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You want to eat healthier, but you’re super-busy.
You find yourself grabbing takeout several times a week because that’s what you have to do.
Work meetings run late.
Kids’ practices go long.
Cooking is the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day.
It’s what works for you and your family, when it comes to time and convenience during the week.
But you probably realize it’s not really that great when it comes to your health and fitness goals. Or your budget.
You want to eat healthier. You want to do what’s best for your family. You don’t *really* want all those extra calories that are in takeout and convenience foods, but you really you DO want to save time and money.
I get it!
So, as a health coach, I am here to help you.
I have a pretty simple strategy that I’m pretty pumped to share with you. It will help you to plan and prepare healthy meals for your family for the entire week.
Now, you don’t need to stop eating out altogether. You can this my strategy to help you eat at home just a couple more times per week. It’s up to you! As with any lifestyle change, start gradually so you can build consistency. The key here is to make it easy, doable, and rewarding enough to do again and again.
Let me walk you through my simple meal prep system, and how this can work for you.
Step 1: Theme Your Nightly Meals
This is going to sound boring, but the best thing to do to make meal time easier is to create a series of themes for your weekly dinners, based on what your family likes to eat.
Select one theme for each night of the week.
Themes can be anything like: Pasta, Stir-Fry, Soup/stew, Mexican, Pizza, Brinner (Breakfast for dinner), Salad, Meatless Monday (or any day!), Egg night, Casseroles, and Burgers/Sandwiches.
I suggest leaving one night per week as Leftover night so that anything that didn’t get eaten during the week can be used up before it goes bad. This saves money, too!
Sample 5-day Dinner Plan:
Monday – Eggs
Tuesday – Mexican
Wednesday – Pasta
Thursday – Leftovers
Friday – Pizza / Make your own flatbread
Use this format to plan out your meals for the month. Just use your favorite recipe source to find recipes in each of the categories you’ve selected.
Need ideas?? See my Menu Planning Pinterest board here
PRO TIP: Batch plan your meals – meaning, plan several weeks’ worth of meals at one time. It doesn’t take that much more time to plan meals for the month than it does for the week. You’re already in planning mode, so it makes sense to do it for two meals at the same time.
Step 2: Plan Out Your Meals for the Week (or the month!)
I know what you’re thinking: I don’t want to make a bunch of the same meals over and over again.
I hear you, but I’m going to tell you something you may not have realized… you already are. If you think about the meals you’ve served your family over the last few months, odds are that you’ve got a handful of recipes that are in high rotation already. Meals that your family specifically requests over and over again.
PRO TIP: If you’re afraid you’re going to get sick of the meals in the 5-day plan within the month, then you can make simple substitutions in your 5-day plan that make it a completely different dinner each time.Variations in the sauces, sides, or the starch can completely transform the meal!
A lot of the meals in the same category have a lot of the same basic ingredients but the form and/or side dishes are switched up to keep it interesting. Or you can tack on another 5-day plan with different categories onto your original plan to make it a 10-day dinner plan. Make two 10-day plans and you’ve got your meal plan for the entire month.
Sample one month menu plan using a 10-day dinner plan:
Monday – Egg night (ham and cheese omelettes, spinach and mushroom quiche)
Tuesday – Mexican (enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, or nachos)
Wednesday – Pasta (spaghetti, pasta primavera, lasagna, baked ziti, or stuffed shells)
Thursday – Leftovers
Friday – Pizza
Monday – Vegetarian (eggplant curry, 3-bean chili, or lentil stew)
Tuesday – Brinner (Pancakes, french toast)
Wednesday – Soup and Salad (vegetable bean soup with turkey sandwiches, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches)
Thursday – Leftovers
Friday – Stir-Fry (chicken stir-fry with teriyaki, tofu with peanut sauce)
Step 3: Compile Your Recipes for the Week
A lot of people save their recipes in a binder or a notebook, or use Pinterest to find recipes and create boards for each category to keep them organized.
Print or bookmark a copy of each recipe so you can easily refer to it and make your shopping list.
Step 4: Make Your Shopping List
If you are just starting out, make a list for only one week at a time. As you get used to this way of planning, you can create your big shopping list for everything you’ll need for the month and then have smaller weekly lists for perishables that need to be purchased closer to the date it will be used.
Looking at the recipes that you’re making for the week, write down all of the ingredients you’ll need. Check your pantry, fridge, and freezer and cross anything off the list if you already have it.
If a recipe calls for pantry staples make sure you’re stocked up instead of assuming you have enough. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to make a second grocery run because I figured I had plenty of <whatever basic ingredient I needed> and I just didn’t have enough on hand when I went to prep the meal.
Make sure to calculate the TOTAL amount you’ll need of an ingredient for the week so you buy the correct amount.
If you don’t have enough food storage containers for your meals, now’s the time to pick up some of those, too. (You can also get them on Amazon)
Pro Tip: Consider doubling a recipe(s), so you can prep and cook once, but have twice the number of meals on hand. The extras can be taken for lunch, or frozen to pull out the night before a busy day, so you just need to heat it up when you’re ready. If you’re doubling a recipe, don’t forget to double the amount of ingredients you buy from the grocery store.
If you’re not a fan of washing and chopping produce, then consider buying them already pre-washed and pre-chopped, or even frozen. You can make your meal prep even easier if you don’t mind spending a couple of extra dollars.
Step 5: Weekly Shop and Prep
Plan to block off 2-3 hours in one afternoon for this.
Get your recipes ready, clear off your counter, and blast your jams.
At this point, you have two options:
Option 1 – PREP AND STORE
Prep all of the ingredients for each recipe and organize them in the fridge so they are ready to be made each night for dinner: Wash and chop any vegetables or herbs, prepare any sauces, spice mixes, or cuts of meat for each meal and have it ready to go in a baking dish or saucepan when you walk in the door.
Option 2: GET COOKING
If you find you don’t even want to cook on weeknights, you can pre-cook the entire recipe ahead of time. This is great for soups, stews, casseroles, and pasta dishes so you can just reheat it on the night you’re serving it.
It’s really up to you, because the more you do now, the less you’ll have to do when you’re hungry.
TL;DR – Using a meal theme template can help you organize and plan your meals a month at a time. Cut down on weeknight takeout runs by spending a few hours each week planning and prepping meals. This will save you so much time and money!
Pssst… Want my healthy recipes and printable workouts?
They’re all yours! Get access here:
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.