How to Make Back-to-School Meal Planning Super-Simple
Planning, shopping, prepping. When it comes to eating well, this often makes all the difference.
Truly, if there’s one thing that seems to thwart even the best healthy eating intentions, it’s lack of organization and preparation.
I’m not necessarily talking a full-on meal plan (which can be nice, but can also be really hard to sustain over the long haul). I’m more just talking about taking solid steps to ensure you have good, healthy, doable options on hand – enough to last several days minimum.
Want to play with tweaking the specifics? Curious to try low carb, an autoimmune protocol or intermittent fasting? Go for it!
Ultimately, whether you’re working with a “food coach” or going it alone, this is all one big self-experiment. I definitely encourage you to engage in mindful investigation about how different foods and eating patterns affect your body.
That said, with some clients, I’ve seen the forest get lost for the trees. I’ve also seen fixation on details while missing the bigger picture lead to frustration and overwhelm...which then derails the entire process of changing eating patterns and reaching health and wellness goals.
Better to keep things really simple if the alternative may sabotage efforts to get where you want to go.
What does this look like? Again, focus on real, whole food. And make sure to include plenty of high-quality protein, healthy fats and veggies. These three are the priority.
Still intent on finding your optimal diet? Hint: It’s not the same for everyone – the “optimal” way of eating is individual, responsive and relational. By all means experiment!
As you do, hold the details lightly and with an expansive perspective. And know that you can always default to minimalist food rules. They, in themselves, are pretty fantastic.
In practice, this isn’t always easy – at least not at first.
But once you develop a system and have a regular routine in place, it becomes, if not second nature, at least a whole lot easier.
“Hmm, a system. That sounds big and complicated.”
Doesn’t have to be. Here's what you do.
1 make time.
Yeah, I know. That may sound impossible already. But it doesn’t have to be a ton of time, and it's totally doable.
You might have to cut back somewhere else – scrolling social media, for instance, or watching television. But please give yourself the following time each week:
Planning: 15 minutes for mapping out a rough meal plan and making a shopping list (Ideally, do this at the start or end of a week, before a Big Shop.)
Shopping: 60 minutes or so for a Big Shop, getting most of what you’ll need in one go (You could also do two shops a week, if that’s a better fit.)
Prepping & Cooking: 30 minutes each day, including time to pack/prepare lunches while making dinner (You could spend way more time than this, but 30 focused minutes will do – promise. You could also carve out time for a longer weekly cook-up, which will make the daily stuff a snap.)
Schedule your time systematically, with as much consistency and regularity as possible.
For example: Do 15 minutes of meal planning every Sunday after lunch, followed by your Big Shop. Each evening, allot 30 minutes for making dinner, at the same time packing lunch for the next day.
Having a routine in place will take conscious effort the first week or two. But eventually, it will make making time for planning, shopping, prepping and cooking seem automatic and just “part of your day.”
You’ll save extra effort on procrastinating, or um, decision-making. And you’ll set yourself up for success with every task that follows.
So you’ve set time aside for planning, right? Well, now decide what the heck you’re going to eat!
This can get really complicated (searching for new recipes and creating detailed meal plans, for instance). Or it can be super-simple (deciding on main proteins, veggies, snacks and perhaps a soup to cover the next few days).
You can also mix it up – getting elaborate one week and going extra-easy the next...or planning on one new recipe but otherwise sticking with what you know. (For detailed guidance on how I do simple, see the Bonus Recipe for an Easy Week at the back of my ebook Primal Eating with Ease (free with newsletter sign up).
Whatever your approach, the key is to:
Have a plan (whether elaborate or simple).
Make a list.
Please DO NOT head to the grocery store with nothing more than vague ideas.
For a ready-made shopping list, my ebook also includes a Guide to Grocery Store. You could also craft your own list, then print a bunch so they’re ready to go.
Once you have your plan and list in hand, it’s time to hit the store. I recommend a Big Shop once a week (or two biggish shops, if that’s a better fit).
If you need to pick up something perishable mid-way (fresh veggies or animal protein, for instance), that’s cool. But plan for that and make sure you get as much as you can ahead of time, on Big Shop day. Bonus: This also guards against hungry impulse buys and helps save grocery money.
Along with food for meals, include items that make for easy, healthy snacks – apples, nuts, nut butter, coconut milk and hardboiled eggs, for instance.
If there’s a farmer’s market nearby, that’s another stop to work into your shopping agenda – whether on the same trip as the grocery store or as a separate outing. And, of course, if you have a local CSA or other produce delivery service, those are wonderful ways to support local farmers, eat in-season, and save time on shopping trips.
Once again, consistency and regularity are tremendously helpful.
It may seem like a bother to get a solid shopping routine in place. But once it’s established, everything will go so much smoother.
4. Prep (and cook).
Along with a Big Shop, another great thing to do each week is a Big Cook-up. This is where, once a week, you prep and/or cook lots of food for the days or entire week ahead.
This may take a lot of time (say, a few hours) on the front end. But think of how great you’ll feel in the days following, when you can just reach into the fridge, grab some ready-made deliciousness (or prepped ingredients) and create a wonderful meal without thought or fuss.
If going this route, you could, for instance, cook some “base” veggies, such as cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, and roasted root vegetables...along with at least one meat or fish dish (enough to last a couple days). To that, you could add hardboiled eggs and plenty of chopped veggies for eating raw or sautéing during the week.
Can’t (or don’t care to) manage a weekly cook-up? No worries. Just means you’ll need to allow 30 minutes each day for prepping and cooking.
Here too, establishing a routine will take extra effort at first but will be so worth the payoff.
If you know you’ll be packing lunch as you prep dinner, for example, get in the routine of setting out lunch containers. Then add a helping of all or some of the dishes you’re making for dinner to the containers, along with any extras.
Planning, shopping, prepping and cooking for the week doesn’t have to be complicated.
Often, simple is better – especially since you want a routine you can stick with over the long term.
Setting up that sort of routine will likely feel tedious at first – taking a bit of effort and some trial and error to get it just right. But ultimately, it may be the most important step toward realizing your health and wellness goals. It truly does set you up for success.
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Support makes creating a simple, abundant way of eating and living so much easier.
For free support, also check out my Primal Eating with Ease ebook.
This guide shares 7 steps for finding ease and pleasure in eating real, nutrient-dense food, plus includes a meal plan and grocery list. Get it free with newsletter sign up here.