Some simple meal planning and food prep can go a long way to help you reduce stress, save time, and ensure that your health remains top priority. Even when life is… full.
I really used to struggle to keep up with eating well on a daily basis. I knew that poor food choices caused me to experience digestive upset, anxiety, and fatigue, and that choosing healthier options helped me to feel energized and mentally fit each day. But as soon as life got busy or stressful, I just couldn’t stick with it.
What I learned is that you can have all the knowledge in the world about WHAT to eat, but it’s so much more important to build the habit of planning and prepping food.
The habit of simple meal planning and prep is a game changer.
You might find the idea of meal planning daunting. In reality, it’s much more stressful to be scrounging together dinners at the end of each day when you’re tired and starving.
One key to simplify meal planning is to create a flexible plan for the week, that focuses mainly on dinners, and includes lots of versatile items that can be used the next day to go along with breakfasts and lunches.
The relatively small amount of time that you invest on planning and prep will provide you with a BIG payoff later in the week. You’ll feel more energized, focused, and productive—and you’ll get more done with the time you do have!
Plan for the days that don’t go as planned.
In addition to making use of leftovers, your flexible plan should also include a day that you’ll eat out, order in, or rely on some healthier convenience items. The reality is that life always gets in the way of the best plans—you might get stuck late at work, get invited to a social event, or maybe you just won’t feel like cooking. Planning ahead by having some key items stocked in your freezer, or having healthy restaurant options in mind, will help you to eat well on even the craziest of days.
Below are some tips to help get you set up for the week, so that you can eat well without feeling overwhelmed.
Simple meal planning and food prep for reduced stress
1. Stick to quick and easy meals on weekdays.
All of my weekday meals are BASIC—when it comes to ingredients, less is more. This idea may seem boring at first, but I assure you that basic doesn’t mean unsatisfying or flavourless. The more you use real, whole-food ingredients, the more you’ll grow to love and appreciate the abundance of flavour available to you.
- Always have fresh herbs on hand such as parsley, dill, cilantro, and basil. This is such a simple way to add a flavour boost to any meal, not to mention a big dose of healthy micronutrients.
- Keep some key dry spice blends in your pantry—the same roasted veggies made with different spices make for completely different side dishes.
- Stock up on frozen veggies—they’re lifesaving when you’re really short on time!
- One-pot meals are where it’s at. Throw ingredients in a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot, set it and forget it. Seriously, I couldn’t LIVE without these two kitchen appliances.
- Have some fun trying new or elaborate recipes on the weekend when you have more time to experiment in the kitchen. Simplify weekdays by sticking to tried-and-tested meals.
2. Make use of leftovers
Whenever you cook, make tons of extras! You’re in the kitchen anyway, and it takes very little extra effort to double up your recipe. I try to cook for at least 2-3 meals at a time.
- Leftover roasted veggies make for great sides with breakfast. Simply re-heat and have them alongside 2-3 eggs for a hearty, 3-minute breakfast.
- Leftover protein (chicken, steak, burgers, fish, etc.) can be served cold on top of a big salad for lunch.
- Break up the steps to make it less daunting.
3. Break up the steps to make it less daunting.
Step 1: Create your flexible meal plan.
- Plan out your super basic meals and snacks for the whole week. You can use a printable calendar like I do, pictured above.
- Include any special occasions where you’ll be eating out
- Every one deserves a break from the kitchen, and there are tons of healthy take-out and delivery options these days! In our house, we’ll typically order delivery once every 2 weeks for a fun night in. Plan it out, and enjoy guilt-free. Some of our favourites are Thai or Indian food.
- If you really want to simplify things, try making 2-3 regular weekly meal plans (week 1, week 2, week 3…). Cycle these for awhile until you feel ready to switch things up
Step 2: Create your grocery list.
- Once your meal plan is filled out, take inventory of the ingredients you already have on hand, and add the remaining items to your grocery list.
- To make shopping a breeze, first categorize your list by store (Costco, butcher, grocery store, health store, etc.)
- Then organize by section (fresh produce, freezer items, organics, dry goods, etc.)
Step 3: Do one big grocery shop for the whole week, with a plan for a quick greens and veggie top up mid-week. I usually do my big shop on Fridays, or really early on Saturday mornings while the store is still quiet. Don’t forget to eat before you shop—we all know that going to Costco on an empty stomach can lead to a VERY expensive bill.
Step 4: Do some Sunday meal prep. Even just 1 extra hour of prep sets you up for a great start to the week. Hubs and I do like to make meal prep fun by blasting some music, making a special Sunday dinner, and maybe even having a glass of wine together. #SundayFunday
Some weekend food prep ideas:
- Roast a ton of veggies to add alongside any meal during the week. Some of my favourites are roasted sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, squash, cherry tomatoes, beets, or carrots.
- Roast one or two whole chickens (depending on the number of people in your household). Have roast chicken legs for dinner, slice chicken breasts to add to lunches, and dice up a bunch to mix with avocado mayo for chicken salad wraps.
- Pre-wash and chop raw veggies for easy grab and go snacks with hummus, guacamole, almond butter, or homemade dips.
- Use your Slow Cooker or Instant Pot to make ahead chili, soup, curry, or stew. Portion and freeze so it’s ready to go on extra busy nights.
For more ideas you can follow me over on Instagram—I frequently share what I’m munchin’ on in my Stories!
By doing some simple meal planning and food prep, keeping weekday meals quick and easy, and making use of leftovers, you can save a TON of time and stress during the week, and also ensure that your health remains a top priority.
One last thing. You may be thinking, Fiona, why don’t you just give me a meal plan to follow?
I used to provide my clients with meal plans, but quickly realized that just like me, they needed to create the habit of doing meal planning and food prep for themselves—otherwise they’d follow my plan for a couple weeks and then fall off track.
There are a million healthy meal plans and recipes online, all free and available at the click of a mouse—but it’s your weekly and daily habits that actually matter, and most important, learning to make a plan that works for YOU.
Since learning the value of meal planning myself, I now provide my clients with very simple recipes, along with printable blank meal planning templates. Then I teach them HOW to create simple meal plans that work for their specific needs.
Here’s what one of my clients had to say about it:
“I now use your meal planning and grocery list templates religiously—prior to working together I would shop every day on the fly, eat on the go for breakfast and lunches, and spend a fortune on prepared foods. I now know how crappy those foods made me feel. Meal planning is something so simple and basic, but I’ve found huge value in it. It has become automatic—I know what healthy eating looks like on a weekly basis, and just do it as part of my weekly routine now”.
I hope you find the above simple meal planning tips useful as well, so you’re set up for a week of nourishing foods that help you to feel energized, and ready to take on anything that life throws your way.
To happiness and healthy habits,
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