How to Create a Meal Plan

By Lauren Shaber March 9, 2015

Meal planning is so, so important. When I don’t meal plan, I tend to eat out or spend more money on foods that I don’t need. Instead, I’m going to start planning out my weekly meals on a calendar I made. Once I have my meals planned, I’ll hit up the grocery store and then prep some of the meals ahead of time for convenience and ease.

Today I’m sharing 8 of the most useful tips I’ve found when it comes to meal planning.


1. Plan for one week at a time. Planning and prepping can be a time-consuming process, so it’s easier to sit down and plan everything at once. Write out all dishes for a week at one time, then grocery shop for all items. You don’t necessarily have to cook for 7 days, but you won’t have to have another meal plan session. I try to pick one day to cook on (usually over the weekend) to get it out of the way all at once.

2. Make your grocery list (and stick to it). Once I pick out what dishes I’m having, I’ll go through each recipe and write down what ingredients I need. I’ll cross off what I already have and make a list of what to buy in the store. This saves me from making unhealthy, impromptu purchases when I’m shopping and keeps me on track. It also makes for a quick shopping trip. I spend less time wandering the aisles in the grocery stores, allowing more time in the kitchen for prepping and cooking.

Shawn Johnson's the body department - How to Create a Meal Plan

3. Eat the same dish a couple times. You’ll thank me later when you make 5 main dishes instead of 15. If you want different things every night, create a plan that uses the same ingredients in different ways. For example, you could plan 3 separate dinners of quinoa lettuce wraps, quinoa burgers and quinoa veggie salad, which all use the same main ingredient. This way, you could cook a huge batch of quinoa at the beginning of the week to save some time at night.

4. Start planning your main meals first. I usually plan my breakfasts first since that is my favorite meal. Then I pick make-ahead lunches that I can take on the go. Lastly, I write down some dinner ideas. Once I have these, snacks are much easier to fill in.

5. Learn to love leftovers. They’re great. Making dishes ahead of time save time and effort in the kitchen. Dishes like casseroles, soups and burgers are great options that can be frozen if you don’t eat them. That way, if you’re hungry, you can grab one of those pre-made meals instead of eating out and breaking your plan. The plus? It only takes a couple of minutes if you warm them up in the microwave or on the stove top.

6. Schedule in a date night and/or a free meal. If you’re craving something, that’ll make you want it more. Schedule in some time where you can indulge (within reason). I try to pair these with special events like holidays or date nights. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but not limiting yourself will help you stay on track. It’ll actually help keep you excited throughout the week, knowing you have a fun meal to look forward to. I promise it won’t kill your efforts.

7. Explain your plan to your roommates/family members. Make it clear that you want to keep healthy options in your house. That way, they’ll be less likely to bring in treats and other items to tempt you. I explained to Matt how the challenge works, what my eating habits will look like and how I’ll be spending my Sundays prepping for the week ahead. Now he knows what to expect and how to help me succeed. Same goes for if you’re eating out with friends or family. Don’t be afraid to choose a place that has healthy options available; likely, your family will want to support your healthy lifestyle.

8. Have alternative options available. It happens to the best of us: you look at your meal plan and see there’s avocado toast, but you really aren’t in the mood for it. Have some last-minute versions of your favorite meals for those times when you really want to switch up the meal plan. I tend to have toast, fruit and trail mix on hand for times like this. I also always have a couple “Under 5 Minute” recipes (stir-frys, wraps, or sandwiches) in the back of my head for when I want to replace a main meal.
Shawn Johnson's the body department - How to Create a Meal Plan

Download the template to help you plan your meals and workouts!

*This post was originally published on For more from Lauren, be sure to visit her site here.

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