Simplifying Weekly Meal Planning

Meal planning and choices can get so overwhelming, time-consuming, and cause a lot of stress in your day or week. I’ve compiled 5 tips to help you #makefoodeasy. Our basic formula: plan + remove choice + keep it simple.

#1: The Pantry Make-Over

It starts with your pantry, fridge, and freezer – what’s in there? This might sound super straight forward, but what you keep stocked and on-hand regularly will help a TON when it comes to de-stressing your weekly meal routine. 

Take a look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer right now, and take note of how many things you have that 

fall into the following categories:

1. Vegetables & fruits: fresh, or frozen

2. Starchy carbs: rice, bread, quinoa, pasta, couscous, barley, oats, etc.

3. Meat: Beef, poultry, fish, pork, or meat alternatives.

4. Fats: olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, butter, nut butters, avocado, etc.

How did you do? How many in each category do you have? Do you ENJOY eating the ones you do have?

The first step is to identify a few items in each category that you LIKE to eat. Eating healthy does not mean filing your plate each day with things you detest eating. Rule #1 is your food must be enjoyable. It just has to be. If you hate it, the changes won’t stick.

Tip: If you’re constantly throwing out vegetables and fruits because they’ve gone bad, I highly recommend getting frozen – crisp vegetables either by roasting in the oven or on the BBQ to avoid that frozen vegetable mushy texture;)

#2: The Meal Plan

Before you worry that this is where it gets complicated, or I’m going to ask you to go out and buy 35 tupperware containers - I assure you none of that is going to happen. I’m going to use supper as my example for meal planning here because I see that’s where most clients struggle – it’s a chaotic time of day, you’re tired, and you just want to eat.

But first, two things I want you to remember when it comes to meals:

  1. They do NOT need to look instagram worthy. Stop the madness. This is about feeling satiated, fueling you and your family for everything you do from morning to night. It does not need to look pretty, or even make sense. Sometimes, the dinner’s that make the least sense end up being our favourite! Steak and pancakes? Why the heck not.
  2. Every single meal doesn’t need to be restaurant deliciousness. If I could, I would eat steak, pasta, and cheesecake every night. I am NOT saying food should be bland, boring, and look like bodybuilder meals from the 90’s with nothing more than steamed vegetables and some sort of meat patty in Tupperware. But, get over the idea that each meal should be absolutely award winning. Simplifying my weekday meals and knowing they are to literally fuel me through my day chasing my daughter, getting in the odd workout, and keeping me from being a moody biatch, allows me take some pressure off of creating epic meals every night.

Grab your meal planning sheet and write out one item from each of these categories for dinner each night: vegetables, starchy carb, meat. Done and done. That’s it. You now have a balanced meal.

There are no rules on what meat goes with which veg and which starch. It sounds too easy, I know. But the less choices we leave for ourselves each night the better! Choices suck when you’re tired and hungry. Want even simpler? Do veg & meat only if you’re feeling like you don’t need as much starchy carbs (ie. moving less, sitting more).

But what about fats? That’s the easy part. Drizzle some olive oil on your vegetables, roast your sweet potato with butter or coconut oil, Toss some chopped almonds or walnuts on your salad, or roast seeds with your vegetables. And depending on your cut of meat, there will be some naturally occurring there, as well.

#3: The Grocery Shop

Grocery shopping. It’s no small feat. Make it as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Remove all the choices AHEAD of time by doing your pantry check and meal plan, so that when you get in the store you aren’t standing around scratching your head wondering if you saw chicken in your fridge or just Frank’s Red Hot.

