By: Erin Kukura, MS, RD, UCSD Recreation Dietitian
Ever feel like you want to prepare more meals at home but don’t know where to start, or get overwhelmed by all the cooking and time involved? Then you’re in the right place! Here are a few tips to get started with meal planning.
What is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is whatever you want it to be! That means do what works best for you, your cooking skills, time and lifestyle. If you want to spend 3 hours on a Sunday preparing food for the week, power to you! If you only want to spend 15 minutes each week figuring out what to buy at the grocery store, that works too. The key is to start small and be realistic.
Meal planning is taking the time to plan what meals and snacks you will have available for the week ahead. You can make this a concrete or flexible as you like. Some people might plan out ahead of time what their meals will look like each day, or you can make a general list of meals to have for the week.
- Prevents unbalanced choices. What foods do you usually gravitate towards when you don’t have anything on hand to eat? Usually it’s something quick, convenient and unbalanced. That meal may not provide you with the fuel you need and leave you feeling sluggish.
- Saves money. Buying food from the grocery store, even pre-made items is usually cheaper than buying items on campus or picking up food from restaurants.
- A form of adulting. Grocery shopping, preparing meals and nourishing your body with foods that make you feel good, are all key qualities of adequately taking care of yourself and your basic needs.
Where to start:
- Start by looking at the week ahead. Consider your schedule. How many days will you be home for dinner, do you have other plans or commitments during the week? Do you also need items for breakfast and lunch? Do you prepare a separate item for lunch (sandwich or salad) or do you pack leftovers? This helps to determine how many meals you need to plan for.
- What items do you already have on hand? This can guide your choices of what meals to prepare. Maybe you have leftover chicken and bell peppers on hand, you could make chicken tacos or a stir-fry using those ingredients.
- From there determine what will make up your other meals and write a list of ingredients that you will need to buy.
*quick tip – if you are making items for dinner make enough to have for leftovers for 2-3 additional meals. This can save you time and money!
Meal Planning Hacks:
- Keep a master list of your go-to meal and snack ideas
- Cut corners by buying pre-cut produce, utilizing frozen fruits, vegetables or other entrees to make cooking easier, especially if you are new to cooking or don’t have a lot of time.
- Plan to go to the grocery store once a week to prevent running too low on food items
- Utilize the slow cooker or instant pot to prepare large batches of foods
- Have go-to items on hand for late nights or times where you want something quick
- Be realistic and flexible (your schedule and time or ability to meal plan will vary)
- Be consistent
- Try to have a set day that you meal plan and grocery shop to make it a habit and easier to get back to a routine when life gets busy.
Meal Planning Resources:
If you’d like assistance on your journey to well-being or feel that you would like to improve your relationship with food feel free to contact the Recreation Dietitian, Erin @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on services go to: https://recreation.ucsd.edu/wellness-services/nutrition/