Ultimate Guide to Healthy Meal Planning—Plus a Free Weekly Meal Planner to Get You Started (2020)
Meal planning is a great way to take the headache out of healthy home cooking. By planning your meals in advance, you’ll save time & money—and make it 1000% times easier to eat healthy at home.
This guide will help you create a weekly meal plan that actually works with your lifestyle and supports your health goals.
All you need to get started is our meal planning worksheet. You can download it free here:
So how does meal planning help you get healthy? Let’s count the ways...
5 Ways Meal Planning Makes it Easier to Eat Healthy
Meal planning is a simple and effective way to set yourself up for success so that you can achieve your health goals. Here are some of the ways bullet journaling your menu for the week can be used to help your health.
1. Mixes in Variety
Having a birds-eye-view of your weekly menu shows your food patterns so that you can adapt your menu as needed for satisfaction and health. Getting bored with chicken soup every month? Try mixing it up and making a ground nut stew this week. Noticing too many heavy carb dinners planned for the week? Swap a high-carb meal with a protein-packed dish like beef lettuce wraps. Is everything on the menu white and orange—swap out those mashed potatoes for steamed broccoli.
Aim for a menu with different colors, flavors, textures and protein sources. This is an easy and effective way to ensure that you and your loved ones are getting a wide range of vitamins and nutrients—and that you don’t get bored with your go-tos.
2. Keeps the Family Happy and Healthy
When you plan ahead you can include some of your family’s favorite foods and even experiment with how to healthify the dishes. Do your kids love pasta with marinara sauce? Try swapping egg noodles with gluten-free noodles or even zoodles (spiralized zucchini) and adding some peas to the sauce.
We can plan meals that satisfy all of us—like our inner child and high achieving selves—by being practical and systematic about our health goals. And setting ourselves up for success with nutritious food in the house that you enjoy is a great way to make eating healthier for the whole family a lot easier.
3. Easier to Eat Healthy Snacks
We all know what it’s like to start searching the fridge at 3pm looking for a snack—it is hard not to eat the ready-made cookies and crackers. By planning ahead you can prep nutritious food that will satisfy your sweet tooth without all the empty calories that wreck havoc on our health.
If you know that you get a hankering for something sweet most days, you can plan to have some smart sweets on hand. Your preferred treat could vary depending on your tooth and health goals; perhaps you make sure you plan to make gluten-free cookies so that you aren’t tempted to eat glutenous cookies. Or you learn how to make keto treats so that you don’t eat sugar.
Meal planning also makes it easier to keep junk food out of the house. When you batch bake healthy snacks you love—and leave the Oreos and Pringles at the store—it's a lot easier to pack extra nutrients into your day.
4. Know How to Cook Food You Love (and That Loves You Back)
One of the biggest hurdles to healthy home cooking is knowing how to cook. With meal planning you can set it up to match your skill level and lifestyle. You could learn one new recipe a week to slowly build your kitchen confidence. With time you can choose more challenging recipes so that you steadily build your kitchen skills. Soon you’ll be cooking just like Gordon Ramsey (or at least feeling as confident).
The best part about meal planning is that you can create it to match your goals, palette, lifestyle and kitchen skills. By planning meals that are practical for you to cook and in line with your mood and health goals, you will feel empowered in the kitchen and enjoy creating food that you enjoy making and eating.
5. Spares Your Willpower
Eating healthy is easy when you get to eat delicious food that you love! By planning your menu, you can make sure to add in some of your family’s favorite healthy dishes so that you have nutritious meals to look forward to—and that you know your family will eat.
Also, by planning ahead and having a game-plan at the grocery store you are much less likely to buy junk food. And not having cookies in the house makes it a 1000% times easier to not eat cookies—and spares your willpower the strain of having to decide over and over not to eat the cookies all day.
5 Benefits of Meal Planning
Meal planning is a skill that reaps many rewards. While it will take a minute to learn how to meal plan in a way that is practical and helpful, keep these benefits in mind to motivate you to stick with it. With practice you will soon be able to meal plan like a pro.
1. Reduces Food Waste
My least favorite part of cleaning out the fridge is finding half-used sauces with mold on them or leftovers that would have made for a satisfying meal—if only we hadn’t forgotten to use them! And it breaks my heart when I have to throw away limp vegetables because I didn’t have the other ingredients I needed to make a delicious meal out of them.
