How to Stick to Your Meal Plan

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

Hey there!

I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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Hi, guys!

I totally slacked on publishing my meal plan post this week. Sorry about that! I started this post yesterday morning, but never ended up finishing it. Oops. Anyway, without further ado, here’s what’s on the menu for this week:

grocery-shopping-for-the-week

A bunch of you guys have asked me whether Mal and I stick to our meal plan after I post in on Sundays. The short answer is “yes,” but we occasionally veer off course if we’re not in the mood to cook or eat something we planned or if different dinner plans pop up.

Meal planning is great because it helps us save money and prevents food from going to waste, but we’re not super strict with it either. Our weekly meal is a good framework for the week, but it’s not the end all be all either. With that said, here are some things that help us stick to our meal plan.

Prioritize meals

When I plan my weekly menu on Sunday mornings, I take note of the ingredients I already have on hand (leftover food from the previous week) and start with those recipes. Often times, these foods are perishable, so I want to make sure I use them up first, so they don’t spoil and go to waste. I guess you could say these meals are “non-negotiable,” which makes us stick to our meal plan.

Cook the “hardest” meals first

When I’m preparing my meal plan for the week, I almost always schedule the recipes that require the most time and effort at the beginning of the week (i.e. roast chicken). I know as the week progresses, I’m less motivated to cook a meal that requires a lot of work, so I front-load the week and finish with the easy stuff (i.e. tuna melts) or leftovers. Typically, these meals produce leftovers, so I incorporate them into the following night’s meal. For example, I roasted a chicken last night, and I’ll use the leftovers for Chicken Bacon Alfredo tonight.

Cook (easy) meals with leftovers later in the week

I also like to cook meals that produce a lot of leftovers later in the week, such as crock pot meals or casseroles. By Thursday or Friday night, I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so we often eat leftovers (or super easy meals) on these nights.

Take full advantage of a “Sunday Cook-up”

On Sunday afternoons, I typically spend about an hour preparing food for the upcoming week. I typically make more involved (aka “the hardest”) meals on Sunday nights, so while I am preparing, I cook other foods for the week, including Sweet Potato Wedges, baked squash, roasted veggies, hard-boiled eggs, rice, and chicken, and then store them in Tupperware containers to be reheated. A Sunday Cook-up might seem like a lot of work, but it’s so worth it when you are starving and just not in the mood to cook. Plus, once you start prepping everything, it actually comes together quite easily.

Prep and cook for future meals

Similarly to the “Sunday Cook-up,” I prep and cook food throughout the week for future meals””almost like a domino effect. [Check out this post for an example.] When I’m cooking dinner, I’m always thinking about how I can multitask to make the next night’s dinner easier. For example, I’ll cut up extra veggies and roast them for the next night while I already have the oven on cooking something else. Pretty much any time I turn on my oven, I think about what else I can throw in there to cook for a later. I love rice, roasted veggies, and various potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squashes, which typically take some time to cook, so I often make them ahead of time, so all I have to do is reheat them later. Having these healthy options on-hand also encourages me to eat better (i.e. I will snack on some Sweet Potato Wedges instead of chips or cookies).

Defrost meat in the refrigerator

On Sundays before the start of the week, I take the various meats and fish planned for the week’s meals out of the freezer and put them on one of the shelves in my refrigerator to let them defrost. That way, the meat/fish is ready to go when I want to cook it, and I don’t have to wait for it to defrost.

“Re-purpose” meals

Sometimes, I plan out a whole week of meals, but then Mal and I don’t feel like cooking or eating what we have planned. No big deal. We switch it up! If there’s a piece of meat or fish that needs to be cooked before it spoils, we’ll toss it in the freezer for later or “ re-purpose” it into a new meal that we want to cook and eat (usually, it’s something simple). For example, if we have a chicken dish on the menu, but we’re not in the mood for it, we’ll cook the chicken and then turn it into chicken salad sandwiches or another dish that we feel like eating on that night. We don’t stick to the meal plan exactly, but we also don’t let food go to waste either.

