How to Get Started Meal Planning

Meal Photo by Karen Booth

There’s a time and place to figure out what you’re having for dinner, and it’s not five minutes before dinner is scheduled to begin, while staring at an empty fridge, wondering how on earth you’re going to feed four people with half a leftover chicken breast, three zucchini, and a bottle of mustard.

Enter meal planning. This doesn’t have to mean spreadsheets and calendars and alphabetized collections of index cards: after all, the whole point is to save you time, not to turn your kitchen into some kind of culinary Library of Congress. Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t have to be some kind of uber-organized kitchen prodigy to make it work.

Here’s how to start meal planning, in 3 steps:

Step 1: Assess

Before you can fix the problem, you have to know what the problem is. And you need to get a little more specific than “I don’t have time to cook.”

To make the most effective meal plan, the first step is to figure out your pain points.A “pain point” is the thing that always trips you up, the problem that destroys all your good intentions. Some examples:

  • You don’t have a fridge at work, so you never know what to pack for lunch. You end up just getting fast food.
  • You get home from work late and don’t know any recipes you can cook quickly, so dinner always takes forever and you end up just ordering takeout.
  • You always forget things at the grocery store, so you spend way too much time running back and forth for just one or two things. Eventually you get sick of it and just go out to eat.

Step 2: Find your Style

Found your pain points? The next step is to find a style of planning that addresses those particular points. If your pain point is “I don’t know any recipes simple enough to cook in a rush,” then a meal plan full of complicated four-course dinners is not going to help! You need a style of meal planning that addresses your particular problem.

Step 3: Just do it!

Reading a list of tips on meal planning will not help you plan your meals. Only planning your meals will help you plan your meals. Instead of clicking back over to the next tab, grab your day planner right now and pencil in a time to sit down and work out a meal planning system. Or write an email to yourself, write it on your hand, put up a sticky note – whatever you like; just do it now before you can forget.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect the first time. Paleo is a lifestyle change, not a “diet” that you go off in two weeks, so you’ll have plenty of time to fine-tune your system. If you’re still nervous about jumping with both feet, here’s a sample 14-day meal plan for you to start with; copy it exactly or modify it to fit your needs. Or come up with something entirely original. Even if it’s not perfect, it’ll still probably be better than what you had before. Just go for it: you’ve got nothing to lose!

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