One question that I get a lot from clients is whether or not it’s okay to meal plan if you’re trying to eat intuitively. The short answer would be, yes it’s okay to meal plan! But we want to be doing so in a flexible way, that allows for change and variety.
I think that for most people there’s a big fear that if we introduce any form of structure into our eating, we’ll automatically fall back into restriction or diet-y behaviors. If you’re coming from a background of these behaviors, it’s a valid concern. It’s important to be working through restrictive mindsets and the desire for control so that we can come to a place of neutrality with food decisions. If you’re someone who has used meal planning as a way to restrict in the past, you may want to double check your intentions before getting started again.
However, if you’re in a good place in your relationship with food, meal planning can be a super helpful tool! It can encourage wise spending of your money and help you get organized as prepare for your week. I know many people have families and small children to feed, daily commitments to consider and tight budgets. Loosely planning out some meals for the week can help us keep all of those priorities in mind without becoming too rigid.
I’m sharing some tips below that have worked for me in the past. You may find that some of them work for you and others don’t. That’s totally okay! You can always try some out, see how they feel and keep what works best for you. Give yourself grace and room to figure out what the best options are for your own needs.
Consider only planning ~3 dinner meals per week. AKA you go to the grocery store with a plan to buy ingredients for 3 (ish) planned dinner meals that you want to incorporate throughout your week. This leaves room for other meals and nights out with friends. You have the opportunity to try something new with these dinner meals or stick with old favorites! (You don’t always have to have something new and “Pinterest worthy”-your favorite lasagna or mac and cheese recipe is just fine!).
Plan to make extras for leftovers. Consider doubling or tripling the recipe you’re working with so you can have some extra to use for lunches or dinner the next day. This can make lunches and dinner decisions much simpler.
Try rotating breakfast and lunches. I try to incorporate variety into my meals so I’ve been working on rotating my options for breakfast and lunch. Sometimes I’ll have oatmeal for breakfast, other days cereal or eggs and toast. I do the same with lunches. Some days I’ll have leftovers, other days I’ll bring some kind of sandwich or salad with lots of sides.
Allow the days and meal choices to change. Sometimes things come up during the week. Building in flexibility is key. Some days I just flat out don’t want to cook (hello Friday!). Some weeknights I would rather spend my time outdoors than making a whole meal. When that happens, I just adjust and save one of my 3 planned dinner meals for another night.
Make a grocery list, but leave room for changes and fun foods. Making a list is helpful so you don’t forget what you need (and can avoid making 100 trips to the store each week). Typically, I try to figure out what I definitely need and leave room for changes once I get to the store. I like to make sure I’m also planning some fun foods like ice cream or cookie dough or other desserts. More on how I grocery shop here.
Compile some lists of favorite and go-to meals. I like to compile the meals and recipes that I really all in one place. If I make something that I turns out really well, I’ll put it into a file on my computer or pin it to a Pinterest board so I can come back to it. Keeping your favorites handy can help you avoid falling into a black hole searching for recipes and over-thinking your options.
Have some staples and convenience foods on hand at home. Continually restock your pantry and freezer with items you can use to quickly whip something together when you don’t feel like cooking. Keep frozen pizzas, veggie mixes, frozen burritos, waffles, potatoes, bread, etc. on hand for easy meals or snacks.
I’m also sharing a downloadable meal planning guide that I created! It’s intentionally very simple so that you can make it your own! It’s meant to be an outline, so don’t feel like you need to fill in each and every day, just use what you need and what’s most helpful for you.