Plan some “back-up” meals

Along the same lines as “ re-purposing” meals, I also make sure we always have a couple of “back-up” meals on deck if we’re not in the mood for cooking or eating something specific on our meal plan. These meals are ones that we really like, and they’re quick and usually mostly non-perishable, so they’re always ready to go when we’re in need of a meal. Some of our favorites: tuna melts, shrimp stir fry (from the freezer), egg sandwiches, avocado egg salad, and quesadillas. Basically, we keep go-to meals on-hand so we always have a decent dinner option, so we don’t end up ordering take-out.

Bump meals to the next week

On the weeks that we get off schedule with our meal plan, I make sure to “bump” the meals we didn’t eat to the following week’s menu. I make sure to prioritize and cook them first, so the foods we purchased don’t go to waste. This actually makes meal planning a little bit easier because I don’t have to think about what to cook or buy for the beginning of the week.

Question of the Day

What are your tips for sticking to your meal plan and making dinnertime easier?

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74 Comments

  1. I REALLY need to make those avocado egg salad sandwiches asap. They sound super tasty :).

    I meal plan every week (I keep a food journal on my computer so I just type my “meal plan” into that). I then create my shopping list from this meal plan. Meal planning helps me to only buy what I need and it helps me know exactly what I am eating for my meals so that I am not scrambling at the last minute. It is a huge time saver for me. Now if I could only get better about meal prepping… ;).

  2. I make a tentative meal plan also and sometimes I veer of course but its good to have a plan! I usually prep a lot of things to keep in Tupperware in the fridge also. I keep meat frozen until I know we are going to use it so it doesn’t spoil.

  3. You’re so organized when it comes to this meal planning thing. For me, I also try and do the ‘domino effect’ thing to make other meals easier and thinking ahead always means I’ll be more likely to eat healthy. When I cook veggies is when i’ll cut up the whole onion and pepper and then just store them in the fridge. I also always have back-up meals that I know I can go-to and will never not feel like having. Great tips.

  4. I am a food prepper by nature. Knowing I have my veggies cut up in the fridge ready to cook makes it much harder to stray from my meal plan. I also, like you, leave wiggle room the closer I get to the weekend. Thursdays are mostly leftovers and Friday is either leftovers or we go out for dinner.

  5. Great tips!!! I follow a very similar pattern when it comes to food prep. A few tips I always share with friends trying to eat clean and stay on track (other than those you list above):

    – Join a CSA or visit your farmer’s market in season. You’ll have a TON of fresh produce that could be vacuum sealed for later use or re-purposed.

    – If cooking on Sundays is mundane, tune into Pandora or whatever tunes you have, crank them and dance around the kitchen. My neighbors would die if they saw how much fun I have cooking 🙂

    – Use ice cube trays to store leftover coconut milk, chicken stock, herbs (in water or stock). Brown sugar stays soft if frozen and stored in a ziploc bag.

    – Marshall’s has some great deals on tupperware, so no one has an excuse not to prep and store for the week..

    – Keep a running list on your smartphone or a pad of paper in your bag to jot down what you need at the store. Spend a few moments meal planning at breakfast and stick to your list/budget/plan….unless there’s a reaaaallly good deal on Nutella.

  6. I have been doing much better with the meal planning. Usually, I see recipes throughout the week that I want to bookmark and try. So when I am planning, I try to remember those and pull them back out. Or I just start with a protein and plan from there. It has been helping to keep me out of the grocery store and shopping just because something is on sale.

    The Kidless Kronicles

  7. We are the same way, I have a meal plan and shop for it but sometimes I am just not craving what’s on it. I use whatever ingredients I bought for something else. So nothing gets unused and no new purchases. I feel like the best tip is to know flexibility is an option!

  8. I really like the idea of meal planning, but I find that unless I pick food I really want to eat at the outset, everything ends up being ‘bumped’ and in the freezer! Great tips though, might try some of these and re-double my food planning efforts.

  9. Love the meal planning tips- this is something i have REALLY been working on.
    Question- how long do your prepped foods last in the fridge? This is something i always struggle with. How long can you save veggies in the fridge? Meat?

