Preparing your own Meals
Meal planning can help you stay organized, save money and make better food choices. Check out this section for how to get started.
Making your own meals is one of the best things you can do for your health and your budget. When you prepare your own meals, you control the ingredients. This allows you to make healthier choices, and with a little planning, you can also save money.
Meal planning helps you think ahead about what you might want to eat for meals and snacks over a few days. It helps you make sure you have the ingredients and tools you’ll need to pull it off. This is different than having a food journal, where you can keep track of everything you’ve eaten in a day to see where you might want to make some changes.
Planning your meals and snacks helps you:
- Make healthier choices
- Save time grocery shopping
- Get meals on the table faster and with less stress
- Reduce food waste by only buying what you need and will use
There’s no right or wrong way to plan meals. You can plan for the whole week ahead, or you can plan for a couple of days at a time. Do what works for you.
Try these ideas to make planning what you eat part of your routine:
- Set aside some time to make your plan
- Write down your meal ideas or new recipes
- Keep your old meal plans and favourite recipes in a binder or on your computer. You can reuse the plans and recipes that you liked
- Post an empty grocery list somewhere you can see it, so you can easily add to it as you remember things
If meal planning seems too hard, or you’re not sure where to begin, try this step-by-step guide to get some ideas and inspiration:
1. Choose a meal planning template to help you stay organized. Here is an example to help you get started.
You could also try using a dry erase board or a spreadsheet on excel or google. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find something that works for you.
2. Write down the first meal you want to try. To help you choose, look at things like:
- A meal or recipe you already know and enjoy
- A dish or ingredient you want to learn how to make
- An ingredient that is in season or on sale
- Something that’s already in your fridge, freezer or pantry that needs to be used up
3. Think up a few options for different meals. Choose recipes with some of the same ingredients so you will need to buy less. For example, if you roast a chicken one day, on the next day add diced chicken on top of salad, shred it in a burrito, or slice it in a sandwich. Think about recipes you can double and freeze for later like soups, stir fries, and casseroles. Check the space in your freezer and buy some containers to store larger amounts of food.
4. Make your grocery list. Once you have your meals written down and your recipes in front of you, start working on your grocery list. Don’t forget to check that you have staple ingredients like vegetable oil, flour, and onions. Keep adding to this grocery list as you add more meals to your meal plan.
Enjoy! After all that hard work, take some time to appreciate what you’ve pulled together.
Prepare meals at home as often as you can. They can even be something as simple as a sandwich, or salad. Look through your cupboards and fridge to see what food to use up or plan your meals around. If you have roommates, talk about sharing the cost of certain items you all use, such as oils or flour.
Find homemade recipes for your favorite highly processed foods:
- Try a healthy muffin recipe to replace store-bought muffins
- Make your own frozen dinners by choosing a healthy recipe and freezing it in meal-sized portions
- Stock your kitchen with healthy snacks. Try quick and easy options like nuts, hummus and veggies, dried or fresh fruit
Leftovers are great, but don’t leave them in the fridge for more than 2-3 days. Freeze anything that can’t be used up in this time to prevent waste.
Ask friends and family for ideas. Cookbooks, apps and online recipes can be helpful to plan your meals. Check out budgetbytes.com or Google ‘healthy budget recipes’ for lots of great ideas. For more tips, click here.
Don’t be afraid to add healthy snacks to your plan. If you make healthy choices, snacks can:
- Give you more energy
- Provide important nutrients
- Help satisfy your hunger between mealtimes
Think about healthy snacks when you are planning meals and add them to your grocery list. Here are some easy ways to eat healthy snacks:
- Prepare them in advance: this will help you save time. Chop extra vegetables when cooking so you’ll have some for snacks. Make muffins or homemade granola bars and store them the freezer. Boil eggs on the weekend and keep them in your fridge for up to one week with the shell on. Make your own trail mix.
- Grab and go: Have on hand easy, on-the-go options such as oranges, bananas, plums. Keep chopped vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, celery and peppers in the fridge in a reusable container for easy access. Keep roasted chickpeas or nuts such as almonds, cashews, soy nuts or peanuts in your bag for when you feel hungry.
- For work or school: try keeping some healthy options like apples, oatmeal, nut butter, canned fruit, whole grain crackers, nuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds in your locker or desk.
Here are some more great snack ideas to try at home:
- Whole grain toast with nut butter and banana
- Lower fat cheese and whole grain crackers with cherry tomatoes
- Lower fat yogurt topped with frozen berries and walnuts
- Green leafy salad with orange sections and almonds
- Sliced cucumber and red pepper with hummus
- Whole grain crackers topped with lower fat cottage cheese and peach slices
Want to explore and learn more? Here are a couple options that will help you.