How to meal plan in 6 steps
Use these meal planning tips to help make eating healthy easier.
Eating healthy isn’t always easy or convenient, but during a pandemic when time at the grocery store is limited, it's even harder.
Meal planning can help you ensure your once-a-week shopping trip or online order keeps you and your family well fed.
“Meal planning and preparing can make the healthy choice the easy choice,” says Lindsey Wohlford, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Taking steps to plan your healthy meals can help you make sure you have the ingredients you need and ensure you get the right nutrients to maintain a healthy weight. Both are an important part of lowering your risk for disease. Follow these tips to set yourself up for success when it comes to grocery shopping during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
1: Keep a list of meal ideas and recipes
Start by compiling a list of your favorite healthy meals and recipes. Store them somewhere that’s easy to find, like a recipe box or a folder on your computer if you’re using electronic files. Add your favorites to the list over time. This way you won’t struggle to come up with healthy meal ideas when it comes time to make your schedule.
“The meals don’t have to be complicated,” Wohlford says. “There’s nothing wrong with keeping it really simple.”
2: Make a calendar
Each week, set aside some time to plan your meals for the week ahead. Look at your schedule. Are there days that making dinner will be a challenge? Take that into consideration as you write out your calendar. Try something quick, like stir fry or salads, or leftovers those nights. It may help to fill in the busiest days first and work from there.
3: Plan lunches and breakfast
Once you have your dinners determined for the week, it’s easier to fill in the lunch and breakfast. Can you eat leftovers for lunch a few days? Buy ingredients for healthy sandwiches, salads or other meals on the days that you won’t have leftovers.
Determine what you will eat for breakfast, and add those items to the grocery list. It’s easy to forget these steps, and that’s where diet downfalls may happen.
4: Make your grocery list
Add the ingredients for each meal to your grocery list. Don’t forget to check and see what you already have at home. In addition to helping you eat healthy, meal planning can also help you save money. Be sure to add some healthy snacks to keep at work and at home to keep you from taking those sweets in the break room or raiding the vending machines. Ordering online can help you make sure the store has what you need. If some items are unavailable, you can look for alternatives from the comfort of your own home, without spending more time in a store.
5: Prep for success
Don’t forget to set yourself up for success. As you’re putting away the groceries, chop fruits and veggies or put them into individual containers so they’re ready to go for the week ahead. It won’t take too much extra time then and it could save you lots of time on hectic weekday mornings.
“Prepare for tomorrow’s meal today,” Wohlford says.
6: Have a back-up plan
Even the best laid plans fall through. Work schedules can be erratic during this time. Or maybe you just don't feel like cooking your planned meal. Try to prepare for those times too:
- Batch cook healthy emergency meals to put in your freezer.
- Keep quick and easy things on hand as a part of your pantry staples like lentils, beans, whole grain pasta, eggs and canned or frozen veggies.
- Choose ingredients that will last and give you flexibility.
Once your meal plan calendar is complete, post it on your fridge or anywhere in your kitchen. This lets everyone know what the meals for the week are and makes you more accountable to following through with them.
Find COVID-19 resources and learn how MD Anderson is responding to the pandemic.
This article was last updated on April 15, 2020.