  1. Schedule a day(s) to shop. Get it down to as few days as you can. If you’re saying, “but I don’t have time to do a big shop once a week”, think about how much time it takes you to drive to and from the grocery store every 2 days. Try even for twice a week if you’re currently doing more. Find a day and time each week when there typically isn’t something booked, and/or your partner or caregiver can watch your kid(s). Schedule it into your calendar the same way you would a doctor’s appointment – keep your appointment to yourself! 
  2. Select your shopping method. Groceries are available in many more options lately. In Calgary we have Spud who does front door drop-off, and Superstore who has on-line shopping with a park & pick-up option (you park, call them, and they load your groceries right into your car – absolutely saved us in early postpartum in the middle of winter!!). Check your local resources!
  3. MAKE A LIST. Do it. You know what you need from the action steps in days 1 & 2 and this will save you SO much time.

Hot tip: as you get familiar with your local grocery store, make your list in the order of the way it goes in the store. I know, sounds crazy, but I can visualize the store in my head, so as I type my list into my phone each week I put things in the order I walk through the store. No looping back and forth. In. Out. Done.

Start your grocery list as soon as you see something runs out, so that you don’t have to write the entire thing on Sunday morning. I promise you will get faster and faster at this as you do it more and more.

I know you’re shaking your head saying, this is all so basic. Guess what, basics are where it’s at.  What’s the saying? 80% preparation 20% action? Ya that.

Keep it simple, remove as much choice from your day as possible, and keep it uncomplicated. 

#4: Flavour it up

Initially this might be the intimidating part, but as you create and experiment it gets easier and easier. If you’re starting off, I recommend typing two ingredients into google with “recipe” on the end, and see what comes up. For example, “chicken thighs cilantro recipe”. Up will pop a billion options of recipes that include chicken and cilantro, and by opening a few (no more than 3 – remember, keep it SIMPLE, and be time efficient), you’ll see a few other ingredients that will go with the two ingredients you’re working with. Pick one or two, add them in, and go. Didn’t work? My husband always reminds me when I can’t decide on what to make or order at a restaurant, “If it sucks, there’s another meal 3 hours from now”. LOL. True though, right? 

Some of my favourite pairings are:

  • tart & spicy: lime & cayenne
  • straight up sweet: cinnamon & maple syrup
  • rich & spicy: cocoa powder & chilli powder (for real!)
  • acidic & herbs: lemon juice & parsley
  • salty & sweet: maple syrup & soy sauce

Similar to having my grocery list in order of the grocery store layout to save time, I also have my spice cupboard organized by the things I like to typically pair together, so that as soon as I grab one jar the next one is right beside it. Let me correct that – the cupboard shelves higher than 3 feet (aka the reach of a 16 month old) are organized, hah!

#5: Simple Snacks

When it comes to snacks, my philosophy remains the same. Simple. Few ingredients. As convenient as possible.

I used to make all the things – homemade granola and protein bars and muffins, trying to have really balanced snacks, timing them just right. And it got to be TOO much. When I switched the focus to having heartier balanced meals, my snacks became way less of a need. I still have them and need them to get me from meal to meal, but I’m not needing to make 5 meals a day – which is what my snacks were making it feel like.

Some small steps ahead of time will make your options for super quick snacks multiply:

  • Make smoothie bags in batches and keep them in the freezer.
  • Pre-chop (or buy pre-chopped) veggies. Have hummus or dip with the plate of veggies so there’s not even any searching for it in the fridge.
  • Have grab-and-go fruits on hand: apples, oranges, pears, bananas, grapes.
  • Have mini-bags of almonds or trail mix prepped.
  • Protein bars stocked.

The tiny step of pre-bagging nuts or trail mix, or making smoothie bags ahead of time, helps to remove as many barriers and choices from around food as you can, and it is SO much easier to eat a healthy balanced diet.

Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re training exceptionally hard at a certain time of day, you’re going to need to adjust your meals and snacks accordingly. If you work shift work, or just find more snacks and smaller meals works for you, that’s okay, too. There is NO right or single way to eat. But no matter what your preference: keep it simple, go back to basics, remove as many choices as possible, and keep it convenient.

I have created THREE free worksheets for you to help you get start simplifying your weekly meal planning today:

  • Sample Grocery List
  • Weekly Meal Planner
  • Sample Flavour Combinations

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