Your Essential Guide To Meal Planning

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

What is meal planning and how do you start? Meal planning is the act of planning and preparing your meals and snacks in advance for the week ahead. Meal plans help keep us on track with our health and monetary goals.

Pick a day for meal planning and stick to it

Set aside a day to plan and food prep for the week ahead that will meet your specific health goals. Planning requires making a list of recipes for meals and snacks, creating a shopping list of ingredients, buying the food, and setting aside time to prepare these meals.

Get organized!

Keeping meals simple and versatile. Investing in a well-stocked pantry, including kitchen essentials, will make this process a stress-free and efficient health tool for success. Stay organized with menu planning templates or apps and a collection of your favorite meal prep recipes. Grab your best bud or roommate and make a plan together. This can provide accountability and a fun, social cooking experience!

Skip to Actionable Steps

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 6 Minutes

How often do you find yourself coming home after a long day to an empty fridge and scrambling to get the quickest, cheapest meal delivered to your door? Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there at some point. But if we’re trying to improve our health, save money, or simply eat more at home then we have to plan our meals ahead of time.

What is meal planning?

Meal planning is the action of planning and preparing meals in advance for the week ahead.

This may even include portioning foods into daily meal containers. What does this do for us? Creating a meal plan is great for busybodies who want to stay healthy. Sticking to a meal plan not only keeps us on track with our health goals because we choose what we eat and how much we eat, but it saves us time and energy during the week when we’re busiest. Eating meals prepared at home also saves us money because we’re not paying for the convenience or labor of eating out. Having a routine meal plan is one of the greatest tools for our health and our wallets.

There are several ways to go about making a meal plan but the end result is the same – to customize and prepare meals and snacks that meet our health goals and are readily available when we need them. Let’s look at how we get started with creating a meal plan and tips for prepping that keep it fresh and fun!

Set a goal

Before we step into a new routine, whether that be making a meal plan, starting a new exercise program, or cutting back on social media, it’s important to know your “why” behind starting. Goals for meal planning may include saving money, eating more fruits & veggies, improving energy levels, or trying new foods. Your goal will help motivate you to stay on track and stick to the plan.

Pick a day to plan & prep

Typically, this is Sunday, but any day when we aren’t at work and have undistracted time to make a clear plan for the week ahead will work. Block out a couple of hours depending on your meal prep experience, level of confidence in the kitchen, and complexity of recipes. Plan to prep up to 3-5 days worth of food depending on its food storage guidelines (you can find those guidelines here). You may need to plan another night of the week to cook for the last few days (but you can still purchase what you need at the beginning of the week). Busy weeks are bound to come around, so be prepared to pull meals out of the freezer to have it ready-to-go!

Pick freezer-friendly meals that let you cook foods in bulk, then save 3-4 for the week and freeze the rest.

– Dietitian’s Tip!

Make the meal plan

Start with choosing a list of recipes for the week including breakfast, lunch, dinner and any snacks. Incorporate a variety of colors and food groups and consider rotating your grains, fruits, veggies, and proteins each week. This will ensure your meals have a variety of nutrients and it also helps prevent boredom. Next, write down how many portions of each meal to prepare based on your weekly schedule. Don’t forget about any social events during the week that may affect the number of meals.

Create a shopping list

Use your list of recipes and portions to make a shopping list of each item and how much of that item to prep for the week. But first, take inventory of what you already have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. This will ensure you’re not overbuying when you go to the store. There’s a way to be more efficient with your time!

Organize your list by grocery store departments – produce, bulk, dry goods, dairy, frozen, meat/deli, etc.

– Dietitian’s Tip!

Go grocery shopping

Always bring your grocery list with you and check off the items as you place them in your basket. Organizing your grocery list will make this trip stress-free. Stick to what is on your list to avoid impulse buys (which typically include less healthy options) or overbuying which can lead to food waste.

Remember to have a nutritious meal before shopping so you don’t show up with an empty stomach and get the urge to buy everything in sight!

– Dietitian’s Tip!

Prep it…

ASAP! Wash, chop and cook as soon as you get home from the store. You’ll thank yourself later for getting this all out of the way and having meals ready to go when you need them most. Multitask your cooking. For example, while grains are cooking on the stove, chicken and veggies are baking in the oven and you’re whipping up hummus in the food processor.

