The Ultimate Guide to Weekly Meal Planning
In this meal planning guide, I’ll teach you how to create a weekly meal plan to support your clean eating goals, and share some time-saving meal prep tips.
Eating a clean and healthy diet can have a huge impact on your health, energy levels, mental clarity, and overall well-being.
But when you’re a busy girlboss with limited time and an empire to build, it can be a real challenge!
That’s where meal planning comes in — it’s your secret weapon for consistently eating clean.
It’s also a huge time saver when you know what you’ll be eating for the week and have the ingredients on hand for all your meals. You can save yourself even more time during the work week by doing some meal prep ahead of time.
Seriously, it’s a game changer!
If you’re struggling with meal planning or want to give it a try, below you’ll find my step-by-step process, plus extra time-saving tips and resources for grocery shopping and meal prep.
I’ve also created a free printable meal planning worksheet and grocery shopping list to make it super easy! Be sure to download them!
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WEEKLY MEAL PLANNING
Below I’ll show you how I plan my meals each week, breaking it down into 6 simple steps. Then I’ll give you some extra tips for saving time in the kitchen.
I’m going old school with pen and paper for this post, because it’s the easiest way to get started (be sure to download the meal planning worksheet and grocery list to speed up the process). In a later post, I’ll tell you how I plan my meals digitally.
Before we start, I want to say that meal planning doesn’t have to seem like such a chore. It can actually be kind of fun (even if you’re not a planning geek like me), but only if you set aside time to do it and aren’t having to rush through it (then it’s definitely not fun).
Decide what day and time you’ll do your meal planning each week. A lot of people like to do their planning on Sundays. I like doing mine on Friday or Saturday because it gives me more time to shop and prep before the workweek begins (more on that coming up!).
Put on some good music, make yourself a cup of tea (or coffee, kombucha, whatever makes you happy) and enjoy the process!
Step 1: Take a look at the week ahead.
Look at your calendar and determine if there are any meals you need to eat out (like date nights, lunch meetings, etc.), then figure out the number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you’ll need for the week.
For any meals you’ll be eating out, cross them off on your meal planning worksheet.
For example, if you’re having lunch out with a friend on Wednesday, cross out the space for Wednesday’s lunch on your meal planning worksheet because you won’t need to fix a lunch for that day. Date night dinner on Friday? Cross out Friday’s dinner on your worksheet.
If you know you’re gonna have an extra long day with limited time to cook, write a Q (for QUICK!) on your meal planning worksheet for that dinner so you’ll remember you need a quick meal that night (leftovers are a great option for this!).
Tip: If you’re a beginner to meal planning and it seems overwhelming, you can always start small — maybe just plan to cook 2 or 3 meals this first week, or only plan your breakfasts or lunches. It’s okay to start small!
Step 2: Determine the number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you’ll need
Tally up the number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you’ll need for the week.
You also need to decide if you want to plan your meals for every day of the week, or be more flexible on certain days.
We tend to eat out a lot on the weekends, so I plan my meals for Monday breakfast through Friday lunch, and leave the weekend open.
It’s your plan and you have total flexibility to do whatever works best for you.
Tip: A couple of ways you can make meal planning and cooking easier are: (a) eat the same thing for breakfast all week (I usually do this, and my go-to’s are smoothies and make-ahead breakfasts like overnight oats) and (b) eat leftovers for lunch, which means fewer meals you have to prepare.
Step 3: Do a quick fridge check
I feel so guilty when I have to throw away food because I was a slacker and let it go bad. It happens, but there’s no excuse for this and I’m making it a personal mission to stop letting food go to waste in our house.
Check your fridge for any perishable foods you have left over from the week before (like fresh produce). This way you can incorporate them into your meals for the week so they don’t go to waste. Jot these down on your meal planning worksheet so you can refer back while picking your meals.
Tip: If you have leftovers that you’re tired of eating, pack them in individual serving size containers and freeze them for a grab-and-go lunch or a quick dinner.
Step 4: Pick your recipes
If you’re a naturally good cook and more talented in the kitchen than me, then you may not need to follow a recipe for every meal. I WISH I were that good a cook, but I still have to rely on recipes.
Which works out okay for me because I loooove recipes, and I love trying new ones. But, it can be a problem because I sometimes lose touch with reality in terms of how much cooking I’ll actually be willing to do during the workweek.
So a word of caution . . . try to be realistic when picking recipes for the week. You don’t want to end up with a recipe that’s so complicated or time-consuming that you end up never making it (guilty!). And don’t forget to refer back to your meal planning worksheet for nights you need to have something super quick.
If you have a collection of favorite healthy recipes, this can be a good place to start. From personal experience, I don’t recommend trying new recipes for every meal of the week. Have a few go-to staples, and add in one or two new ones each week if you want to mix it up.
In terms of nutrition, everyone’s needs are different, but I generally recommend aiming for five to seven servings of veggies and fruits each day, centering your meals around these and rounding them out with small portions of healthy fats and clean proteins.
I like to start with the easiest part first. For me, that’s breakfast since I eat the same thing all week. So, I fill in my breakfast slots first. Then I write the ingredients I’ll need on my shopping list (for smoothies, I’ll usually need greens and frozen fruit if I’m running low).
I like to eat leftovers for lunch as much as possible, so I skip the lunch section for now and fill in my dinners.
Fill in your dinners (main + side dishes). If you’re following a recipe, be sure to note on your meal planning worksheet where to find it (cookbook name + page, online recipe site where you found it, or print the recipe so you have a hard copy to follow, etc.).
