Principles of Meal Planning: 3 Simple Steps to Get Started

Have you tried meal planning for the week but need help sticking to it?

I’m breaking down the structure and guidance you need to start meal planning and prioritize eating nutritious foods quickly.

You will learn the key principles behind meal planning and why it is essential for a healthy lifestyle, and a realistic and straightforward approach to making it a routine. 

What is meal planning?

Meal planning is simply the practice of preparing and setting yourself up to make nutritious food choices with food you enjoy. 

I know you’ve experienced that mild stress and panicky feeling of not having anything to eat at home, making you more likely to get takeout or overeat a bunch of random snacks. 

Thinking ahead about what you will eat is key to avoiding making last-minute impulsive food choices when you are hungry.

Let’s get into all the basic foundations of meal planning so you can make healthy food choices more effortless.

Principles of Meal Planning

How you decide to plan out meals may vary for everyone. But there are some principles to always keep in mind.

Balance

When choosing foods, aim to pair foods to make well-balanced meals to help you stay energized, full and happy for hours.

A balanced meal includes protein, carbohydrates, vegetables or fruit, and fat.

Keep reading to learn more about how to make a balanced meal below!

Variety

It is essential to understand that all foods can fit into a healthy diet and that eating a variety of foods in your diet is expected and more realistic long term. 

My clients often force themselves to eat foods they don’t like but know are healthy. 

Take some time to explore what nutritious foods you like and how you can pair them with other food groups to make a delicious meal to look forward to. 

Picture of a weekly meal plan template with a pen and fruits next to it on a table.

Consistency

It is impossible to always be prepared and meal plan perfectly all the time. Life happens! 

Keep going if your planning turns out the way you had hoped. There is no failure.

Acknowledge the days that went well and the days that didn’t, learn from your experiences, and continue to practice making meals for yourself.

Remember, meal planning is a practice that helps you live a healthy lifestyle and feel your best. 

Flexibility

Meal planning takes an open mind and flexibility. I know you have seen people on social media who make you feel like you have to cook everything in bulk on Sunday, and your meals have to look pretty in pre-portioned containers. 

Many people have this perception that everything has to be perfect, and I’m here to let you know that your meals aren’t going to look like social media, and it’s going to be messy, and that’s just real life.

You can use social media as inspiration, but the process is about finding what works best for you. Take it one week at a time. 

Do I need to count grams or calories?

The short answer is no. Despite what popular diets say, you don’t have to count, weigh or measure everything that you eat. 

It might surprise you that nutrition food labels in the U.S. can legally be off by 20%! So all that time you spent tracking numbers is not 100% accurate. It is an estimate.

Approach nutrition with the knowledge that you always estimate how much you need based on your natural hunger and fullness cues.

A better approach to counting – The plate method

I recommend using the plate method below to simplify the process of quickly putting together a meal. 

It is helpful to understand the appropriate portion sizes of the different food groups and how to pair them with the other macronutrients to find what amounts work best for you. 

If you want to learn more about how pairing all of these foods together can improve your health, check out my free guide on creating balanced meals, where I break down the benefits of each food group. 

Infographic of the components of a balanced meal including the macronutrient breakdown.

3 Simple Steps To Meal Planning

I like to teach the following three steps to make the meal planning process as easy as possible.

Step 1: Plan

The first step will be identifying what foods you want to eat.

Get ideas from blogs, books, magazines, restaurants, Pinterest, or friends to decide what you want to prepare for yourself. 

Brainstorm how you can combine different foods that you like to make a balanced meal and write them down.

Step 2: Prep

Make a grocery list of all the ingredients you need to buy to make your meals happen, and get them. 

Factors to consider:

  • How are you going to prepare the food?
  • Cooking from scratch? 
  • Pre-marinated or pre-cooked proteins?
  • Are you going to use some convenience foods?
    • Pre-chopped vegetables or fruit
    • Frozen protein, vegetables, or starch?
  • Are you trying a new recipe that requires more time?
  • Does anyone else need to be included in the decision-making process?

A grocery list makes your trip to the store quick and efficient—no overthinking and scrambling about what to make in the aisles. Get in and get out!

Step 3: Build

The last step is deciding when and how you will put your meals together. 

Types of meal planning

  • Large Batching: cook multiple meals at once for the whole week
  • Small Batching: cook 1-2 meals at the beginning of the week and 1-2 in the middle of the week
  • Plan to make a quick dinner every day
  • Meal delivery or meal kits

Your meal plan can change weekly depending on your schedule, but you won’t know what works for you until you try it. 

Picture of green beans cooking in an air fryer.

Fast cooking methods

Keep your cooking methods simple and with what you are comfortable with.

  • Air Frying
  • Pressure cooking (Instapot)
  • Stir-frying

 If you don’t like cooking, take advantage of pre-cooked or frozen food to build your meals.

Consider if you can have a spouse, significant other, roommate, or friend who can help you with part of the cooking. You don’t have to do it alone! 

What to do if all else fails?

Have a backup plan! Instead of resorting to takeout because you “have nothing to eat at home,” you can have some staple foods you like always stocked to help you make a healthy choice in a pinch.

I recommend always having ingredients for 1-2 last-minute meals ready to go home.

This meal should be one that you know off the top of your head that can quickly whip together and enjoy. 

Summary

Making time to plan your meals can be a game changer in helping you consistently make healthier food choices that keep you energized and satisfied and curb cravings.

The fundamental principles of meal planning include balance, variety, consistency, and flexibility. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect. Your process can change from week to week. 

Use the three simple steps: Plan, Prep, and Build to create a personalized weekly routine to live a balanced lifestyle and feel great every day.

If you want to learn more about how to make a balanced meal check out my FREE guide to get some guidance. 

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