By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT
Do you hear the phrase “meal planning,” and think “stressful” or “time-consuming”?
I did too.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist and as a person who values eating well, I realize the benefit of meal planning – it helps make the workweek less stressful, it’s economically efficient and it ensures we eat nutrient-dense meals all week long. But is it worth giving up a large chunk of our weekends?
My vote's No. But I also don’t want to take more than one trip to the store or break the bank. You with me?
Check out some of my no-stress meal planning tips, so you don’t have to sacrifice Sunday Fun-day:
Create a Foundation.
Is your pantry empty? If so, you’ll want to start laying the base for easy meal planning each week. Start by filling with shelf-stable necessities that you don’t need to buy every week – think olive oil, rolled oats, cereal, tomato sauce, peanut butter, dried herbs and spices, etc. Don’t freak out – this can be done in one trip – and when you run low on something, just tack it onto your weekly list.
Speaking of that list… Click here for no-stress shopping list tips & three shortcut meal ideas.
At the beginning of the week, I’ll just make lots of extras of whatever I’m making for dinner that night, so I don’t do much cooking for the rest of the week. I usually cook grains like rice, farro or quinoa in bulk, and store them in the fridge. Then, I have them all ready to use as the base for breakfasts (try our peanut butter farro bowl), lunches or dinners all weeklong. The same goes for roasted veggies – I’ll cook large batches of my favorites like cauliflower, with rosemary or thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper. I use roasted veggies in almost everything! You can throw them into omlets, put on top of pizzas and add them to sandwiches.
Plus, there are lots of shortcut kitchen tools out there (besides the microwave!), like the crockpot or slow-cooker, or my latest obsession: the egg cooker, which hard boils multiple eggs at once, perfectly. I’ll typically turn it on when I’m in the kitchen making dinner at the start of the week, and I have them to put on salads and sandwiches all week long!
Meal planning does not need to be rigid or stressful, and eating well and stress do not have to go hand-in-hand. It’s not necessary to know on Sunday exactly what you (and your family) will eat every day that week. Instead, think about having the ingredients on hand that you need to form tasty, balanced meals. Then, it’s letting taste buds, moods and unplanned events (AKA Life) guide meal creation each day.
Stocking up on foods from each group on my grocery trip, with a little bit of thought about potential meal combinations, allows me to eat with flexibility each day. By the end of the week, it’s a creative challenge to create meals with ingredients left in my fridge and pantry.
Which leads to my next tip…
Consider Snack-y dinners.
One of my favorite ways to eat dinner is to fill a board or large plate with cheese, olives, bread or crackers, peanuts, dried fruit, raw veggies and hummus. Grab a glass of wine and dinner is a done deal. It’s the perfect Friday night kind of meal when you’re out of cooked food from the beginning of the week, ready to chill. Absolutely no cooking necessary! Grab some of our charcuterie ideas for a little inspo.
With a little forethought, meal planning will add to your life in more ways than one. Cheers to Sunday Fun-day!