The start of fall is a hectic and busy time for many, as students return to school, and more people gear up for the return to office or a hybrid workplace. While our diets are often the first casualties of a jam-packed schedule, there’s a simple solution to help you stay on track as the seasons change: meal planning! 

Planning meals ahead of time makes it easy to accommodate all the different schedules, routines and dietary needs in your household while saving you time on cooking during the week. It’s also a great way to incorporate fresh seasonal ingredients and new meals into your recipe repertoire. 

There’s also significant health benefits to meal planning, too: Cooking ahead of time and portioning out your meals can help make your meals more nutritionally balanced while reducing the stress of making last-minute decisions on what to eat or cook. 

So where do we get started?

  1. Select your recipes – start with 1-2 recipes that you love and will get you excited to eat. Then supplement with 1-2 recipes that are focused specifically on health, energy and nutrition. Try incorporating a meal planning template or app to support you!
  2. Take stock of what’s in your kitchen – get an inventory of what you have to work with! What’s fresh, running low or sitting in multiples?
  3. Make a shopping list – once you know what you have, you can make a shopping list to fill the gaps for your planned recipes. Prioritize fruits, vegetables and protein at this stage (as well as proper food containers like mason jars, a thermos and insulated lunch bags.
  4. Get cooking! – try incorporating ‘temptation bundling’, particularly if you are not a fan of cooking. This is about pairing a pleasurable indulgence with a behaviour or ritual that provides delayed rewards.

How do we incorporate meal planning into different routines? It’s all about embracing the pros and cons that come with each.

  1. 9-5 In Office
    • Embrace the stable location and be kind to yourself when it comes to the commute/being away from home
    • Prep meals that are easy to prepare at the office; things that just need a quick microwave or no heating at all
  1. WFH 4 Life
    • Lean into having your amenities at home close at hand without making extra work for yourself (because we know working from home doesn’t necessarily mean eating well gets easier)
    • Focus on recipes that only need preparation or assembly versus cooking; have ingredients on hand and assemble at lunch time
  1. Back 2 School
    • Keep it convenient, simple and fast – for the you and the kids
    • Assemble food ‘packages’ from items typically sold individually and balanced with fruits/vegetables distributed over a few days; buy 3-4 individual items sold in multiples and you’ve got lunch covered for a week or more
      • Babybel cheese, crackers, cucumber slices, bundle of grapes, and a ham sandwich
      • There are also lots of premade lunch options that include sandwiches, veggies and dip, cheese and crackers and more! While this option limits control on things like sodium input, it’s important to remember balance. Everyone once in a while you can swap in these easy options for variety and easing stress (which is just as important for your health!)
  1. Teamwork makes the dream work
    • If you have a partner, roommates or kids, meal planning should not fall on one person alone!
    • Work with your household to carry the load: take turns meal planning, share ideas, cook together or form an assembly line to package up lunches
    • Change meal planning from a chore or a fun activity!

The most important factor in meal planning is to find what works for you. Don’t force yourself to become a different person overnight or go cold turkey into habits that are completely different from where you are at. Build your meals into the style that works for you and gradually add small changes that move you towards goals that will help you for the better.
So put on your favourite playlist or podcast and let your inner Julia Child out! The reward of having delicious ready-to-eat meals all week long will be all the worthwhile. Let the kitchen fun begin!