I’ll be honest, meal planning is one of my least favorite things to do. Every weekend starts to roll around and I realize I have yet to plan out the meals for the week. I usually procrastinate and do it right before we grocery shop. Meal planning while eating healthy is absolutely essential. When I was first learning to cook at 16, I went to the grocery store almost every day. I wasted so much time (and money) because I didn’t plan ahead. I hated trying to think of something to make at the last minute.
It’s important to set yourself up for success when you’re eating healthy. If you don’t have meals at home ready to make, it will be so much more tempting to order takeout or just eat a frozen pizza. Trust me, I’ve been there. When my husband and I got married, I really buckled down on my meal planning. Before, my schedule was crazy and I rarely planned out everything I was going to make in a week. Being on a budget, it’s important to me that I figure out ahead of time what all we need and make sure to spread the money out accordingly.
Each week, I sit down and plan out 5 dinners to make for the following week. My husband and I do all of our grocery shopping together on either Saturday or Sunday. On Fridays we go to our local health food store to get millet bread and bagels. We usually go to Walmart, Fresh Market, and Kroger also. I plan out a list on my phone for each location so that I can delete as we get things. The only food items I buy from Walmart are things like salsa, tuna, earth balance, hot sauce, rice or canned beans. Fresh Market is where I buy my tortillas (finally found a healthy whole wheat tortilla!), and cheese. Their cheese is free of hormones, and they also sell horizon organic cheeses which I love.
The first couple of weeks, meal planning was really hard for me. I felt like I had to plan out every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner that we make. It was stressful and I felt like I was stretching our budget too tight. Now I know better. Meal planning became a lot easier when I stopped planning breakfast and lunch. We have a rotation that we use every week, so dinner is the only meal I’ll really do more cooking at.
Some of our breakfast rotations include:
- Eggs & Toast (I will eat 1 egg and 1 piece of toast and Robbie will have 2 eggs and 2 toasts) We use either Ezekiel bread or millet bread that I buy from our local health food store. Sometimes Robbie will make grits to go with it too.
- Cereal – We haven’t had this in awhile, but I like toasted oats cereal that I buy from Kroger. It’s unsweetened, so we drizzle honey on top and pour unsweetened vanilla almond milk on top and serve with blueberries.
- Eggs & Toast & Hashbrowns – We love hashbrowns and found a healthy frozen kind from Kroger that’s only around $2.50 per bag. We split the bag in half and use it twice. This is a fun breakfast that we do every week if we have a little extra time in the morning.
- Bagels – We buy 2 bags of Millet & Flax bagels (usually berry flavor) from our local health food store every week. We love these for a quick breakfast, and they have 8g of protein in 1 bagel! This is plenty to fill me up, but usually I’ll make Robbie a protein shake to go with it.
- Protein Shakes – As I said above, I often make Robbie a protein shake to go in the mornings for him to take in the truck. I love protein shakes because we get more fresh fruit in our diet, and sometimes I’ll throw some spinach in as well.
Lunch Rotations include:
- Tuna Salad Sandwiches – for Robbie. I wish I could like tuna, but it’ll never happen. Just can’t do it. But Robbie loves these, so I make them almost every week. One can of tuna mixed with vegannaise and pickles will last for 2 sandwiches.
- PB&J – So easy but we’ll always eat it. If all else fails, we’ll have a PB&J with some kettle chips or carrots. Quick and easy!
- Leftovers – this right here is the reason I stopped meal planning lunches. I used to cook for my dad and brothers, so I got into the habit of cooking for 4 or more. Almost all of the dinners I make serve 4-6 people. I just tend to cook this way. I have become grateful for this though, because it makes my life a lot easier come lunch time. We almost always have leftovers from dinner that taste great the next day! Last week, for example, we had Spaghetti, veggie stirfry, and casserole for lunches.
The hard part of meal planning is the dinner part.
Well, the planning of ingredients is hard. Once I’ve done the grocery shopping, dinner is a piece of cake! Some weeks I take a lot of pictures for the blog (like last week), and sometimes I don’t (this week.) Having a choice of 5 dinner options gives me room to decide what I’m in the mood to eat that night. Sometimes I don’t make exactly what I’d planned. This week I was supposed to make quesadillas and a hard taco recipe for the blog, but I wasn’t feeling either so I just made some yummy burritos instead.
