This is a guest post by Sarah from Sarah’s Vegan Guide blog.
Meal planning has lots of amazing benefits like saving time, money, and stress. However, most people who try it end up asking themselves one question: How am I supposed to save time while meal planning if it takes me forever to just come up with ideas of what to make?
I get it! Meal planning can seem overwhelming and cumbersome at first. That’s why today I’m sharing with you these 5 tips to save time when you’re planning your meals for the week so you can enjoy the benefits of meal planning without wasting your time.
Tip #1: Keep a list of simple recipes you like
So, you’re ready to start meal planning – but now you’re just staring at a blank piece of paper and can’t think of any recipes that you may want to cook.
Trying to come up with 21 different recipes on the spot (that is, if you are planning 3 meals per day for an entire week) can be really difficult.
What I’ve found super helpful to save time while meal planning is to keep a list of simple recipes. Recipes that I’ve already tried in the past and that I’ve liked. Then I can just scroll through this list and pick a few recipes that sound good for that week.
You can keep this list as a simple note on your phone or in a cookbook. Or you could even create a board on Pinterest where you pin a recipe once you’ve tried and liked it.
You can even create different sections on Pinterest for different types of meals (e.g. breakfast, lunch/dinner, snacks) to make your meal planning even easier.
Tip #2: Have theme nights
Instead of having to come up with something new every week, try to come up with certain themes for each day of the week. This strategy has made my life so much easier!
You could, for example, say: Okay, Monday is for curry. This reduces the stress of having to come up with a new recipe to cook every time you meal plan.
As you’re putting together a list of meals for the week, you just have to ask yourself: What type of curry do I want to cook this week?
This makes the amount of recipes to choose from a lot smaller – and reduces overwhelm and decision fatigue. Did you know we make over 200 decisions a day just related to food?
So, if you’ve had chickpea curry last week, you could go for a lentil curry this week and a tofu and veggie curry next week. Having theme nights is a great way to easily add in more variety.
an example of theme nights for one week:
Monday: Taco night
Tuesday: Burger night
Wednesday: Pasta night
Thursday: Curry night
Friday: Take-out night
Saturday: Try-a-new-recipe night
Sunday: Left-overs night.
Tip #3: Use an app to generate grocery lists and to save recipes
One of the benefits of meal planning is knowing exactly what you need to buy at the grocery store. You don’t end up buying lots of things that you won’t even use. Instead, you only buy what you need to make the meals for the week.
This can save money and reduce food waste.
I usually create my meal plan first, and then I go over all the recipes and see what ingredients are missing in my kitchen and I put them on my grocery list.
To make your life even easier (and save more time while meal planning), you can use an app like Plan to Eat or Mealime.
These apps give you the option to create your own recipes (or choose from their recipe list) and automatically create a shopping list for you. Then you can just take your phone with you to the grocery store and tick of all the items you put in your grocery basket.
TIP #4: Have a meal plan template that you can re-use
I love working with a meal plan template. It gives me a clear structure that I just have to fill out.
A simple meal plan template would have rows for each day of the week, and columns for the type of meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Sometimes it can also include a snack column.
By the way, did you know that I have not one but TWO types of printable meal planning templates in my Vegan Meal Planning Starter Kit? In addition to those, this starter kit includes templates to use for grocery shopping, keeping track of food prep, ingredients for each recipe, etc. Find out more HERE.
TIP #5: Adjust Your meal plan from the previous week
This is probably my favorite tip for saving time while meal planning.
Why go through the effort to come up with something new every day? Instead, just take your meal plan from last week and adjust it a little bit.
Here are a few ideas of what these adjustments could look like:
- If you had a recipe that you did not enjoy last week, switch it for a new recipe that you want to try or a recipe that you’ve already cooked in the past and really liked.
- Switch the ingredients of a meal. If you’ve made lentil bolognese with pasta last week, why not make tofu bolognese with pasta this week? And if last week’s meal plan had black bean tacos, you could try tempeh tacos or lentil tacos in the next week.
- Switch between sweet and savory breakfasts.
- Switch up the snacks.
- Double a recipe that you’ve really enjoyed from that meal plan, and have it as leftover lunch on another day.
You could also create a couple of meal plans that you really like and have them on rotation. This way, you can enjoy the structure that a meal plan gives you and still have variety with your meals.
If you’re new to a vegan diet and are looking for ready-to-use meal plans, check out my Vegan Meal Planning Blueprint. I created this three-week vegan dinner meal planning system with every recipe and every step written out for you (shopping, meal prep, useful tips, etc.) based on the weekly meal plans I’ve been using in my own family for over a year. Find out more HERE.
I hope these 5 tips to save time while meal planning make your life and your meal planning sessions a lot easier! If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the idea of meal planning, you can also just start small by planning for a couple of days.
About the Author
Sarah is a certified vegan nutrition coach and nutritionist for athletes. She helps active vegans fuel their bodies with plants, thrive on a vegan diet and create sustainable, healthy eating habits that fit their busy lifestyles. She is also the recipe creator behind Sarahs Vegan Guide where she shares easy, meal-prep friendly vegan recipes.
Sign up for Sarah’s free 3-day video training on vegan fitness nutrition here.
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