We all occasionally suffer from the "Sunday Scaries" — that feeling of anxiety that sets in when the weekend comes to a close. For some, the thought of creating a weeklong meal plan of healthy, delicious dishes is daunting, but it shouldn’t be a source of stress.
Creating a meal plan and working from menu planner can alleviate a lot of stress from your work week. From the importance of making a grocery list to focusing on ingredients that create easy yet versatile recipes, here are four hassle-free tips to help you meal plan like a pro.
1. Source inspiration from apps.
Not all of us are creative geniuses in the kitchen, but the good news is we don’t have to be. Thanks to a plethora of widely available recipe resources like Pinterest, Epicurious and AllRecipes (among many others) a variety of creative, easy-to-make and customizable recipes are right at your fingertips.
To create healthy, filling meals, look for recipes containing ingredients that offer protein, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. You'll want to keep your meals low in added sugars and sodium. Resources like Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate provide a deeper dive into the importance of including various food groups and the recommended portion sizes for each.
If you’re a novice in the kitchen, pay attention to the estimated prep and cook times — the shorter, the better, because chances are it’ll take longer than expected!
2. Mix and match ingredients
Many people rely on grab-and-go lunches or takeout dinners during the week because they crave variety. But eating the same ingredients all week long doesn’t have to be boring!
When searching for recipes, look for ingredients that can be easily mixed and matched to create a multitude of meals. Chicken, quinoa, lentils and vegetables are all great examples — maybe dinner one night is a marinated chicken breast with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts and quinoa, and lunch the following day is a DIY version of your favorite Sweetgreen bowl with all the same ingredients, plus spinach and a drizzle of olive oil. Get creative with how you combine different foods — there’s no wrong way to do it so long as you enjoy it!
3. Make a (grocery) list and check it twice.
Once you have a sense of the recipes you want to make, create a detailed grocery list and stick to it. One of the biggest complaints from beginner home cooks is the expense of groceries, but if you avoid impulse buys and make savvy choices like shopping for produce that’s in season, you’ll be in great shape. You'll also want to keep a few pantry staples in your kitchen at all times, like non-stick cooking spray, fat-free milk, olive oil, chicken and other ingredients you regularly incorporate in your weekly meal planner.
If you add up the cost of buying lunch and/or dinner every day, that grocery bill doesn’t look too crazy after all. Buying a salad is a lot more expensive than making one at home! As a recent study by the University of Washington School of Public Health found, cooking at home is not only cheaper, but healthier.
4. Prep for success!
Busy schedules often prevent even the most well-intentioned people from cooking as often as they’d like, and that’s where meal prep comes in. Carving out a few hours on the weekend to make large batches of those mix-and-match ingredients will be a saving grace for weekdays. All you’ll have to do when you get home is reheat your dinner and/or pack your lunch for the following day.
Creating a healthy, delicious meal plan for your work week doesn’t have to be arduous or expensive. By dedicating some time and just a bit of planning, you’ll be able to eliminate the daily question of “what should I eat?” and save energy — and money! — in the process.
Kaitlin Bitting is a public relations pro and a certified health & wellness coach. She's passionate about helping people find the motivation to create lasting, positive change in their lives, whether personal or professional. Learn more at kaitlinbitting.com.