  10. We plan our weekly menus, too, and it’s made a huge decrease in the amount of food wasted. It’s also nice not to play the “what’s for dinner” game every night.

    Funny you posted this today. Yesterday I spent about two hours getting several dinners ready or a head start to make for easier preparation later in the week. I never considered the “harder meals at the beginning” theory, but I guess I am already doing that. Great minds! 🙂

  11. AWESOME tips! I like the make the harder meals first. SO dead on. By Thursday I am like crap… I really don’t want to cook, and its so easy to go out for Thirsty Thursday and grab a bite!

  12. I also meal plan as soon as we get our Grocers flyer on Thurs. And as I learned this weekend the best way to stick to my meal plan/budget is to NOT bring my husband food shopping! I go in with my list all set, always perimeter shopping and I am in/out in no time. He likes to go up and down the aisles, go off the grocery list…
    I as well make the ‘big’ dinner on Sunday (crockpot, baked meats, roasted veggies) and then we have that a few nights after work, or I have leftovers for lunch.
    This really makes it so much easier for us, who both work full time in the city and sometimes do not get home before 7pm during the week.
    If we end up not cooking; I always ensure I have items on hand for my go to replacement dinner-omlette and roasted sweet potato wedges!

  13. I’m a big meal planner too, and I use a lot of your tips- especially the “prioritize meals” and “cooking the hardest meals first.” This week, I’m making salad tonight (don’t want my lettuce to spoil!) but I saved crock pot marinara sauce for the end of the week since it’s easy & everything is out of a can.

  14. Great post. I especially like the idea of a Sunday cook up and do the same because not only does it save prep/cooking time, but you also don’t make a huge mess in the kitchen. It sort of eliminates any excuse.

  15. I love these tips, Tina! I am great at making a meal plan for the week but sometimes don’t have motivation to cook everything I’ve planned. I also use the “bump it to next week” idea and push meals/ingredients I didn’t use to early next week!

  16. These are such great tips! I actually just finished my own meal planning for the week, so this post seems especially timely. The thing I need to get way better about is multitasking and prep work so my total overall time in the kitchen goes down.

  17. These are great tips! I also menu plan and do all my grocery shopping on Sundays. When I get home, I make my breakfasts and lunches for the week – usually steel cut oatmeal for breakfast and spinach salads with tons of veggies & a hard boiled egg for lunches. That way, I can just grab and go in the morning and not have to stress about what to eat!

    I have more time to prep food for dinner, so I don’t prepare a lot in advance for those meals. I just try to menu plan for things that are fast and easy on nights where we have plans and have a short time to get dinner ready.

  18. Great tips! I’ve found that meal planning is the only way to go, and I go so far as to plan out breakfasts, lunches, and daily snacks, too. If I don’t have it pre-planned, I go crazy and eat whatever the heck I’m in the mood for – which is usually nothing healthy. 🙂 One thing that helps me to plan more efficiently and to not waste food is to make enough of dinner to eat as lunch the following day. Yay, leftovers!

  19. We typically keep to our meal plan. When I go to the store each week I make to sure to only buy what we need that week, that way it is harder to veer off what was planned. I do love your last tip about bumping meals. We will do this on occasion and then go back to the meal, sometimes you just have to be in the mood for certain foods!

  20. I usually leave one day in the week in order to use up the extra random things that collect from meals. And I definitely feel the same way…I plan for each day, but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll push it back!

  21. I don’t meal plan at all, but I’ve been inspired now! We usually go to the grocery store on Saturdays and it’s a big treat for my 2-year-old (he LOVES the grocery store) so it would be easy to meal plan for me Friday night and get everything Saturday and prep Sunday night. Thanks for the tips 🙂

  22. Since I work full time and teach after work 4 out of the 5 nights, I meal-prep on Sundays. I usually cook a big meal and eat that as leftovers for a couple of days, and then I use the leftovers and make them into something new (add to a salad, put in a quesadilla, etc). I’ll usually make a pizza during the end of the week and use eggs as a fast source of protein during the week when I don’t have a dinner ready for me to “heat and eat”.