Meal planning gives you a birds eye view of the food in your kitchen so that you know what you have and have a plan to use it all. The result: all the food you buy gets used. This spares the earth, your wallet, and frees up valuable real state in your cupboards, freezer, and fridge.
2. Meal Planning Saves Time
If you think you don’t have the time to plan your meals, think again. The truth is you don’t have the time to NOT meal plan.
It may seem counterintuitive at first glance since it takes extra time to actually do the meal planning, but in the end you will save time. Add up all the time it takes to dig through the fridge trying to figure out what you can cobble together at the last minute. And add the time it takes to make extra grocery runs because you are missing key ingredients. Then you’ll realize how much time you can actually save by planning ahead.
3. Meal Planning Reduces Stress
Trying to figure out what’s for dinner while the kids are whining and you are hangry is hard—and is likely to result in a quick dinner that’s not highly nutritious.
Or realizing at the last minute that you only have ingredients for a meal that would take over an hour to prepare but you only have 20 minutes. That’s stressful.
By planning a practical menu that keeps your schedule and needs in mind, you are setting yourself up for success and less stress.
4. Meal Planning Saves You Money
When you plan ahead and have a grocery list to reference you are much less likely to buy items that sound good in the moment, but end up taking up valuable real estate in your pantry for months and costing you money for something you don’t use.
And knowing what you want at the store focuses your attention so you aren’t as likely to make impulse purchases that quickly spike your bill from $$ to $$$.
In addition, you can plan around your budget so that you know how much money you want to spend on food each month: which might inform decisions like chicken or shrimp fajitas.
5. Meal Planning Builds Kitchen Confidence Without the Overwhelm
By plotting out what you’ll eat and cook for the week, you can add in new recipes at a pace that works for you and your kitchen goals. I aim to add one new recipe a week and rest of the meals are usually things that I can throw together.
Find the rhythm that works for you and slowly add recipes that require a new cooking technique you want to learn.
Also, if you find a recipe your family loves try making it again and again so you feel confident cooking it. You could also try changing the recipe up a bit by swapping veggies, spice mixes, or toppings. This will help you build up your base of go to recipes—which makes home cooking easier and easier with time.
If you’ve never planned a menu before it might sound like a daunting task, but it’s actually very doable once you get oriented. Here’s our step-by-step guide for creating a meal plan that supports your health goals—and makes home cooking a lot easier.
So, how do you use a bullet journal to create a menu? Here's a step-by-step guide to get you set up. Plus
How to Use your Bullet Journal and Plan Your Menu
Now that you are properly motivated to fill out your menu planner template, it's time to plan your menu for the week. So download your free menu planner if you haven't already, and let's get started!
Choose the digital or printable bullet journal template and click on the image to download it.
Consider Your Lifestyle and Goals
Ask yourself questions like:
What am I in the mood for?
What dishes can I adapt so they are more healthy?
What do I want to learn how to make?
What can I prepare that is both delicious and nutritious?
For classic meals like lasagna, is there a way I can healthify it (so it’s both delicious and nutritious)?
Keep Leftovers in Mind and Plan to Batch Cook
We are huge fans of batch cooking in our house. In fact, I always cook with our biggest pots and pans and make as much as I possibly can. I figure that if I’m taking the time to cook something great—I might as well make a ton of it to freeze for another already-made dinner that is delicious and nutritious. It makes for less cooking and more healthy meals that everyone enjoys.
Would recommend batch cooking recipes you’ve already tested and approved—and that you know how to cook. That way you don’t end up cooking a lot of food that nobody is excited to eat—or that you end up having to dump because it didn’t turn out.
If you batch cook make sure to factor in extra prepping and cooking time. While batch cooking will save you a ton of time in the end; it usually takes some extra time up front.
Consider How Much Time You’ll Have to Cook
How much time you will have to prep and cook will greatly inform what you plan for the week. Working all day and homeschooling the kids in between? Plan a crockpot meal or defrost a home cooked meal from the freezer. Have an afternoon to hang with the family in the kitchen? Plan to make a new recipe, a stew or a test a new gluten-free dessert.
Have Themed Nights
Having themes for some days of the week can be a fun way hit up your favorite healthy foods. Some fun themed night ideas:
Try it Tuesday
Taco bowl Tuesday
Breakfast for Dinner
Include Everyone in the Planning Process
When your family feels included in the menu making process the more invested they will feel in it’s success.
By including everyone in the planning process—even if it’s just asking a dish they’d like to see on the menu (or not on the menu)6. It can also help prepare picky eaters so they know what new foods they are going to get to try.
