This semester, Jordan Ball, a nutrition graduate student at Boston University, is interning with me. What follows is part one of her three-part blog series on meal planning and meal prepping.
I started meal planning for myself shortly after I graduated from Boston College. I had moved from Massachusetts to New York City to start my next chapter working for a catering and events company and quickly realized that the cost of keeping myself well fed and nourished was much higher than what I was used to at home. I did a little googling on how to stick to my food budget without sacrificing nutrition, and the answer that appeared again and again was meal planning.
What is Meal Planning?
For me, meal planning involves selecting meals to cook and eat in advance of the day that I need them and actively deciding to be prepared with healthful meals. It is a strategy we can all use to feed ourselves more nutrient-dense foods more often. As a naturally organized person I thrive on lists, calendars, and sticky notes, so, I thought, how hard could this be?
I’m not going to lie … it was challenging to get started, but I’m still at it almost ten years later. These days, I meal plan for both myself and my fiancé. And since I’m back in school pursuing m master’s in nutrition at Boston University, meal planning often saves the day, especially on busy school weeks.
Benefits of Meal Planning:
- Meal planning saves time. By investing a few hours each Sunday, it gives me back those precious hours during the week.It also saves me money.
- Healthy eating has an expensive reputation, but cooking at home certainly costs less than eating out all the time!
- My fiancé is passionate about sustainability, so one benefit I appreciate more these days than I did when I first started my meal planning journey is how much less food waste we generate simply by planning our meals. I make a list before my grocery run so that I’m only buying items we need. The result: fewer items end up in the garbage.
How I Meal Plan:
I block a period on my calendar each week, usually Friday afternoons, to take a look at what’s left in my fridge and to select the next week’s recipes.
This first step ensures I’m using everything I buy – good for the planet and the wallet! I review my schedule for the week ahead and pick my shop/prep day (usually Sundays), and then I lay it all out in an excel spreadsheet. If excel isn’t exactly your jam, there are so many other ways to get organized, including meal planning apps, online and printed calendars, and Liz even has printables available including her 7-day meal planner and aisle-by-aisle supermarket shopping.
My strategy tends to be ingredient based; I select the carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, and veggies that I want to eat. I also choose one big batch recipe.
A sample week might look like this:
As you can see on the spreadsheet above, my “big batch” item this week is turkey chili. (I scheduled it for dinner Tuesday, because I have my Medical Nutrition Therapy class that night, which runs from 5:30-8:15pm.) I know that once class ends, I’ll be too hungry and won’t want to do any serious cooking, so this way I’m not tempted to order out. On the spreadsheet, I also made note of a Thursday virtual cooking class that I’m attending and left Friday night open for whatever we feel like eating because … well, it’s Friday!
Once the schedule is filled out, I make my grocery list so I’m ready for shopping and prepping on Sunday.
Are you a meal planner? What’s your best strategy? What do you see as the benefits?
In my next post, I’ll walk you through what meal prepping looks like in my house (AKA my apartment) and toss in a few storage, chopping, and pantry tips for good measure!