How to make a meal plan

Getting to grips with improving our diet and making healthier choices doesn’t happen overnight, but using simple tools such as meal planning is a great way to start. So, let’s look at some tips for making an effective meal plan.

We often say that meal planning is a good way to start eating better, but if you’ve never done it before it can seem a little overwhelming. The good news is that you can take it at your pace and make it work for you, and still reap the benefits. Here’s how. 

Why meal plan?  

By knowing what we are going to cook ahead of time, we can buy just the ingredients needed, taking time to be mindful of what meal choices we make and reduce the need for that on-the-spot, last minute inspiration that can lead to less healthy choices. 

To start meal planning, we need to decide which meals to create and how many days of the week we are going to plan for. We might for example feel confident with having a healthy breakfast every day, but our goal is to try and make healthier dinners Monday to Friday. Getting used to using a meal plan can be a great opportunity to practice SMART goals.  

We could trial meal planning for just a few days or certain dinners to see what works for us, before planning for more.  

Write it out 

It’s best to get your ideas written down to help make meal planning easy. No matter which way you do it, paper, digitally, list or table, keep it somewhere handy or on display, such as on the fridge, your smart phone, kitchen calendar or blackboard.  

It can be best to set aside some time to plan, if possible, to ensure we think about our meal choices; for example, being aware of how quick a meal will be to make and fit in with our schedule for the day we plan to make it on. 

Now we have our meal plan, your shopping list should be easier to create by working through each meal at a time and writing down the ingredients it needs.  

It can be useful to split your list into sections, for example, fruit/veg, carbohydrates, meat/fish, dairy, tinned foods, frozen foods etc. This job gets easier if you’re familiar with your local supermarket as you can plan for each aisle as you move through the shop. By doing this, it helps us check that we have a variety of food groups in our shop that cover all the macronutrients for a diverse diet.  

It also helps us make sure we have flexible options for meals, such as ingredients for a quick sandwich or snack, by having healthy carbohydrates, fats, vegetables/fruits, and proteins ready to use (for example wholemeal wraps, mayo, tinned tuna, red peppers and lettuce).  

Some tips to help 

  • Double check your shopping list with what you already have at home to avoid double buying and food waste 
  • Note at the top of the shopping list what meals it will cover 
  • Keep a copy. It can be handy to keep our shopping lists afterwards, whether a pile of paper, diary, screen shots, photo, email, text… whatever creative way you have written your list down. This will slowly create a bank of weekly meals/ ingredients that can be repeated or copied from.  
  • If it’s not on the list, it’s not in your trolley. By committing to only what is on the list, it helps us avoid over buying, or falling for tempting deals and extras. 

Go forth and start planning your meals, remembering to include lots of the foods you love so you can enjoy making healthy nutritious meals.