Our boys get very excited when they see their favorite meals on the menu and are more likely to agree to a Try It Tuesday if they see that they have a Sushi Night (my boys fav) on Thursday.
Meal Planning Made Easy: 6 Tips to Create Menus that Work
The goal with meal planning is to create a practical menu of the foods you will make and eat in a week. The menu has to be practical enough that you'll actually do it and ambicous enough to help you build your kitchen confidence, list of family favs and go tos,
Here’s how to get started creating your own meal plan.
Make Time to Meal Plan
Set aside time each week to plan your meals. Sometime between Friday and Sunday usually works great. I like to meal plan while the family hangs in the kitchen or while my husband cleans after a meal so that we can chat about what we’d like to eat (and I can see what he’d like to cook).
Find a time and rhythm that works for you. The key is to create your meal plan and go grocery shopping before the week starts. That way you are all set up for a week full of great food.
Check Your Calendar
Keep your engagements in mind while you're menu planning: Will you have time before a meal to cook or do you need to have it prepped before hand? Or maybe you plan a crockpot dish or to batch cook the day before.
Or maybe you have a chunk of time at home Tuesday evening. That could be a great day to make a dressing, bake, or batch cook.
If it's going to be a stressful week, it might be a good idea to stick with things you've already made, pull out lots of dishes from the freezer, or make a huge batch of something to get you through the week.
Use a Meal Planner Worksheet
Our free weekly meal planning template is designed to keep you organized and inspired. There’s a printable version and a digital version (that can be used with Bullet Journaling apps like GoodNotes and Notability)—so pick the one that suite’s your needs and you’ll be all set up to plan your meals in style.
Take Inventory of Your Food
By quickly taking stock of what you already have in your house you will know what ingredients you want to incorporate into your menu.
By using these items, you'll free up high value freezer and fridge real estate and spare your wallet. Plus, building a weekly menu based on the ingredients you have is a fun way to get fun recipe ideas.
List Your Favorite Healthy Meals
Take a minute to jot down your favorite healthy go-to meals—the easy ones you love, the comforting ones you crave, and the kiddos favorite’s, too. You could list lunches ideas and healthy snacks favs.
Keep this list near when you are menu planning so that you can refer to it and brainstorm with ease.
Bookmark Your Favorite Foodie Bloggers
Bookmark, make a list, and or create a Pinterest board with all your favorite recipes and healthy food bloggers. That way you can scroll their sites for ideas and recipes.
Here’s some of my favorite healthy foodie bloggers:
How to Stick to Your Meal Plan
Once you have your meal plan it’s time to execute it! Here are some tips so that you have a great week full of delicious and nutritious food!
Shop with Your Grocery List
In the meal planner template, there’s space to jot down all the ingredients you need for your meals. Bring this grocery list to the store so that you can refer to it while shopping. Keep in mind the dishes you plan to batch cook so you can get enough to multiply the recipe.
While shopping focus on looking for the ingredients on your list rather than letting your eyes wander aimlessly looking for flashy food. This will help you avoid impulse purchases and keep junk food out of the house.
Not in the mood to prep veggies for a stew? Inspire action by imagining the delicious food you and your family will get to eat.
Keep in mind that if you batch cook, the effort you put into cooking will reap delicious food for days or even weeks (if you freeze it)! I honestly don't know if I'd have the motivation to cook if I didn't batch cook. It just feels so rewarding to make food once that you can eat for many meals.
Cooking is like creating a gift for yourself and loved ones. It's an investment in yourself. Remember that then put on a good podcast and start chopping.
Prepare to Cook
Go through your week’s meals and see if there are any recipes that need you to take an action the day before.
Prep 1 day before cooking:
Soak dried beans
Defrost frozen meals
Prep Beforehand (optional)
Make dressings and sauces
Soak grains or rice
Toast and/or chop nuts
We are so blessed that we get to choose our own food—and that we can even learn how to make it ourselves. We are fortunate that we can feed our loved ones food that helps them grow strong and healthy. There is so much joy that comes with creating and sharing your kitchen creations. So have fun with it!
Some of my go to recipes that are going on my meal planner: granola, tuna salad, Thai Curry.
What are your go to healthy to-go recipes?
Thank you for taking the time to invest in your wellbeing through bullet journaling for health! Before you go make sure to get your free printable bullet journal.
Download Your Free Digital Bullet Journal Now