3 Reasons to Meal Plan + a Quick Guide to Getting Started

by | Feb 25, 2015

pea soup

JULES CLANCY loves keeping things simple, especially in the kitchen. She has a degree in food science and blogs about healthy meals made easy at www.thestonesoup.com.

3 Reasons to Meal Plan + a Quick Guide to Getting Started

by Jules Clancy

When I was first getting into cooking in my early 20s, I spent loads of time planning my meals each week. I’d pore over cookbooks and magazines, and write lengthy shopping lists. I actually enjoyed it in a funny way, but as life got busier my meal planning habit was one of the casualties.

I found myself falling into the trap of either picking something up on the way home from work or, more often than I’d like to admit, getting takeout or going to a restaurant.

Over time, I realized that having some sort of plan and shopping on a weekly basis was not only better for my waistline, it was also easier on my wallet. But the best discovery was that meal planning didn’t have to be as time consuming as I’d originally thought.

These days I only spend a few minutes a week on meal planning. I’m not kidding.

Before I share how you can get started planning your meals like this, let’s have a look at some of the benefits of meal planning…

3 Reasons to Plan Your Meals

1. Increase your likelihood of cooking at home

I’m sure Darya will agree, cooking for yourself is one of the biggest game changers in upgrading your healthstyle. Having the ingredients you need and some idea of what to make with those ingredients makes it much, much easier to cook when you’re tired at the end of a long day.

2. Variety

One thing I noticed when I went through my non-meal planning “Dark Ages” was that when I did cook, I kept making the same old things. Bringing attention and longer term focus to your meals is a great way to inject some new ideas.

3. Reduce waste and save money

Having a meal plan that works for you means you’ll be buying the right amount and types of food each week and actually using them. So you’ll be less likely to be throwing out “veg gone bad” at the end of the week. Both result in more dollars in your pocket.

6 Steps to Get Started Meal Planning

1. Choose the best planning method for you

Meal plans are most likely to fail when they don’t provide enough flexibility to suit your situation. If you’re going to enjoy the benefits of meal planning, it’s important to know which type of meal plan will be best for you.

There are three main methods of meal planning:

The Do-it-yourself meal plan

This is probably what you think about when you hear the term meal plan. Choose a set of recipes, write a detailed shopping list and you’re done. You can do it manually or find an app that you like.

The Done-for-you meal plan

If you love outsourcing, this could be your best bet. Basically someone else provides the recipes and shopping list so all you have to do is buy the ingredients and cook the meals.

The “Reverse” meal plan

While I do use the first two options from time to time, the “reverse” is my favorite method because it gives me the freedom to choose what to buy based on what’s available and looking best at the farmers market each week.

In this method we reverse the meal planning process by buying the ingredients first and deciding what to cook later.

This might feel a bit advanced, but even the most novice cooks can use this method if they “buy first and Google later.”

The secret to getting this method to work is learning the right amount of food to buy and getting a good mix of ingredients that you can make actual meals from. See step 2 for more on this.

I should mention, you can always use some combination of the above methods. So for some nights you might plan specific meals and then choose to wing it with the reverse meal plan for the others. For most people, a combo approach is the best.

2. Work out how much food you need

If you’re using recipes and a shopping list this is already done. But if you’re being an adventurous meal planning “reverser” this step needs some thought.

First figure out how many meals you’re buying for and the number of people. Then allow one type of protein or main event (e.g. a serving of lentils) per meal and 1-2 vegetables. I then total this so my shopping list will be ‘x’ types of protein and ‘y’ types of veg.

It helps to write this down the first few times. But after a while you’ll get a feel for how much food you need each week and you will hardly have to think about it.

I usually rely on my pantry for any carbs like lentils, quinoa or potatoes. Depending on what you like to eat you may need to add a starch to your list for each meal.

The important thing to remember is this is just a guideline to get you thinking in the right direction. Trust your own judgement about what will be the right amount of food for your situation.

3. Start small

As with any big change in your life, it’s important to take baby steps and make it as easy as possible for yourself to succeed. The key thing is to get some small wins or “bright spots” as soon as possible to keep you motivated to stay the course.

