meal planning

Your Meal Prep Guide to Save Time, Money and Sanity

By: Bridget Wojciak, RDN, LD

If the thought of meal prepping makes you think “Sounds like a good idea … and a lot of work,” no need to worry! There are some easy ways to keep the process simple and tasty while saving you money. Meal planning isn’t “one size fits all,” so check out the helpful, time-saving tips below and choose what works for you in the present moment.

Check Your Calendar

When the task of weekly meal planning feels daunting, break it down to simple steps. Where will you be over the course of the week and what are your plans? No need to commit to eating exactly baked chicken, broccoli and brown rice on Wednesday at 5 p.m. Simply aim to get a loose idea of how many nights you need to prepare a meal, where you’ll eat them and how many folks you will be feeding. Someone treating you to dinner delivery for a special occasion? Working late and need an on-the-go meal? Nothing’s worse than realizing you planned and shopped for a meal you’ll never eat.

Pantry Patrol

Reduce food waste by shopping the shelves of your own pantry, fridge and freezer before making your grocery list. This saves time, money and that “Do I have this at home?” moment in the store. Prioritize items that are at the end of their shelf life as opposed to those items that will still be fresh for a while.

Scour Those Sales

Use our app’s weekly ads, savings and coupons as a treasure map to grocery gold when meal planning staples for the week. To nourish your body and your taste buds, select a few key items from each type of macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats and proteins). Think complex carbohydrates loaded with fiber, healthy fats with omega-3s, and lean proteins low in saturated fat.

Choose Your Plan

Meal planning tends to put people in two camps. To some people, it sounds like an awesome way to stay organized and set yourself up for healthy habits. To others, it sounds like a ton of work and a total drag to commit in advance to what you want to eat. Fear not! There’s a meal planning option for both types – and even something in between.

Classic Weekly Themes:

How it works: This is a crowd favorite for the organization gurus among us. Designate a type of meal to prepare each day of the week and stick to it. We’re talking a meal planning template such as: Monday = Soup & Salad; Tuesday = Tacos; Wednesday = Vegetarian, etc.

Pros:

  • No fussing with “What should we have on Wednesday?”
  • Creates a “rinse and repeat” grocery list that can be used week over week
  • Can be helpful for budget planning

Health hack: Aim for template ideas that allow easy ways to add veggies. Thursday pasta night? Try half whole-grain noodles and half zucchini noodles.

The Recipe Wrangler:

How it works: Love using the kitchen as a learning lab to discover the next great family favorite? Pull out the Kroger app and “favorite” 2-4 recipes for the week’s dinner. Plan a day during the week for leftovers and execute the cooking in one batch at the start of the week or over your least busy weeknights. Aim to choose recipes in pairs based on core ingredients like tofu, chicken or chickpeas.

Pros:

  • Keeps variety throughout the week
  • Builds a set of kitchen culinary skills through trying new recipes and cooking methods
  • Builds an arsenal of recipe go-to’s over time

Health hack: When diving into recipes for the week, challenge yourself to try new foods you have not prepared in the past to add more variety to your eating pattern.

The Free Spirit:

How it works: Also called “modular meal planning,” select a few core food staples to prepare in batches (ex: a box of whole grain pasta, a carton of hard boiled eggs, chopped cucumbers, shredded chicken, a batch of quinoa), that can be mixed and matched over the week. This allows you to choose the meal and seasoning on the day you plan to eat it (quinoa power bowls, quinoa mango salad or creamy quinoa and broccoli casserole.)

Pros:

  • Allows mealtime decision freedom
  • Allows each family member to build a custom meal option
  • Reduces food waste by using items multiple ways

Health hack: Simplify making a satisfying and nourishing meal by making sure the food items prepped for the week include a balance of macronutrients. For example, salmon provides healthy fat and protein, sweet potatoes and chickpea pasta provide a healthy source of carbohydrates.