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10 Tips to Meal Planning Like a Pro

Meal prep has changed my life. Okay… maybe I still deal with the morning stress of getting kids dressed for school or sitting at yet another red light on the way to dance practice, but it’s changed my mealtime routine for the better. Not only do I save time and money, but meal prepping has greatly improved my family’s eating habits as we always have healthy food on hand. I wanted to share these 10 Tips to Meal Planning Like a Pro with you.

It’s not to say we never eat fast food (real talk: my girls have after-school activities almost every night of the week. Even on my best meal planning weeks, life happens and hitting the drive-thru is nothing to be ashamed about), but with meal prep, there’s less of a reason to hit up the closest drive-thru.

Looking back at my early days of meal prepping, it can be a little overwhelming to get started. I’ve rounded up my top 10 meal planning for beginners tips to introduce you to meal prep in an easy and sustainable way.

#1 Start slow and grow from there

There’s no reason to get bogged down trying to prepare 20 containers of food and end up getting overwhelmed. Start with something as simple as prepping your produce. I like to chop up the items I use most often like onions, peppers and broccoli. That way, if I’m making an omelet or about to sauté ground turkey for tacos, I can add in those chopped veggies instead of pulling out my cutting board and knife, saving me time and clean up. This also encourages me to add more veggies to dishes since they’re already cut and ready to go. Do the same with fruit so you always have a quick snack on hand or can add to parfaits, oatmeal and salads.

#2 Take it one meal at a time

Your first meal prep session is going to be pretty long and tiresome if you decide to prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Think of the meal time that you struggle with and start there. Is it that you have no time in the morning to prepare breakfast? Or you get home late from work and need a quick dinner solution? If you have veggies prepped ahead of time, you can throw together one of these easy sheet pan dinners in just minutes.

#3 Start with what you know

Turn to the recipes that are already a hit with your family and simply double the batch to save for later in the week or freeze for another time. No need to get overwhelmed picking up a new habit while testing new recipes. As you get more comfortable and find the types of foods that work best when reheated, move on to new recipes.

#4 Go for multi-use foods

You don’t necessarily have to prepare a bunch of perfectly-portioned meals with side dishes included. I like to prepare different parts of my meals and mix and match. For example, I’ll make chicken in the slow cooker, shred it and use it for salads, tacos, rice bowls and more. Getting dinner on the table seems less daunting when I know the main dish is prepared and I just need to whip up a quick side of rice, roasted veggies or pasta.

#5 Invest in your tools

I can’t tell you how often I rely on my slow cooker to whip up easy meals that I can freeze for later. Also, high-quality glassware is important especially if you’ll be meal prepping every week. I rounded up my top 12 meal prep essentials to help you build your collection!

#6 Recruit your kids and turn meal prep into a family affair

Kids get to hone their kitchen skills and it helps to have a few extra sets of hands around. My little ones love to wash fruits and veggies, mix ingredients and read recipes out loud. Check out these kid-friendly kitchen tasks for every age.

#7 Multi-tasking is your best friend

Make the most of your kitchen space and tools in the shortest amount of time. You can roast a sheet pan full of veggies, cook up quinoa or brown rice and add chicken to a slow cooker, all while prepping mason jar salads and chopping fruits and veggies for the week.

#8 Shop smart

Make a meal plan before going to the grocery store to avoid overbuying. I’ve definitely had those weeks where I go in without a plan, buy a lot of random items, and end up having to throw away food that has gone bad. Focus on the meals you know you’re going to make and if you’re not sure if you’ll get to something, buy the frozen variety to use in other ways.

#9 Focus on in-season produce

Save money and ensure you’re getting produce at its peak by focusing on seasonal fruits and veggies. Download the Healthy Family Project’s What’s in Season calendar and keep it on hand when making your shopping lists.

#10 Invest in your spices and condiments

While meal prepping is extremely helpful, I tend to get bored if I don’t switch up my recipes and flavors. Personally, I’m big on sauces and love how they can completely change a meal. For example, meatballs are often part of my meal prep and I switch them up week to week by changing the seasoning and sauce. I’ve made buffalo meatballs, sesame ginger, honey garlic and traditional marinara. Changing up your flavors with different dressings, sauces and seasoning can go a long way in avoiding a meal prep rut.

I also highly suggest giving Episode 63 of my Healthy Family podcast a listen. We chat with Christine Pittman of TheCookful.com all about how to meal plan in ways that are really easy for busy families.

The most important tip of all: don’t stress it. Keep these tips in mind, accept that there might be a learning curve at first, and in a few weeks you’ll be a meal prep pro!

Ready to start meal planning?

Grab the Healthy Family Project’s free printables below to plan out your family’s meals for the week and shopping list!

Written by
Amanda Keefer

Amanda Keefer is a Lake Nona mom of two and the Managing Director at Healthy Family Project. She spends her days at Healthy Family Project educating families on the importance of a healthy diet full of fruits and veggies.

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Written by Amanda Keefer

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