Every week, we have our tradition of making our Lavash Pizza, so that’s one of the 5 meals that I plan for. That just leaves 4 dinners that I have to choose, not bad! I usually end up doing something mexican one night, as we love it. Other nights just depend on what inspiration I have for recipes to share on the blog. I try to plan at least a couple to photograph each week. The dinners don’t always go as planned, but that’s ok. Last night Robbie got home late from a job and we had breakfast for dinner at 8 p.m. I just go with what I feel like eating that night, but shop ahead so I have options. It helps a lot with the stress of trying to figure out what we’re eating!
Most of our dinners revolve around veggies, grains, and beans, so I write those on my list first. Some other things I buy almost every week include:
- Romaine (for juicing, a salad, or on tuna sandwiches)
- Carrots (juicing, shredded for taco night, as a snack)
- Garlic & Onions – I go through these like crazy
- Mushrooms – I’m obsessed with mushrooms and use them in pretty much anything I can!
- Apples – as a snack with peanut butter or to use for juicing
- Oranges – we buy around 8 a week for snacks
- Limes – to squeeze on anything mexican I make, or for Robbie’s homemade soda.
- Lemons – I put lemon in my waters for a little flavor sometimes, it helps me drink more. Or we use them for salad dressing.
- Bananas – I often buy bananas, let them ripen, then freeze for quick smoothie making
- Frozen fruit – for smoothies (frozen blueberries are my favorite, and I eat them for snacks/dessert too)
- Unflavored sea salt popcorn – we go through a lot of snacks in a week (that’s what happens when you’re married to an ultra runner who also works outside and cycles and is always hungry) 😉
- Whole Wheat tortillas – great for quick burritos as a meal, or for quesadillas
- Almond milk creamer (for our coffee that we make at home) Robbie likes his hot, but I’m an iced coffee kinda girl.
- Unsweetened vanilla almond milk – for smoothies, cereal, or for use in my baking recipes
- Eggs – we go through around a dozen a week
- Hashbrowns – Like I talked about in the breakfast section, we love having these as a treat a couple times a week
- Ezekiel Bread – we use this a lot for breakfast toast, sandwiches, or a snack
- Organic reduced fat cream cheese – only have to buy this every 2 or 3 weeks because it lasts awhile. The only way I can eat eggs is on toast with cream cheese.
- Kettle chips – not the healthiest but better than most chips. We have them as snacks a few times during the week.
- Healthy snack bars – for Robbie’s runs, or for snacks for him throughout the work day
- Peanutbutter (with apples, in a smoothie)
That’s just a summary of some of the things that I buy every week. It will change depending on dinners for the week. I keep a running list in my phone when I notice we are getting low on something. That way I don’t have to worry about forgetting, and it keeps me organized. We spend around half of our grocery budget on produce. Meal planning has gotten easier the more I’ve done it, and I feel like we eat really well, and just hit our budget. It’s a little tight sometimes but I rearrange and make sure we have plenty to get us through the week. Sometimes we go a little over if we realize mid week that we forgot something, but most times we stay within budget.
I don’t include these things in my weekly purchases, since I don’t buy them often, but here’s some bulk items that I always keep on hand that last awhile:
- Maple Syrup (pancakes, used when I bake, for homemade soda)
- Honey (for smoothies, cereal, or baking)
- Organic instant coffee – for our coffee we make each day
- Canned beans – I usually have several on hand for easy meals just in case
- Spices – my favorites include garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, basil, oregano, paprika, cayenne, pink sea salt, and pepper. (we have a grinder mill for this)
- Vegan mayo
- pickles (for tuna or egg salad sandwiches)
This is just a window into what I do for meal planning each week. When I first started to eat healthy, I had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes I feel like we still have a ways to go, but I’m eating much healthier than I used to. I wanted to write this to you if you’re trying to more conscious of your eating choices. Meal planning should be your first step. Find some meals that you like and start planning! It won’t be easy at first, but you’ll realize how much time it will save you throughout the week. Planning your meals will set you up for success! If you have any questions or need help, please comment and I’ll do my best to help you out. Happy meal planning!