I am always, always on the lookout for ways to make it easier to eat well while avoiding as many processed foods as possible, so naturally, I’m completely geeking out about our first-ever Hack Week! And I figured this was the perfect time to talk about why a meal plan is the ultimate food hack — and share how to create a meal plan that rocks.
Okay, fine, you do have to do a little more work on the front end, but, if you play your cards right, you end up with nutritious, tasty meals all week long without spending your precious weeknights in the kitchen.
Now, we’ve already shared several ways to make meal planning easy and awesome (like this, and this, and this), but there are a few basic steps that you can do on a free day to make the coming week a cinch.
How to Create a Meal Plan
Step 1: Plan out your meals. You can start with what you have on hand and find recipes to use up those ingredients, flip through your favorite cookbook or recipe site (ahem), pick a food or ingredient theme for the week (or each day) and select recipes based on that, or think up ways to change up meals your family already loves.
Step 2: Shop and chop. Make a list of what you’ll need for these meals, figure out what you already have on hand, and hit the supermarket. Pick up anything that doesn’t need to be picked up that same day (like fresh bread or veggies you know you’ll find at your mid-week farmer’s market). When you get it all home, prep as much as you can. Chop veggies to throw into stir-fry or salads, separate your meat into serving sizes, and even consider cooking and baking items that can easily be warmed up.
Step 3: Store and label. You don’t want all your hard work to be for nothing, right? So store your prepped foods in labeled containers so that it’s clear to you (or anyone who might help you out in the kitchen) what each bit of food is for. There’s nothing like scouring the fridge for the chicken you’d carefully seasoned and sauteed for that night’s salad, only to find your significant other had eaten it all in a wrap for lunch. Plus, you don’t want to be tasked with remembering everything — trust me, notes will make it easier.
Step 4: Post the plan. Depending on how detailed you like to be, you can either write up a quick daily menu or include specifics about what’s already prepped and what still needs to be made for each meal. If you haven’t already shared the week’s meal plan with your family, now is the time to do so. Make sure everyone is on board, and if needed, delegate responsibilities for each meal to different family members. It’s not only a great way to get everyone involved, but it’ll also make you more likely to stay on track and not rely on takeout if your day gets hectic.
Anything else you’d add to the how-to-create-a-meal-plan process? How do you handle it in your home? —Kristen