Planning & Prep
What is Meal Planning and Why is It Important?
Meal planning sounds like a simple habit to get into, and for people who have always done it, it’s something that probably comes pretty naturally. Indeed, for habitual meal planners, the idea of not planning out what they and their families are going to eat before visiting the grocery store is probably unnerving.
But if you were a habitual meal planner, you wouldn’t be reading this article. So what is meal planning, and why is it a good skill to develop? Most importantly, how can you learn and master the art of meal planning?
What is meal planning?
In its simplest form, meal planning means sketching out what you are going to eat at each meal over the course of a week. Planning your meals allows you to identify what ingredients and products you’ll need to prepare your meals. You can then create a shopping list to reference at the grocery store or when placing your order on Instacart.
Why is meal planning important?
Meal planning is important because it can make your life easier. We all lead hectic, busy lives, and there’s enough to think about without having to make impulsive decisions about what to eat, three times a day, seven days a week. You may not realize how much these decisions drain you or add anxiety to your day, but they can. Meal planning liberates you from those spur-of-the-moment decisions.
What are the benefits of meal planning?
Meal planning has multiple benefits that can add up to an easier, hassle-free, and healthier life for you and your family. These are just a few of the ways you’ll see results as you build this powerful new habit.
1. Meal-planning saves you time
First of all, taking a few minutes every week to meal plan will cut down on minutes wasted making those decisions right before every meal. When you know what you’re eating and how long the preparation will take, you’re freed up to get straight into making and enjoying your meals.
2. Save at the checkout
Similarly, meal planning empowers you to manage your budget more effectively. As you make a habit of planning your meals, you’ll get an excellent grip on how much each meal is costing and identify where you can trim the fat in your spending. Check out our helpful food budget calculator for more details!
3. Plan for a healthier diet
You can also use meal planning to be intentional about nutrition. Planning puts you in a more thoughtful and engaged mindset, and that makes it easier to build a balanced variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, vitamins, and minerals into your diet.
4. Cut out those bad habits
Conversely, it’s easier to break bad habits if you take the time to plan your meals. If you wait until the last minute to figure out what you’re going to eat every night, when you’re exhausted after work, short on time, or have a million other things on your mind, it’s so much more tempting to fall back on unhealthy options.
How to meal plan: Step by Step
Some people meal plan using a pen and paper; others dictate or type their plans up using a note-taking app on their phones or computers. Again, this is all about whatever is easiest for you.
- First, write down each day of the week, with a space for each meal of the day. It might be easier to work through all of the breakfasts of the week first, or you might take it one day at a time. Just write down what you’re going to eat for that meal.
- If you’re preparing the food yourself, write down what ingredients or products you’ll need. If you’re following recipes, pay attention to what quantities you’ll need of each item, and if you’re using one item for multiple meals in a week, make sure you’re going to buy enough of that item.
- Next, you need to figure out what you actually need to buy. Work through each of your meals and note every item that you don’t already have at home. Chances are you may already have some of the items you’ll need in your kitchen or pantry: You don’t need to buy a new bag of sugar for every recipe that calls for sugar! You may be running low on supplies of some staple ingredients and need to stock up, and you might be buying some items for the first time, so add these items to your shopping list.
- Double-check for any missing items or duplicates. Go through this process carefully so you don’t miss anything out.
- Consider ordering your food online to save time and make sure you don’t buy anything you don’t need from the store.
How to meal prep: More helpful hints
As you get better at planning your meals, you’ll also think about smarter, more efficient approaches to meal prep. You might cook dishes in batches to use across multiple meals, and you need to ensure you’re storing ingredients properly and safely. You can refer to your meal plan to look for opportunities to prepare items in advance and make sure your kitchen is stocked with a few essential tools and supplies to make storage easy.
You should have a good choice of supplies at hand for storing food in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, from sturdy glass and plastic food storage containers to storage bags in a variety of sizes. Additionally, products like aluminum foil and plastic wrap will help you cover and seal your containers and packages for safe storage.
Pro Tip: Keep meal planning simple and flexible
Meal planning doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, quite the opposite: meal planning needs to be easy. It’s about doing what works for you—otherwise, you simply wouldn’t do it.
Meal planning also doesn’t need to be restrictive. You don’t need to cook every meal from scratch, and you don’t need to eat “healthy” every time. Change things up to keep the habit sustainable. That means you can keep your Saturday pizza night, Sunday brunch in your favorite local restaurant, or whatever your traditions are.
Resources Related to Meal Planning
If you liked this guide and you’re looking for more helpful content, make sure to check out the following:
- Step By Step Guide for How to Plan Meals for the Week
- 25 Easy Meal Planning Ideas for Families + Tips
- 39 Healthy, Low-calorie Meals That Are Delicious and Easy
- 20+ Easy & Satisfying Meal Prep Ideas
Make Instacart your meal-planning partner
Meal planning is a great habit to get into, but it takes a little trial and error to build it into your weekly routine. If you need a little support getting there, lean on Instacart. With Instacart, you can take your time making your meal plan and your shopping list, then concentrate on ordering everything you need from the comfort of your own home. The Instacart shopper will take care of the rest while you get on with your day until you receive your order with our same-day delivery service.
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