4. Allow a “wild card” or two

Modern life can be unpredictable, so I find the best way to cope is to anticipate and plan for changes to your schedule and your meal plan. So if you think you’ll be at home four nights in the next week, I recommend planning and buying for three nights and then having a “wild card” or buffer for the other night.

For me the best wild cards are meals made from ingredients that will keep in the pantry or freezer indefinitely like the pea and pesto soup below. Or pre-made meals stored in the freezer like your favorite curry and rice.

5. Go shopping

All this planning is good, but we really need to get food in your kitchen to make a real change. One of my most important healthstyle habits is going to the farmers market each week and doing a supermarket shop for staples once a fortnight.

6. Review and tweak as needed

Meal planning is a dynamic process that changes with you, so you need to be mindful of what’s working and, more importantly, identify any problems and find a way around them.

Pea & Pesto Soup

pea pesto soup

Frozen peas are seriously one of the best pantry (or freezer) ingredients. I love that they don’t require any prep and can actually taste better than fresh peas.

Yield: 2 servings
Time: 10 minutes


1 lbs (500g) frozen peas
2-4 tablespoons pesto


1. Bring 2 1/2 cups water to the boil in a medium pot.

2. Add peas and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the peas are hot and tender.

3. Puree with a stick blender. Stir in a little pesto, taste and add more if desired. Season with salt and pepper.


Home made pesto – whizz the leave of 1 bunch basil in a food processor with 1 handful grated parmesan, 1 handful pine nuts and 2 cloves garlic. Add enough extra virgin olive oil to make a chunky paste – about 1/2 cup or less. Season well with salt and pepper.

Vegan / dairy-free – either replace the pesto with a large handful of torn basil leaves or make your own pesto using the quick recipe above but replace parmesan with roasted cashews.

No pesto? – the peas on their own make a really lovely pure soup. Or add in a few handfuls of grated parmesan.

Richer – add in a few tablespoon of butter when pureeing the soup.

Find more meal planning tips and recipes from Jules over at The Stone Soup.

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11 Responses to “3 Reasons to Meal Plan + a Quick Guide to Getting Started”

  1. Emily says:

    Meal planning has been a game changer for me. We used to throw away so much food because it would go to waste and we would end up ordering in 2-3 nights a week (I’m talking weeknights here). Now I used a combination of the reverse plan and the DIY plan. We have a good assortment of recipes that are in rotation and I’ll leave at least 2 nights a week to reverse plan based on what’s in our CSA box or what needs to get used up in the fridge. Often I will have two nights that are just “protein and 2 veg” and then I will fill that in as I go. I also find having shrimp in the freezer is a huge help. They take almost no time to defrost and you never have the excuse of having no protein source!

    • Jules says:

      So glad you’ve got your meal planning working for you Emily!

      And great idea to have shrimp in the freezer. I hadn’t thought of that but I love using my freezer as an extension of my pantry.

  2. Jebbica says:

    Thanks for this! I try to create a healthy meal plan every week, but a lot of times, I find myself still feeling lazy after work and wanting to just swing by and pick something up on the way home…especially during these icky winter months! I needed some inspiration to stay on track. 🙂

    • jules says:

      Hi Jebbica!

      Yes winter can be tougher that’s for sure. If you’re already doing the planning and shopping you’ve got most of the hard work done!

      I find that when I’m tempted to skip the cooking, it really helps to follow Daryas advice and think about how you’ll feel after a home cooked meal vs how you’ll feel after having takeout… This little visualisation really helps me stay on track!

  3. Love meal planning, hate food waste. I’m trying to spread the word-the benefits are life-changing! Grab my free meal planning kit over on my site http://www.goodhealthgirl.com

  4. Holly says:

    This is the absolute best thing to do. And I love the ideas. But how can you do this when you have an unpredictable schedule and/or not much fridge, freezer or pantry space? (Like the average student working part time and living in a share-house)?

  5. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for the plan and the easy soup. Can’t wait to try it out 🙂

  6. I need the tips so much!
    But I have limit time,
    I hope, I will be able to follow the tips

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