4 Tips for Creating a Meal Planning Habit

When we are first introduced to meal planning, it can seem like a daunting task.

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’re going to throw a few things together that you’re familiar with and call it a day. Or you’re going to skip cooking altogether and order take out because you don’t have the right ingredients to make anything worthwhile. 

Creating a meal plan simplifies the entire process! By putting together a list of recipes everyone enjoys, you can be sure to have crowd pleasing dinners each night. Also, when you use a calendar to plan out your meals, you can look ahead at the week (or month) and see which days are best for cooking or food prepping. Finally, the task of grocery shopping is much faster and more appealing with a specific list of ingredients you actually need. 

These three simple steps can make a huge difference when starting to meal plan, but meal planning is also a habit, like any other. As a former personal trainer, I see a lot of parallels between the habit of meal planning and exercise.

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 can become second nature and you might even come to enjoy it (if you didn’t at first)!

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 start to feel empowered by the choice you’ve made to change your lifestyle and take control of your health. Meal planning empowers you by giving you the tools to feed yourself and your family nourishing, home cooked meals. You get to be 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. Having the right tools makes 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 task at hand 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. Create a schedule

I used to tell my personal training clients that if they made their workouts part of their schedule, it would be harder to prioritize other things. The same goes for meal planning! If meal planning seems daunting to you, set aside some time once a week to get it done. Add it to your calendar 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 in deciding what to prepare each week. We love finding recipes that our kids can help with too, so they can start learning to cook!

Since a household can use Plan to Eat on multiple devices at once, 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 often encountered personal training clients who had big goals and wanted to make drastic changes in their lives to achieve them. It was my job to help them see that incremental changes were more successful in helping them achieve their goals.

When we take on too many new things at once, we realize there are so many 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.”

This isn’t to say that meal planning needs to be an everyday habit for you, far from it! But you don’t need to do and learn everything at once. Take baby steps on your path to becoming a diehard meal planner. 

Start by planning the meals that stress you out the most, like dinner. Get into a good routine of planning out dinner recipes a few days 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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