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4 Tips for Creating a Meal Planning Habit

Meal planning can seem daunting at first, especially if you’re not naturally a “planner”. 

Why not just go to the grocery store, grab a few things, and make it up as you go?

Cooking without a plan is like going to the gym without a workout program. You’ll throw a few things together that you’re familiar with and call it a day, but you’re not really happy with the results. Or you’ll call an audible and order takeout (think of this as skipping the gym) because you don’t have the right ingredients to make anything. 

Starting with a meal plan actually creates a simpler process. You can plan recipes everyone will enjoy, work around your schedule, and buy the ingredients you need. The structure of a meal plan leads to more confidence and calm, similar to having a workout program to follow. 

As a former personal trainer, I see a lot of parallels between the habits of meal planning and exercise. They’re what I call “umbrella” habits where one change improves multiple areas of your life! Creating an exercise habit is great for your mood, sleep, energy, and longevity. And meal planning will save you money, time, wasted food, and reduce stress.

Just like we all need help sustaining a workout habit, let’s look at how you can make meal planning part of your routine.

Photo credit: Shallyn Michelle

The more you do it, the easier it gets!

Just like starting a workout habit, meal planning feels overwhelming at first, but the more often you incorporate it into your schedule, the easier it becomes. And over time, it will be second nature and you’ll do it automatically.

There are long-term benefits.

You may start working out because you want a short-term payoff, like losing weight or building muscle. But if you stick with it for a longer period of time, you’ll have added benefits of a healthier heart, increased circulation, improved bone density, and an increase in energy. 

Meal planning is the same way! You might start meal planning to stick to a budget or diet, but the longer you do it, you realize that meal planning contributes to overall healthier eating and less food waste. You’ll see a decrease in stress and less time worrying about what’s for dinner. This gives you more time and energy to spend on other things you care about.

You start to feel empowered!

After you’ve created a consistent workout routine, you feel empowered by the choice you’ve made to change your lifestyle and take control of your health. Meal planning also empowers you by giving you the tools to feed yourself and your family nourishing, home-cooked meals. You’re in control of what you’re consuming, instead of defaulting to fast food or the microwave each night.

woman sitting at a dining table writing on a planner with a cell phone in her hand

How to make meal planning a habit:


1. The right tools make it easier

If you want to build muscle, having access to weights is ideal. If you want to be a better runner, having proper shoes keeps your joints and feet happy! If you want to start meal planning, having a place to create meal plans and shopping lists keeps you organized and ready. 

Using the right tools for the job is important to building a long-lasting habit. That’s why we believe using Plan to Eat’s online recipe organizer app is essential for meal planning. All of your recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists are in one place, so you don’t need to fumble with multiple browser tabs or apps, a calendar, and handwritten lists (which you’ll inevitably forget at home!). To set yourself up for success, you need to start with the right tools for the job!

2. Add it to your schedule

I used to tell my personal training clients that if they added exercise to their schedule, it would be harder to skip a workout. The same goes for meal planning!

Add a note to your calendar for time to meal plan and schedule that time as “busy”. If making meal planning a habit is important to you, make it a priority in your weekly schedule and it will become second nature before you know it!

3. Get your family involved

Unless you live by yourself, you know your family dynamic can make or break a new habit. By getting your spouse, kids, and other family members involved in the meal-planning process, you’re increasing your ability to keep the habit. 

Talk to your family about wanting to be better with meal planning and grocery shopping. Ask for their input on favorite foods and recipes. Ask for help and inspiration on deciding what to prepare each week. We love finding recipes that our kids can help with, so they can start learning to cook too!

Since a household can share Plan to Eat on multiple devices, you and your family can coordinate family meals or help with grocery shopping all within Plan to Eat!

4. Take it one step at a time

I encountered many training clients who had big goals and wanted to make drastic changes to achieve them. It was my job to encourage them to find an alternative to “go big or go home” and see that incremental changes are a more successful way to achieve goals.

When we take on too many things at once, we’re also confronted with all the barriers between where we are now and where we want to be. In those instances, we might not get started at all because the objective feels too out of reach. 

Becoming a meal planner doesn’t need to happen overnight. If you’re struggling to build a meal-planning habit, start by taking it one step at a time.

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says, Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”

Start by planning meals that will have the most impact on your day, like dinner. Having a solid plan for dinner with reduce stress, make grocery shopping easier, and help you feel prepared. Get into a good routine of planning dinner recipes a few days or a week in advance, so you’re never worried about what to eat after a long work day. Then add in other pieces one at a time, until the process of meal planning feels integrated into your life. 

I hope some of these tips help you become a lifelong meal planner! If you’ve already created a sustainable meal-planning habit, what advice would you give to newbies?

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