Store it safely

Meal prepped foods can be stored as meal components (i.e., grains separate from proteins separate from produce). Or, they can be stored as meals themselves (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks). Storing meal components allows you to mix and match what you’ve prepped throughout the week, but does require you to put your meals together each day. Remember to follow safe food storage guidelines. For instance, use airtight storage containers safe for hot and cold foods to store leftovers, like this glass container set. There’s a way to reduce food waste and be prepared for that emergency dinner night…

Keep freezer-friendly storage containers on-hand so you can easily move an extra meal from the refrigerator to the freezer before it’s overdue.

– Dietitian’s Tip!

Tips for meal planning

We have a system in place and a goal to keep us chopping in the kitchen. Now, let’s look at a few tips that will help simplify your planning.

Keep it simple

Whether you’re a novice meal planner or a veteran in the kitchen, choosing simple meals and snacks saves time in shopping and prepping. Your brain will also appreciate the ease of a simplified plan.

Choose recipes that work for you & your lifestyle

Just like any eating plan, meal plans are not one-size-fits-all. Customize your meal plan to be enjoyable, adaptable, and allow for variety to keep it fresh. Are some of your meals on-the-go? Pick recipes that don’t require re-heating and are easy to consume like smoothies and homemade granola bars.

Keep a pantry stocked with essentials

Having a few things on hand at all times will cut back on weekly shopping and make prepping a breeze. Some essentials include high-quality cooking oils (pure olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil to name a few), your favorite dried herbs and spices, frequently used non-perishable items (whole grains, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds), and even frozen fruits and veggies. As you continue to meal plan, you’ll get more comfortable with creating something fresh from your well-stocked pantry!

Invest in quality meal prep equipment

From baking sheets, pots and pans, cooking utensils, a properly sharpened chef knife, and storage containers, having the right equipment in the kitchen helps make the prep work stress-free and efficient. There’s nothing like starting a day of meal prep and finding out you don’t have a big enough pot for your batch cooking!


Are you ready to take the first step into creating a meal plan? From putting it down on paper to perusing the grocery store and whipping up a storm in the kitchen, meal planning is one of your best health tools. Make it fun and be an accountability buddy by meal planning with friends or family. They’ll thank you for keeping them on track, too! Ready, set, meal prep!

Actionable Steps


Get organized

Go old school with a paper & pen template like these or try a free meal planning app like MyFitnessPal, MealBoard, Mealime, or FoodPlanner. More advanced meal planning programs offer tips and tools to get started like That Clean Life or McKel (Hill) Kooienga’s, MS, RDN, LDN Master Meal Planning Program.


Take a class

Take a free online course on how to make a simple, healthy meal plan with Nutrition Stripped.


Find meal prep recipes

Start a collection of go-to meal prep recipes. Keep recipe books on hand like Smart Meal Prep for Beginners or organize an online collection like Registered Dietitian Mitzi Dulan’s Pinterest. You can always check out our recipes here!


Work with a professional

Need a jump start to your meal planning? Team up with a professional! Registered Dietitians can help individualize your meal plan while allowing you to feel empowered in making the choices that best fit your lifestyle. Find a Dietitian near you.


Have it done for you

If you’re stuck in a bind and just want the meal prep done for you, try a customizable meal delivery service in your area like Hello Fresh, Freshly, or Plated. Not only will these services keep you on track with your health goals, but they’re a great way to get started with a nutrition routine, get comfortable with the planning process, and generate ideas for what you can prep for yourself once comfortable.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Hi, I’m Shannon! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Culinary Coach, and Personal Trainer. After dedicating over 8 years to the corporate wellness world, I began my own nutrition practice. Chef Shannon Nutrition focuses on plant-based nutrition and culinary coaching. My passion for culinary nutrition grew when I worked as a cooking instructor for a culinary entertainment company. After several years as an instructor and event coordinator, I moved into the role of Director of Culinary Entertainment where I developed all the recipes, menus, and instructor trainings. My dietetic’s expertise helped the company expand into allergy-friendly and health conscious menus to suit all clients.
Full Bio | LinkedIn | 1:1 Coaching

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