes do you need to make each week?
Now this is the million-dollar question! I would say this depends entirely upon your household size and what your tolerance for eating leftovers is.
Typically, I recommend most households of 1-2 people make just 2-3 recipes each week, and households of 3 or more make 4-6 recipes per week. This way, you get some variety and you’re open to repurposing leftovers into new meals. You can also make quick on-the-fly meals like pita pizzas, breakfast for dinner, wraps or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Factor leftovers into your meal plan
Even if you're just eating leftovers or making something new from the leftovers (think chili loaded on frozen fries or leftover chicken in quesadillas), make sure to mark it down on your meal plan so that you know what you’re doing for dinner that night.
Contrary to popular belief, you DO NOT need to make a brand-new meal every single night of the week. When I cook for myself, I typically make dinner on Monday and Tuesday night, eat leftovers for lunches and repurpose the leftovers into something new or do quick meals the rest of the nights. I typically eat out on Saturday or Sunday nights to give myself a break from cooking.
Make double the serving size at dinner for leftover lunches
This is one of my best tricks ever! As a single person, I find it super difficult to make individual portion sizes for myself so I usually end up cutting a recipe in half to make two servings. I eat one for dinner and the leftovers for lunch the next day!
If you're a family of four, you can double the recipe and everyone will have leftovers for lunches as well. You’re going to be cooking dinner regardless, so you might as well make two or three other meals out of it!
Meal prep for breakfast
Breakfast is the one meal of the day that I could care less about, and if you're anything like me, you’re probably too busy trying to get yourself to work to worry about eating. I actually don't even have an appetite first thing – my body takes about 1-2 hours before it gets hungry so I end up eating after I've started my workday.
My go-to meal prep breakfast recipe? EGGS! I make a big frittata at the beginning of the week (sometimes I'll do egg whites to pack in the protein) or some mini egg cups or a breakfast quesadilla. They're super easy to prepare in bulk at the beginning of the week and they taste just as good cold as they do warmed-up, so you can take them on the go if you can't eat first thing like me.
Plus, you’re saving yourself from a ton of sugar that is usually in other breakfast items like cereal, pancakes, oatmeal, granola, yogurt, etc. You're honestly better off pairing your eggs with some fruit like a banana or an apple so you can get your fibre and your protein all in one! The best part is that you can prep your breakfasts in less than 30 minutes all at once while doing other meal prep for the week in the kitchen!
Plan to have some snacks on hand
This is another area of my life that I try to keep as simple as possible, but I know it's easier said than done. I don't usually have time to meal prep any snacks so I end up trying to keep some healthy favourites on hand at home at all times. Snacks like frozen edamame, turkey pepperettes, Greek yogurt, beef jerky, protein bars, energy bites, whole wheat pita and guacamole, chips & salsa, fresh fruit, cut up veggies and hummus (or French onion dip, YUM!), popcorn, peanuts and smoothies are all things I keep on hand.
I love the idea of prepping some freezer smoothie packs/jars like my other fave meal prep blogger Denise at Sweet Peas and Saffron does, so you can easily throw together a snack when you're hungry.
When in doubt, I always have a bit of dark chocolate and peanut butter on hand to satisfy some cravings.
Get the whole family involved
One of the last things I want to recommend when meal planning is to get those who are eating the food involved with the planning. My mom always used to sit down at the kitchen table every Saturday and start brainstorming ideas from the “Master List” of recipes in her head. She'd call out dinner options to everyone in the house or text those who weren't home.
After getting us all on the same page, she'd make her meal plan, and everyone was on their own for breakfasts and lunches. Since she made dinner, she was usually entitled to the leftovers for lunch.
It took as little as 10 minutes to make this meal plan and everyone liked what we were eating. For those that didn't like what was for dinner, quick meals could be made by the person who didn't want to eat the food (eg my dad would take out frozen cannelloni on nights we'd eat something he didn't like, and I would occasionally make a salad or pita pizza if we ate something I didn't like).
BONUS: Prep one set of lunches for the week
When I have a busy week and I'm not sure what I'm going to have for dinner, I try to prep one set of lunches for the workweek so that I know I don't have to run out and buy something on-the-go. I find when I'm in a rush and don't know what to have for lunch, I'll put off the decision long enough until I'm starving and by that point, I'll eat anything.
Having at least 3 or 4 meal prep bowls for the week ready ahead of time really helps me stay on track, and most of the meal prep bowl recipes on my site can be made in an hour or less!
Here are some of my faves:
- Tandoori Chicken Meal Prep Bowls
- Sweet Chili Chicken Meal Prep Bowls
- Greek Chicken Meal Prep Bowls
- Jerk Chicken Meal Prep Bowls
Fave meal prep containers and tools:
- Glass meal prep bowls are so great for reheating your lunches
- Mason jars are a great option for salads since lettuce stays separated from dressings and sauces
- Salad containers are another perfect option for keeping your greens and proteins separated
- A Rice Cooker saves a ton of time because all your grains can be ready at the beginning of the week
- Bento box containers are perfect for packing snacks and lunches together!
- Keep your freezer full of high-quality grass-fed beef and poultry from Butcher Box – and for a limited time get two free ribeyes and bacon!
- My Vitamix blender is great for meal prepping giant batches of delicious sauces, soups, dressings and pureed veggies for meal prep bowls without any hassle
- Hello Fresh also has some AWESOME recipes if you need groceries delivered, and they will give you $30 off your first purchase too!