  23. I avoid leftovers, specially if there is meat in it. I really wish I could cook ahead of time and not be paranoid about the chicken. I usually make easy meals during the week, like tostadas, shrimp veracruz, grilled chicken and side of steamed veggies is my go-to meal. I leave the more tedious meals for the weekend. The only thing I do prepare ahead is my egg salad. I can live with that. 🙂

  24. Great tips! We try to plan about 4 meals/week knowing we’ll go out, change our minds, or eat left overs. It works for us! We do a lot of shopping and prepping on Sundays and I cook up as much as I can, in advance, to make the week go smoother.

    Planning easier meals for later in the week is a great idea, because honestly, who wants to be cooking for an hour come Thursday night? Not this girl!

  25. My Tip: Don’t over-plan.

    I think everyone is different with meal planning/cooking/shopping. For me, 3 or 4 planned dinners per week is about as much as I can handle. I learned through trial and error that any more than that and the meals get “bumped” or re-purposed. To fill in the blanks, we usually go out once or twice a week or I will use some of the backup meals (like stir fry or frozen pizza) that I always have on hand.

  26. These are great tips! I try my best to only buy what is on my list when I go shopping. That way I’m not tempted to eat unhealthy food instead of a balanced meal. I also try to make extra of things like chilli and stews and I eat them for lunch the nest day.

    I also don’t make rigid plans about what to eat on a certain day. I plan the right number of meals, then I make whichever I feel like when dinner time comes around.

  27. Great tips! I do meal planning for the week, as well. But I actually have a friend who does it for the entire MONTH. She does most of her grocery shopping for the month on one day, and then she’ll just get things like milk and fruit/vegetables each week. She said that doing this has saved them a ton of money. I’d like to try, but I don’t know if I could plan that far in advance!

  28. I prep meals on Sundays for the week..wash and chop veggies, roast a turkey etc. I cook all low salt/no salt and pass on canned items and processed foods.

  29. I used to struggle with coming up with dinner ideas every night. I would look through cookbooks for recipes that sound good, etc. However, I recently read Well Fed. It’s a cookbook like none other I have ever read (and I have read many). The idea is that on Sunday you cook your proteins…enough chicken breasts for a few meals, ground meat for a few meals, etc. Store them in the refrigerator and when it comes time for dinner, you decide chicken or beef (or whatever you have prepared) and then the book actually gives you spice combos to make it Mexican or Italian or Chinese.. and dinner takes about 20 minutes. Heat up and spice the meat, and make a veggie. SO EASY.

  30. I do a lot of those things! Bumping meals is a good idea, prepping is key and cooking the “hardest” meal on Monday makes everything way easier. My easiest meals or leftovers are always for later in the week since I get sick of cooking by then!

  31. I plan my meals for the week on Saturday too and wish I could get in the habit of prepping on Sunday! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bailed on meals because I’m too tired to cook.

    By the way, I clicked on the Lime Leaf link to check out their menu and it said they are closed until April 17th! Thought you’d like to know since you were planning dinner there this week 🙁

  32. Totally random question but I noticed that you don’t eat a lot of apples, do you not like them or do they mess with your chrons?

  33. These are all great tips! If I were actually home more, I would totally meal plan, but since I travel for work, I can’t meal plan for the week. But on the few days I am home, I try to cook enough for leftovers (which isn’t hard when cooking for 1) but also items that can be mixed and matched. So I will cook up a sweet potato and eat half for dinner and use the other half in my eggs the next morning!

    -AJ
    FitTravelerAJ.blogspot.com

  34. I used to hate mushrooms with a passion. They pretty much made me gag if they came anywhere close to my mouth. Now, I LOVE them! I’m a bit iffy on them cooked, but raw I could eat a whole pound of.

    P.S Love your nail color! So cute.

  35. I’ve tried to do meal planning and usually I just work around what I’m in the mood to make. I pick up our weekly staples from the store and something that catches my eye and inspires me! I find this to be the best way to be creative in the kitchen yet stick to some sort of meal plan!

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