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Meal Planning Basics: How to Meal Prep for the Week

So long “what’s for dinner?” Hasta luego “we have too much/not enough food for the week.” Welcome to money-saving, no-food-waste-here, my-life-just-got-simplified meal planning. While meal planning and prepping does take time and effort, having every single meal planned and ready-to-go for the week is worth it.

Here is a short guide to jump-start your weekly meal planning and prepping routine. You know your life better than anyone, so take what works for you and put your own spin on things to make it flow better for your weekly schedule.

Step 1: Have Containers, Will Travel

Whether you pack your meals for work or not, having good containers to store your meals or prepped food is necessary. I like glass containers since they come in various sizes, have tight lids to seal in freshness, and are oven safe. For really large items such as salad, it’s nice to have mixing bowls with lids.

Step 2: List Favorite Meals and Recipes

Make a list of meals you and/or your family enjoy. Include all meals, snacks, and desserts. This takes some time at first, but then you have a master list and/or meal rotation you can refer to week after week. This is also a good time to assess the following:

  • Will I eat leftovers and for how long?

  • How do I feel about eating the same foods for breakfast? In other words, am I okay with eating oatmeal every day or do I want to rotate oatmeal with chia seed bowls, smoothies, egg bakes, etc.? How about lunch? Dinner?

  • Do I have adequate freezer and/or fridge storage for batch cooking?

  • Do you want to cook once and re-purpose? In other words, do you want to roast a whole chicken that you can use to make salad, tacos, and soup throughout the week?

  • How often do I want to dine out/carry out?

  • How much time, money, and effort am I willing to spend on food planning, preparation, and cooking? How do I plan accordingly to make that happen?

When thinking of meal ideas, take a stress-free approach, utilizing simple meals (i.e. no recipe needed to sauté chorizo, chopped sweet potatoes, and broccoli for a tasty bowl) and kitchen tools such as slow cookers. If I can throw chicken thighs, chopped cauliflower, bell peppers, coconut milk, tomato paste, and spices in a slow cooker to make curry, then I’m all for it. I don’t need a recipe, and I can let it go all day, throwing my vegetables in 30 minutes before it’s finished so they don’t turn into mush. Simple, time-saving, and delicious.

If you’ve been meal planning for a while, it’s easy to get into a rut. One way to move through that is by choosing one new recipe per week from a favorite cookbook, blog, or social media post you’ve saved. This could be for any meal, snack, or dessert. This helps keep meals interesting, inspiring, and tasty, since it’s common for many of us to go on autopilot and cook the same meals again and again.

Step 3: Schedule It All

Additional factors to determine are when you’re going to plan meals, make your grocery list, purchase groceries, and prep/cook. There are so many ways to do this, so find what works for you. Here are some ideas:

  • Plan ahead and purchase food on Sunday; prep and cook Sunday; eat through Wednesday; purchase food again, prep, and cook Wednesday; eat through Sunday

  • Plan ahead and purchase food Saturday; prep Saturday or Sunday; cook dinner every night and save leftovers breakfast and lunch the following day.

  • Plan ahead and purchase Tuesday; prep Wednesday; cook all meals Thursday and eat throughout the week.

I’ve tried many meal planning/prepping combinations throughout my adult life. Currently, this is how we roll in the Nielsen house. During the work week, we find two new recipes (usually one for lunch and a dessert), and decide which night we want to eat out. Then, on Friday night after dinner, we write out our meals on a dry erase magnet we keep on our fridge, while simultaneously making our grocery list. We chose Friday, since the weekend is the best time for us to purchase groceries, prep, and cook for the week. We don’t cook all of our meals on the weekend, mainly breakfast (if needed) and lunches. Dinner meals are cooked nightly, which is quick and simple since everything we need has already been prepped.

Step 4: Add a Dash of Fun

I’m all about making anything in life as enjoyable as possible. So while your prepping and cooking, play your favorite TV show, movie, sporting event, music, or podcast. Ask your spouse, significant other, or kid(s) to help you (plus you'll save time). Or invite a friend over so you can both prep and cook together (and possibly save money buying in bulk), while catching up.

I’d love for you to comment below what your biggest challenge is when it comes to meal planning and prepping. If you have some meal planning and prepping tips up your sleeve, please share them, because we all could use some fresh ideas. Also, if you thought this blog was helpful or know someone who would benefit from it, please like it and share it.

With love, Steph

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