Meal Planning Made Simple

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Meal planning is a great way to take the stress out of eating healthy. If done right, it can also save you loads of time, money, and brain cells. But there are some challenges to this process that often keep people from sticking to a meal planning routine. 

Below, we’ll look at the benefits and challenges of meal planning for a vegan diet. We’ll also introduce you to the easiest option for healthy, simple meal planning: Clean Green Simple’s affordable meal planning subscription service, Project Simple! 

What Is Meal Planning?

Put simply, meal planning is the process of deciding in advance what meals you’re going to eat over the course of a period of time. Typically, people plan a week of meals in advance. But it’s also possible to utilize frozen meals and dry goods to plan for up to a month at a time.

Meal planning is meant to take the stress out of cooking and can be especially helpful for families and busy adults. It’s also a great choice for those who want to eat healthier or need to eat in a specific way to manage a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease.

This approach can be applied to your life in varying degrees. In its simplest form, meal planning is used for the main meal of the day, typically dinner. But more comprehensive meal planning can be used to plan out all meals of the day up to and including snacks.

Planning meals ahead of time has many key benefits. But it also comes with some challenges that keep plenty of people from sticking to their new meal-planning routine. 

The Benefits of Meal Planning

By planning meals in advance, you can take the headache out of not just cooking, but shopping for and prepping food, too. No matter what your goals are for meal planning, you’re likely to see a ton of benefits from the process.

Meal planning can make it a lot easier to eat healthier. Think about it: how often have you realized at the last minute that you didn’t have anything for dinner, and then ended up at the drive-thru or ordering pizza? With a meal plan, you’ll have at least a general idea of what you’ll eat for every meal, and you’ll ensure that you have the ingredients you need to make that meal.

-SaVanna Shoemaker, RDN

Save Time

Cooking dinner and preparing meals every day can be time-consuming. This is especially true if you are cooking for an entire family. By planning your meals in advance, you can save time both at home and at the store.

When you plan meals ahead of time, you go to the store knowing exactly what you need to grab. This means less time wandering the aisles looking at products. You are also less likely to need to make repeat trips to the grocery store for forgotten items.

At home, planning out your meals for the entire week gives you the option to prep them in advance. Instead of getting out all the pots, pans, and tools you need to cook every night, you simply do all the preparation at once. 

This may mean cooking the full meals in one sitting and storing them in batches so they’re ready to go. Or it may just mean cutting veggies, cooking grains, and getting the other ingredients ready to cut down on how much work is needed to actually cook the meals. Either way, you’ll be saving tons of time over preparing and cooking the meals one at a time.

Save Money

Meal planning also has the potential to save you money. When we go to the store with only a vague idea of what we need, we often end up over-purchasing and getting more than we need. Or we under-purchase and end up back at the store multiple times a week, which inevitably leads to overspending on extra items.

By planning out your meals, and thus your grocery list, ahead of time, you avoid purchasing things you don’t need. You’ll also save money on gas by doing away with those extra store trips.

Eat Healthier

Going to the store prepared with a well-thought-out shopping list also helps avoid unhealthy impulse buys. If you know you have your snacks covered, you won’t feel compelled to buy that bag of chips or pint of ice cream.

Having each meal and snack planned also reduces food anxiety. When we feel we might not have enough in our cart to sustain us for the week, we tend to load up on comfort foods. The same is true when we get home: if we know what we’re eating and when, we’re less likely to snack out of habit or to ease stress.

Meet Goals

It’s difficult to meet our weight management and health goals without a plan in place to take us from where we are now to where we want to be. Meal planning creates a map to bring you through the week and keep you on track. It allows you to look at the big picture so you can avoid overindulging in foods that don’t align with your goals.

Simplify the Grocery List

When you know what you are eating for each meal and what recipes you need to create those meals, it makes it super easy to create your shopping list. Adding snacks and smaller meal planning to that list simplifies the process even further. Because you are only buying things you know you’ll eat, you can avoid those extras that tend to accumulate on the list and in the pantry.

Recycling recipes you love will also help save you hassle at the grocery store. Sauces, condiments, and other repeat-use items won’t need to be purchased every week and will get used up before they expire. Once you’ve been meal planning for a few months, you’ll likely find that your grocery list each week is limited to fresh items and just a few staples you’re running short on.

Reduce Food Waste

Buying fewer unnecessary groceries is also sure to cut down on food waste. With proper meal planning, everything that goes into your cart will be used that week. That means no more stressing about using up leftovers before they go bad.

Since about 120 billion pounds of food gets thrown away each year in America, anything that helps reduce food waste is a very good thing(1).

Meal Planning Challenges

The benefits of meal planning are clear, but that doesn’t mean that this process is without its challenges. When you first begin meal planning, you are likely to struggle through certain aspects of it, including upfront cost, meal prep overload, and maintaining variety while meeting preferences. 

Meal planning can be difficult if you work a variable schedule, you travel often, or you have limited time to cook. In these cases, premade meal delivery services or meal kits may be helpful.

