Nutrition Corner: Meal planning

Nutrition CounselingMeal prep at home:
Something fancy, something fun, something simple

Meal planning can sometimes be overwhelming, especially if you think you need elaborate plans for each night. One approach for the week ahead is to choose one item from each category below—something fancy, fun and simple—and buy enough for leftovers. You can build in meal variety over several weeks this way.

Still need convincing? See our Extra Meal Planning Tips below the 3 lists.

Something Fancy—Delicious, savory meals

Something Fun—Easy-to-assemble, with a high “wow” factor

  • Taco meat with peppers, cilantro and onion on corn tortillas. (Have extra tortillas? Make quesadillas or these fried egg breakfast tacos)
  • Pizza toppings on store-bought cauliflower crust or flatbread, for fresh-from-the oven pizzazz
  • Black bean salad with corn, peppers, onion and cilantro, spritzed in lime juice and olive oil
  • A delicious peanut sauce on just about any stir-fry
  • Chilled pasta or roasted squash salad with olive oil, chickpeas, chopped kale, peppers, mushrooms, artichokes and chunks of your favorite cheese
  • Mason jar salads for on-the-go ease
  • Sautéed or roasted carrots with oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and maple syrup

Something Simple—Quick and easy for healthy fridge grazing

  • Pair a ready-to-eat protein with a super-simple salad (ideas below), fresh or frozen veggies
  • Store-bought cold chicken with a sauce for dipping and a summer salad
  • Pre-cooked chicken sausages with condiments and frozen corn
  • Simple open-faced tuna melt with pesto and fresh tomato
  • Avocado toast topped with a hard-boiled egg or hummus, cucumber and arugula toast
  • Fiesta shrimp grain bowl, with frozen or fresh shrimp
  • A French apero dinatoire–style grazing table
  • Super-simple salad ideas:
    • Chopped tomato, avocado and onion dressed with store-bought pesto or simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar mixture
    • Chopped nectarines or pears, bagged greens and goat cheese with store-bought vinaigrette
    • Store-bought Goddess dressing for dipping with carrot sticks, cucumber spears or mini-peppers
    • A store-bought salad kit
  • Super-simple veggie ideas:
    • Fresh asparagus or green beans sautéed for about 10 minutes in olive or sesame oil, and topped with lemon zest, parmesan cheese or balsamic glaze
    • Precooked and packaged beets (or canned) with walnuts, parsley and goat cheese
    • Snap peas or cucumber with dip
    • Sautéed bok choy with spicy chili sauce
  • Super-simple desserts

Still need convincing? Here are 6 Extra Meal Planning Tips:

  1. Build a list throughout the week for meal ideas and groceries to speed up both the planning and shopping steps.
  2. Look at what you have in the fridge and pantry and start from there. This can help eliminate food waste while also saving money!
  3. Don’t overburden yourself by cooking everything at once.
    • Cook the fancy meal for Sunday night—with enough extras for 1-2 meals of leftovers.
    • Cook the fun item either Monday night for variety or, if you’re ambitious, earlier on Sunday to get a jump on things.
    • The simple ideas should be ready from the store with less than 5-10 minutes of prep. Extras stay on hand in the fridge for healthy eating whenever you’re in a pinch.
    • Buy enough for extras in every category, to have options as you go through the rest of the week after cooking just a few times. Be cautious of overbuying however!
  4. Invest in extra storage containers to keep leftovers. Ones that stack well in the fridge are recommended, as well as glass for easier cleaning.
  5. Still don’t have time? Try using a grocery or meal delivery service. These cost more but can be a way to start meal planning with fewer steps.
  6. Keep a list of fancy, fun and simple successes to store for later use. This will come in handy when you draw a blank on the next meal to prepare, or when you are low on motivation to plan a full week of new meals.

Meal planning always takes a little extra time up front, but in the end, it can save you money, food waste, spontaneous meals bought outside the home and even calories if you focus on healthy meals. Try it out and make it work for your schedule and your family.

Happy eating!