Next, I check the serving amounts to see which recipes will leave me with leftovers, and then plug those in for my quick dinners or lunches. If I don’t have enough leftovers for all my lunches, then I decide what to make for lunch.
I like to keep lunch really easy, so I usually make some type of salad I can get a couple of meals out of, or have something like veggies and hummus.
And that’s it — you’ve just planned your meals for the week! Yay!!
Tip: Make it easier to find your recipes by collecting them in a designated place. For online recipes, you can save them in a note-taking app on your phone (my favorite is Trello–I basically organize my whole life there) or make a Pinterest board for them. If you like to print your recipes, put them in a binder and organize them by category. Be sure to note your favorites so you can start building your collection of go-to recipes.
Tip 2: If it’s a new recipe, really read through it and make sure it’s realistic for your skill level and the amount of time you have (I’m notorious for not doing this, then discovering in the middle of cooking that something was supposed to marinate overnight or there are 28 steps I don’t have time for).
Step 5: Make your shopping list
Start by listing all the ingredients you need for each meal on your shopping list , leaving off anything you know you have on hand. (You can also fill out your shopping list as you go — filling in the ingredients from each recipe as you decide on it.)
Then check your fridge and pantry to see if there are ingredients on the list you already have — cross those off.
Tip: When listing your ingredients, think about how you can repurpose extras. Like if you’re making cole slaw one night and it calls for half a head of cabbage, plan to use the rest of the cabbage by making something like roasted cabbage (one of our faves!) as a side dish another night.
Step 6: Do your shopping
Here are a few tips to save time with your grocery shopping . . .
First, using a pre-made shopping list organized by category is a big time-saver. It’ll keep you from doing a lot of backtracking in the store.
I’ve created one for you, along with a meal planning worksheet to make this process easier and quicker. You can download it below!
Or, if you really want to take it up a notch, create your own shopping list template, based on the store you shop at most frequently, and organize it by aisle. I’ve actually done this for my local Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and it makes grocery shopping SO much quicker.
Next, have a set time to go to the store each week if you can, and choose a time when the stores aren’t crazy busy. Definitely avoid grocery shopping on weekdays after work and Sunday afternoons. Late evenings (after dinner) or early weekend mornings are usually less crowded.
Or you can do what I do most weeks — order your groceries online and have them delivered right to your door! This literally saves me hours every week. InstaCart is a great option. (Sign up for it here and use the code VROPER16313C to get $10 off your first order.)
Now you’re all set for a week of clean eating!
time-saving meal prep tips
If you really want to get a jumpstart on your week, you can do some of the prep work or even some of the cooking ahead of time.
Some options for this are:
- Wash your veggies and fruits as you put them away.
- Do your chopping, grating, and slicing ahead of time, storing your pre-measured amounts in individual storage containers (labeling the containers with a sticky note saying which recipe it’s for is a good idea).
- Put frozen meat in the refrigerator to thaw (just don’t do it too far in advance).
- Saute ingredients for soups and other dishes ahead of time so they’re ready to go when it’s time to put the dish together.
- Assemble casseroles or parchment packets ahead of time so you can just pop them in the oven when it’s time to cook.
- Cook entire dishes ahead of time and just heat them up when it’s time to eat.
more meal planning & meal prep tips
Here are a few bonus meal planning and meal prep ideas for you:
- Save all your meal plans so you can refer back to them — eventually, you’ll have enough that you can just rotate through them on a regular basis. But leave space to try a new recipe too so that you’re keeping it fresh. (If you plan to use this strategy, be sure to record where to find the recipe–what cookbook it’s from and page number, which recipe site it’s from, whether it’s saved in your recipe binder, etc.).
- Have themes for each day of the week — for example, meatless Monday, soup on Tuesday, fish on Wednesday, etc.
- Follow a formula — for example, every week plan on 3 vegetarian dinners + 2 meat dinners (you can mix that up or make whatever formula makes sense for you).
- To save time in the kitchen and have less clean-up, use your slow cooker or Instant pot, cook full meals in parchment or foil packets, or make one-dish meals.
- Invest in a really good chef’s knife to make chopping and slicing more efficient.
- Buy pre-chopped veggies.
- Use a Rotisserie chicken for recipes that call for cooked chicken.
- Prep for tomorrow’s meals the night before.
- If you’re going to be doing prepping or cooking ahead of time, you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of storage containers on hand. I highly recommend glass containers to avoid potential toxins in plastic — I use glass canning jars and these airtight glass storage containers from Amazon.
If this whole meal planning process just seems too overwhelming and you’d like to have someone do the planning and shopping for you, try SunBasket! SunBasket is my favorite meal prep service for clean eating. The meals are always delicious, the ingredients are organic whenever possible, and they’re committed to using eco-friendly packaging (even the ice packs are recyclable!). Sign up here for $40 off your first order!
meal planning recap
That was a lot, so here’s a quick review of the meal planning steps:
- Review the week ahead for extra busy days where there won’t be time to cook, or for meals where you’ll be eating out, (lunch meetings, date nights, etc.).
- Count the number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you’ll need for the week.
- Do a quick check of the fridge for any perishables (like fresh produce) or leftovers that need to be eaten this week.
- Choose your recipes for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner (keeping in mind your schedule for the week and any perishables that need to be used).
- Make your shopping list.
- Do your grocery shopping (save extra time by buying your groceries online).
- Save more time during the workweek by doing some prep or cooking ahead of time.
Meal planning does require an investment of work and time, but it’ll help you consistently eat clean and will make your life so much easier during the workweek. So worth it!
Be sure to get your meal planning freebies to help you get started!
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My favorite healthy recipes for busy weekdays