-SaVanna Shoemaker, RDN

Cost Considerations

Meal planning is likely to cut down on your grocery bills. But you can expect some upfront costs that need to be taken care of before you start seeing savings. How well-stocked your kitchen is with food and supplies will determine how much more those first few shopping trips will cost.

Many people who start meal planning find they spend a lot on spices and condiments during those first few trips to the store. This is especially true if cooking is not something you’ve done a lot of in the past. The good news is once you’ve stocked up on the staples, you should see those expenditures drop quickly.

The key to saving time with meal planning is in the preparation. But to be successful here, you need plenty of storage options for your prepped ingredients and pre-cooked meals. 

Glass containers are great for food that needs to be reheated. But you may also want to invest in some plastic or silicone-wrapped glass if you’re going to be transporting meals out of the home. You’ll also need freezer-safe containers with tight-fitting lids.

Having a plethora of storage size options is also a good idea. Keeping sauces separate from prepped grains and veggies will help prevent dishes from getting soggy. Likewise, you may find it helpful to pre-measure spices and other minute ingredients to cut down on cooking time later.

Having the right-sized containers to hold a variety of ingredients will help save room in the fridge, freezer, and dishwasher. 

Cutting Down on Prep Time

Prepping your meals ahead of time will save you more time in the long run. But you aren’t likely to feel this way when you’re elbow deep in a week’s worth of dinners. To help ease the burden of the pre-prep, we suggest investing in a few helpful kitchen tools:

These will, again, add to your upfront cost, but they’re worth it for the time and energy they’ll save you. 

Using these time-saving tools and setting aside a couple of hours at the beginning of the week to do as much prepping and cooking as possible will pay off during those busy workdays.

Lack of Variety

Another major complaint people have about meal planning is a lack of variety. True, it’s much easier to eat the same thing day after day. Doing so cuts down on prep time and saves you brain cells that may be otherwise used up trying to figure out how to prep and cook new recipes.

But eating the same thing every day is likely to burn you out on meal planning pretty fast. It won’t be long until you’re leaving your pre-cooked lunch in the fridge in favor of a trip to the local fast food shop. 

Finding success with meal planning is all about balancing variety with convenience. Instead of eating the same thing every day, pick a few options for the week and rotate them. The next week, pick a few new options and do the same. 

Each month, you can rotate many of the same meals to use up leftover ingredients and save yourself some sanity without getting bored by your choices.

Meeting Preferences

Planning your own meals is tough. Planning them for an entire family can feel impossible. Especially if you’re dealing with very specific preferences or diet and ingredient restrictions. 

When this happens, many people find themselves preparing more meals than they can handle. Instead of preparing completely different meals for picky eaters and diet-restricted family members, we recommend finding base ingredients that meet everyone’s needs and using additions to satisfy specific preferences. 

Make It Simple: Let Us Plan Your Meals for You!

Overcoming the challenges of meal planning requires a lot of trial and error. If this is a new process for you, you are likely to spend a lot of time figuring out what doesn’t work before you find what does.

Many newbies to meal planning spend more time trying to come up with recipes than they do actually eating those recipes. And trying to figure out the most efficient way to prep them in advance while ensuring they still taste great when you finally get to eat them is another headache. 

For those new to this process and those who have struggled through it before, we recommend using a meal-planning subscription. And, as it happens, Clean Green Simple is in the process of launching our own easy-to-use, health-focused meal planning option.

Our meal planning subscription is designed to reduce the challenges of this process while increasing the benefits and odds of success.

We’ll give you not just recipes for a week of delicious meals, but your grocery list, customization options, and ingredient pre-prep instructions. Basically, we’ll take the thinking out of it so you can spend less time shopping, prepping, and cooking, and more time enjoying your food.

Best of all, our Project Simple meal planning subscription will include highly customizable flavor-packed vegan dishes. These simple base recipes will feature easy substitutions to accommodate food allergies and preferences. And we’ll provide optional additions to make them kid, carnivore, and picky eater friendly.

Clean Green Recipes for the Whole Family

Our meal planning subscription will include options for just dinners, all meals, and meals plus snacks. Each menu will be created with convenience and variety in mind and come with extra guidance to help you through grocery shopping and meal prep.

From salads to hearty meals that satisfy, we’ll offer a variety of options each week. Because we work hard to align ingredients and put ample consideration into prep requirements, you’ll get to enjoy this variety without putting extra time into shopping and prepping.

Our clean, green meals use healthy vegan base ingredients like quinoa, rice, whole grains, and pasta. Add to that, healthy vegetables, plant-based protein like beans or tofu, and a variety of delicious sauces and spices, and you’ve got endless options for healthy meals. 

But our meal planning subscription isn’t just for plant-based eaters. Many of our recipes can be customized to include chicken, turkey, ground beef, cheese, eggs, and other animal-based ingredients to meet the preferences of everyone in your household.

Here’s a quick peek at some of the great recipes we have to offer (but expect many more to come):

Interested in learning more about our Project Simple meal planning subscription? Email us today. We’d love to know what you want in a meal planning membership, what struggles you’ve experienced with meal planning in the past, and any other thoughts you have on the process.

Sara Seitz