Whether your kitchen is well-stocked or you seem to always be running to the grocery store for a missing item, figuring out which ingredients to pair together to create a nutritious meal that you actually want to eat can be draining.
If this scenario is how you figure out what to eat most days, it’s time to start meal planning. You may balk at having to add another chore to your to-do list, but carving out a little time each week to meal plan can make your life much easier in the long run.
Here are 10 important reasons why you should start meal planning today.
1. Spend less money on food
If having more money in your pocket motivates you, you’ll be happy to know a meal plan helps you spend less on food and reduces the amount of food you waste.
Dining out, ordering food, and grocery shopping without a plan increase food costs. It’s estimated ordering restaurant meals cost 5 times more than it does to make the same food at home. Plus, you’re more likely to splurge on higher-priced items and ignore the bill when you're hungry and in a hurry.
When you have a meal plan, there’s no need to purchase unnecessary groceries and you’ll be less likely to impulsively order your dinner from a restaurant or meal delivery app. If you plan it right, you can save even more by checking your grocery store’s weekly sales and choosing meals made with more on-sale items.
2. Achieve your health goals
If you’re trying to lose weight or eat a more heart-healthy diet, a meal plan that includes more home-cooked meals can help you meet your health goals. Meals you prepare at home tend to have more fiber and fewer calories and fat compared to fast food and many entrees on restaurant menus.
Meal planning forces you to think about what you’re going to eat and about portion control. If your goal is weight loss, you can fill your meal plan with lighter dishes and avoid high-calorie meals like fried foods and cream-based soups and sauces. Research supports meal planning for weight management. People who routinely meal plan are less likely to be overweight or obese compared to people who eat without a plan.
3. Save time
When you use a meal plan to create shopping lists, you have a plan to efficiently breeze through the grocery store - more on that in a minute.
Meal planning also makes it easier to batch cook, which saves you time in the future. Batch cooking means you cook extra food to have as leftovers or freeze for another meal - that is, cook once and eat twice. Soups, chili, casseroles, and pasta sauces are easy recipes to double and, when stored correctly, hold up in the freezer for several months.
Once you have several weeks of meal planning accomplished, you can start reusing your meal plans to save even more time.
4. Have a more organized kitchen
Preparing meals can be more enjoyable when you feel calm and organized. Meal plans can help minimize kitchen clutter and give you clear instructions on what needs to be done.
Knowing what you’re eating ahead of time helps you feel prepared so you can defrost ingredients ahead of time or prepare a slow cooker meal early in the day. It’s also easier to delegate kitchen tasks to family members or roommates when there’s already a plan in place.
5. Waste less food
If you’re regularly throwing away moldy cheese, mushy fruit, and wilted salad greens before you have a chance to eat them, you’re wasting money on groceries. The endless options and sales in grocery stores makes it all too easy to buy more food than you actually need.
When you use a meal plan to create a grocery list, you’ll only buy the food you truly need for the week and automatically generate less food waste. Cutting down on food waste is better for the environment, saves you money in the long run, and helps declutter your kitchen cabinets, pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.
6. Make grocery shopping easier
Ever go grocery shopping and then order take out because you don’t know what to make with the groceries you just bought? Food shopping without a plan usually means you end up with a hodgepodge of groceries and no clear way of putting them together.
You can use your meal plan to make your grocery list for the week and consolidate your food shopping to just one trip. When you have a plan and a list, you’re less likely to forget items and you’ll save yourself from multiple visits to the store, which gives you more time, energy, and gas in your car.
You can even save money on your grocery bill since shopping with a list helps cut down on impulse buys. If you plan around weekly sales, you’ll slash your grocery bill even more.
7. Reduce mealtime stress
When you have a meal plan, you won’t be wondering what to eat or rushing around the kitchen trying to get a healthy meal on the table for a hungry family. Your meal plan is a guide for what and when to cook. Meal planning doesn’t mean you have to cook three meals a day from scratch every day.
Depending on your schedule and the recipes you make, you can include reheating leftovers, defrosting a freezer meal, eating at restaurants, getting take out, and preparing meal delivery options (like Home Chef or HelloFresh) for some of the meals in your meal plan. The key is making a meal plan that fits your lifestyle and dietary needs.
8. Enjoy more food variety
You’ll often hear nutrition professionals recommend eating a variety of foods. That’s because different foods are sources of different nutrients. Eating a wide variety of foods is a good way to ensure you’re meeting your needs for fiber, vitamins, minerals, and more.
Without a plan, we tend to reach for the same, easy to prepare foods. If you’re tired of eating the same meals, a meal plan can help you break out of a food rut and include more variety. People who plan tend to have a more varied and healthier diet.
9. Make healthier food choices
It’s hard to stick to healthy eating goals when hunger takes over. Without a plan and healthy foods on hand, you might find yourself choosing convenience over nutrition. Fast food, snacks, and sweets may satisfy your hunger in a pinch, but they aren’t the healthiest choices.
Taking the time to sit down and plan what you’ll be eating for the week gives you the opportunity to intentionally choose healthy meals. Meal planning can help you prepare balanced meals, which should include fruits or vegetables, whole grains, animal or plant-based protein, and a bit of healthy fat.
10. Become a better cook
Cooking is an essential life skill. A meal plan is an excellent way to include more home-cooked meals in your diet. The more time you spend in the kitchen, the more comfortable and efficient you become with basic cooking tasks like reading recipes, measuring ingredients, and working with knives.
If you want to work on your cooking skills, you can find meal kits that require very basic skills and slowly work your way up to ones that require more preparation.
Meal planning offers too many benefits to ignore. Planning what you’ll be cooking and eating ahead of time saves you time, money, and stress, reduces food waste and can help you make healthier choices by bringing more intention and control to what you eat.
Meal planning is also a great tool to help you cook more meals at home. If cooking isn’t your favorite thing to do or you know certain days won’t allow much time in the kitchen, you can schedule days to dine out or order meal delivery services in your plan.