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{Note from Jessica: Today’s post is shared by my good friend, Lauren, author of Lauren Fowler. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and yoga teacher who promotes a non-diet approach to nutrition and health. She wants everyone to connect to their bodies intuitive wisdom rather than following diets. She encourages the tools of intuitive eating and health at every size. Stop by LaurenFlower.co to read more about nutrition, intuitive eating, heart-based health, and yoga.}

Like a lot of people I know, meal planning sounds like a great way to stay organized. You may even be great at meal planning for a few weeks before it slowly starts to disappear out of your life.

Personally, I’ve tried several different ways of meal planning – from trying to plan out nearly all or most of my meals to being more flexible and choosing a few meals a week to plan. With time and practice, I’ve found the style of meal planning that works for me, as well as different styles that work for my clients.

Why Meal Plan?

Before setting a new habit, you need to figure out why it’s important for you. Some of the most common reasons for meal planning are:

  • Convenience, especially for those with busy schedules or families
  • Saves you time while cooking during the week
  • Saves you money & food budget
  • Reduces food waste
  • Helps provide variety in your meals
  • Makes healthy eating more realistic and sustainable

For me, I enjoy doing flexible meal planning to save me time when I’m busy during the week, to help me get excited about cooking with new recipes, and to keep my food budget low.

Read through the different styles of meal planning and find which one resonates with you. Then, start to practice it! Make time to actually integrate it into your life so eating real food becomes a realistic and sustainable part of your life. It’s then where you can experience the immense benefits of eating whole foods.

Creative Chef

If you’re the type of person who can get creative in the kitchen and always whip something up, this may be your style. This may be you if you hate following recipes, and your kitchen is a big experiment.

If you’re in this camp, then meal planning may seem like the most boring, tedious activity. Yet, you can still do a few things that will help you out. Try out:

  • Stocking your pantry and fridge with a variety of whole foods, so you have ingredients to get cooking.
  • Doing simple batch cooking or preparation like roasting sweet potatoes or a squash, or chopping veggies for easy cooking.

Organized Planner or Busy Bee

On the other hand, there are people who love following recipes and staying super organized. You may also fall into this category if you’re a busy bee and running around all week with little time to cook a meal. In this case, meal planning and food preparation is going to be incredibly helpful for you to get healthy meals on the table or quickly throw together an easy breakfast or lunch.

For the organized crew, try out:

  • Set aside 30-60 minutes once a week to plan out all (or most) of your meals. Some people like to plan out all meals while others do well by planning out dinners, then having a few breakfast and lunch ideas (or leftovers).
  • Find recipes in cookbooks, food blogs, or Pinterest.
  • Start a list of your go-to recipes and save new ones that you loved, so you don’t get in food ruts.
  • Cook more than you need for leftovers, or to freeze food (chilis and soups freeze well!).
  • Do food preparation or batch cooking. Try out 20 Dishes which will provide you with weekly meal plans, shopping lists, and step-by-step prep to help you make healthy and homemade dinners each week!

Flexible Meal Planner

Of course, there’s always the combination category, which is where I fall. Some weeks, I want to follow recipes and stay organized while others I’m super flexible and creative. For me, I find planning out a handful of dinners and having a few breakfast or lunch ideas is helpful, so I can stock my kitchen with these foods. I also do basic batch cooking, like cooking a starch/carbohydrate, protein, and cooking or chopping some veggies for convenience when I cook or make a meal.

You may find it helpful to:

  • Find and save new recipes from cookbooks, food blogs, or Pinterest. You may enjoy using recipes as inspiration and adjusting the meal based on your preferences, like switching up the spices or veggies used.
  • Check in each week on your schedule. Ask yourself if it’s going to be a busy week, and how you can prepare yourself. Do you need to do more meal planning or preparation? Or do you have more time to get creative and cook each night?
  • Prepare your food once you get home from the grocery store. Take the time to chop some veggies, store your greens properly to prevent food waste, or throw ingredients into a crockpot for a yummy soup for the week.

Of course, a meal planning guide can be incredibly helpful if you’re new to eating real food or want to make healthy eating a more realistic part of your life. That’s why tools like 20 Dishes are wonderful, to help give you the delicious recipes and step-by-step process each week.

It can help you make healthy, homemade dinners based on your personal diet from gluten-free to vegetarian to paleo (and more) – in 60 minutes or less. They also offer a 7-day free trial to give it a try before committing.

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