How to Make a Meal Plan? Meal Planning 101

Learning how to make a meal plan is the first step to streamlining your weekly meals. Plan your meals ahead of time to avoid added stress around food.

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by
Chelsea Rae Bourgeois, MS, RD
— Signos
Health writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 24, 2024
February 22, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Our days are full of decisions — what to wear, which route to take to work, which chore to do first. Decision fatigue is real, and by the time you get home, the last thing you want to do is decide what to eat for dinner. Figuring out what to eat on a daily basis can be stressful and overwhelming, especially when you’re balancing family, work, and social responsibilities.

When the stress becomes too much, well-balanced meals often take a back seat, and we’re left scraping together a last-minute option. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid decision fatigue and nourish ourselves. Meal planning can be a healthy alternative to deciding what to eat on the fly. It empowers you to plan and prioritize well-balanced nutrition to keep you operating at full power.

In this article, we’ll review their many benefits and explain how to make a meal plan.

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Understanding Meal Plans

Successful meal planning takes the guesswork out of meal times by building a weekly menu to meet your nutrition needs. Instead of relying on takeout when you’re tight on time, meal plans ensure you have all the necessities to prepare a healthy meal at home. Plus, planning your meals beforehand helps you stick to your food budget and reduce food waste.

Meal planning may look different for everyone, depending on the primary motivation. Some meal plans focus on saving money, while others focus on managing health conditions. For example, some dietary plans are formulated to support weight loss, cholesterol management, or type 2 diabetes. Those with medical motivation are often designed with input from a registered dietitian nutritionist.

5 Benefits of Meal Plans

Planning your meals ahead of time is about more than reducing stress on busy weeknights. Meal planning offers numerous benefits that reach far beyond the kitchen. Strategically mapping out weekly meals can help you save money and time while supporting your overall wellness.

Benefits of creating a weekly meal plan include:

  1. Improved Portion Control: Planning meals ahead of time can help you stay on track with your portion sizes. Some people plan their meals based on the macronutrient ratios in each meal to ensure they meet their daily dietary needs. Others take it a step further and portion out their meals once they're cooked so it’s ready to grab and take on the go.
  2. Opportunities to Try New Recipes: Meal planning can be a great motivator in the kitchen. Planning meals ahead of time gives you the chance to get creative and cook recipes you may not have tried before. It encourages you to explore different flavors, textures, and ingredients. You may decide to incorporate different cultures into your meal plans. Taco Tuesday is a popular event for many meal plans, but the possibilities are endless!
  3. Keeps You on Budget: Meal planning helps streamline your grocery lists, keeping your trips to the grocery store budget-friendly. Planning healthy recipes ahead of time allows you to create a shopping list in advance, accounting for pantry staples you might already have. When you go to the store with a plan, you’re less likely to be distracted or tempted by unnecessary items.
  4. Establishes Healthier Eating Habits: Planning meals ahead of time puts you in control of your nutrition and the foods that go into your body. Meal planning helps you prioritize well-balanced meals and consistent intake throughout the day. When meals are planned, you’re less likely to need food on the go. No need to run through the fast food drive-thru when you’ve got a meal waiting for you at home!
  5. Reduces Food Waste: Food waste continues to be a complex issue that affects environmental and public health. When you plan what to eat, you’re less likely to waste food, thus reducing your overall ecological footprint.

What to Consider When Meal Planning

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to make a meal plan, but there are a few things to keep in mind to plan effectively and efficiently. First, take stock of your dietary restrictions, flavor preferences, and nutrition needs. It’s important to plan meals that are enjoyable and nourishing. Second, be realistic about your weekly schedule. Plan quick and easy meals for busy weeknights and save the more intricate recipes for days when you have more time in the kitchen. You might also consider batch cooking to streamline your grocery lists and make meal prepping even more efficient.

Lastly, don’t forget to be flexible. While meal planning can provide structure to your healthy eating habits, flexibility in times of unforeseen circumstances is essential. Meal plans should never feel like punishment — they’re a tool to support your health, and adaptability encourages long-term adherence.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="gestational-diabetes-meal-plan">Diet and Meal Plan for Gestational Diabetes</a>.</p>

Meal Planning 101: What You Will Need

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You don’t need to revamp your entire kitchen to start meal planning. You might already have much of what you need! A few key items that can support the meal-planning process include:

  • Meal-Planning Journal: A meal-planning journal gives you a centralized place to keep track of your planned weekly meals. Write down what you plan to eat each day of the week, and include all the necessary ingredients in the shopping list section
  • Meal-Planning App: Some apps help you design a meal plan, organize your favorite recipes, and create a grocery list all in one sitting. Many apps can be shared across platforms, so your loved ones can get involved in plannin
  • Food Storage Containers: Having various sizes to store portions of your planned meals is helpful. Grab large containers for large batches and smaller containers for storing pre-portioned meals. Consider getting microwave and freezer-friendly containers to make storing and reheating your meals even simpler
  • Container Labels: Container labels can be a game changer when planning multiple meals for the week. Labels help you delegate ingredients or meals for planned days
  • Lunch Boxes (If Necessary): A lunch box will be helpful if you plan to take your lunches on the go

How to Start Meal Planning: Step-By-Step Guide

Meal plans are unique to the individuals or families designing them, but a few steps can help streamline the process so you can make the most of your planning.

1. Determine Your Nutrition Needs

Consider your individualized nutrition needs, dietary preferences, and restrictions. This keeps your health goals in mind, ensuring your planned meals meet your nutrition demands.

2. Review Your Weekly Schedule

Be mindful of your week’s schedule to streamline your planning process. Save the elaborate recipes for when you have more time to spend in the kitchen and plan simple, quick recipes for your hectic weeknights.

3. Make a Schedule for Planning and Grocery Shopping Days

Consistency is key in meal planning. Try to stay on a schedule that works best for you. For example, you can designate one day as your planning day and schedule your grocery trips for another day. A meal plan template can help.

4. Create a Recipe Inventory

Create a list of favorite recipes to pull from when planning meals. This bank of healthy recipes can include tried and true meals and new dishes to try. Having a plethora of meal ideas at hand can make it easier to choose recipes for the week and help eliminate decision fatigue.

5. Pick Your Meals

Using a calendar or meal planning template, strategically map out your meals based on each day’s schedule. Try to include variety by incorporating different foods, including fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.

6. Make a Shopping List

Once you’ve picked your recipes for the week, write a grocery list that includes everything you need. You can “shop” your pantry first to see what items you already have and get the rest at the grocery store! This helps keep your food budget-friendly and reduce food waste.

7. Start Your Meal-Prepping

Take your meal planning one step further and prep your ingredients ahead of time. Meal prepping streamlines your cooking process and can save you time — a welcome benefit, especially on a busy weeknight.

8. Follow Your Plan, but Stay Open-Minded

Remember that flexibility is key for meal planning. Things happen, and plans don’t always work out. Life can be unpredictable, so adjust as needed. Consider keeping some healthy foods on hand or backup meals in the freezer to use as needed.

Pro Tips for Meal Planners

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Each meal plan is unique, and it may take some trial and error before you find a routine that works best for you. However, consider these tips as you dive into the world of creating your own meal plans:

  • Get Inspiration From Your Favorite Restaurants: It’s important that you enjoy your dining experience when meal planning. Draw inspiration from your favorite restaurants and craft recipes that elevate your dining experience at home
  • Create a Plan According to Your Needs and Wants: Design your meal plan around your nutrition needs, preferred tastes, and textures. If your health goals include blood sugar management, prioritize a macronutrient ratio that helps you control your blood glucose levels
  • Include Snacks and Desserts in Your Meal Plan: Meal plans don’t have to be limited to your three major meals. Consider adding snacks and desserts to your planning to streamline your meal prep at home further
  • Gather Your Equipment: Make sure you have all the cooking equipment you need to prepare your planned meals. You might require a slow cooker for soups and stews, a baking dish for casseroles, and a wok for stir-fries
  • Use Your Leftovers: Consider batch cooking so you can use the leftovers for another meal. Nothing says efficiency quite like cooking once to make more than one meal!

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

Meal planning can be an excellent tool for your overall health, ensuring your body gets all the nutrients it needs to operate at full capacity. A registered dietitian can help you address your individualized nutrition needs and design a meal plan that leaves you nourished and satisfied. They can also help you tailor your meal plan to your unique medical history and health goals. 

Managing diabetes, controlling weight loss, and maximizing your health requires a holistic approach that includes a well-balanced diet, regular physical activity, and the proper medications. Learn how Signos can improve health markers through CGM and expert guidance, and check out Signos’ blog to learn more about glucose levels.

Find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz!

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="elimination-diet-meal-plan">Elimination Diet Meal Plan: 18 Healthy Body-Healing Meal Ideas</a>.</p>

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About the author

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois is a registered dietitian nutritionist with several years of experience working in the clinical setting. Once a track and field athlete on a competitive stage, she now finds joy in combining her passions as a health writer to help people embrace their wellness through nutrition and fitness.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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