Meal Planning Made Easy: Five Simple Tips

March 02, 2021

By Mackenzie McCune, Shore Registered Dietitian

Have you ever stared into the refrigerator wondering what to make for your family, only to resort to the same old unhealthy choices like frozen pizza or takeout? Once in a while that’s okay, but if you find yourself in an unhealthy rut, it might be time to consider meal planning. 

Meal planning is planning your meals in advance for a few days or for the week. It can feel like an overwhelming undertaking, especially if you’re already a busy person. But the truth is, spending just a little bit of time planning can help take the stress out of meals and help you eat healthier in the long run. 

Through Shore Medical Center’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program, Registered Dietitian Mackenzie McCune helps not only people with specific medical conditions, but anyone who needs guidance fine-tuning their nutrition and planning healthier meals - whether you’re a busy working mom juggling schedules, or you live alone. Check with your health insurance provider to see if your plan covers nutrition counseling - many plans often do, even if you do not have a chronic illness.

McCune offers the following tips to get started with meal planning, along with a sample grocery list and a meal plan example

  1. Find a planning tool that works for you. Whether you use a notebook or planner, a dry erase board on the fridge, or a mobile app, find a place to organize your recipes and meals for each day of the week. For recipes, find a cookbook or website you like focused on healthy recipes. McCune recommends starting off small by creating enough dinners for two to three days. Tip: “Look at your weekly schedule and save new recipes for days you have a bit more time. On your busiest day, plan to have leftovers.”
  2. Organize your list. Review the meals in your weekly plan and make a shopping list of ingredients you will need. Cross off items you already have in your pantry. Organize the list into different sections of the supermarket, i.e. dairy or produce, to make shopping easier. It can also be helpful to keep an ongoing grocery list in your kitchen or on your phone and add items as you run out.  Also, keep a master list of all your kitchen inventory so you know what you have in your pantry or fridge. Tip: “Consider ordering your groceries online to save time.” 
  3. Cook in bulk. Bulk or batch cooking can make it easier to have homemade meals during the week. When you are making a recipe, make enough for an extra day or two of meals, or to freeze for a different week. Tip: “When making turkey chili, set aside some of the ground turkey to be used for a meal later in the week. When cutting up peppers and onions for fajitas, save some peppers on the side to be used as a snack for later in the week. You can make meat sauce or soups in bulk and freeze them to eat the rest of the following week.” 
  4. Find Balance. Plan your main meals around three main food groups: a lean protein, whole grain starch (like quinoa or brown rice), and healthy fat. Add a veggie to each meal, such as in your omelet at breakfast, lettuce and tomato on your sandwich at lunch, and as a side at dinner. If not, you can easily add veggies by making them snacks between meals with hummus or dip. 
  5. Keep it Quick and Easy: While it may require a little more time to plan dinner, the rest of your meals and snacks can be easy. Hard-boiled eggs make a great snack, and they’re perfect to add to salads. Try boiling a dozen to have them on hand for the week. Other easy snacks include turkey roll-ups with cheese and veggies inside; greek yogurt with granola and berries; veggies and yogurt dip or hummus; peanut butter celery sticks; no-bake energy bites; roasted chickpeas; cottage cheese with fruit; apple or banana with peanut butter; orange and a cheese stick; Lara bars or Rx bars; mixed nuts and berries. For breakfast, consider making a big batch of overnight oats; a breakfast casserole or egg muffins/bites; or a Greek yogurt parfait. 

Remember, meal planning may sound overwhelming, but it can actually reduce your stress around meals. Try these tips, but if you need more help, Shore’s Nutrition Counseling team is here for you. Appointments can be in-person or via telehealth. To learn more, visit www.shoremedicalcenter.org/departments/nutrition-counseling or call 609-653-4600, option 5 to schedule an appointment today.