5 tips for meal planning

5 tips for meal planning from a dietitian
Image by Yaroslav Shuraev

Planning your meals for the week can feel overwhelming when you are trying to put together nutritionally balanced meals. It is easy to go down a rabbit hole of nutrition misinformation and come out the other side completely confused. Keep reading for 5 tips that will simplify meal planning and make your life easier.

1. Create balanced meals with this simple tip.

When putting together a balanced meal, you need three main components – carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables. 

Carbohydrates provide your body with energy and help to replenish blood sugar stores and fuel your brain and muscles. They are also a great source of fibre, zinc and iron. Choose grains or starchy vegetables to be your carbohydrate source such as:

  • Potatoes
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Pasta or noodles
  • Tortillas
  • Polenta

Protein rich foods makes your meal satisfying and contributes essential amino acids as well as other nutrients like iron and b vitamins. Look for what is on special and utilise cheap protein sources like tinned lentils or tuna to fit your budget.

  • Chicken
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Lentils and legumes

Vegetables provide important micronutrients, fibre and phytochemicals to your meal which are essential for good health. Including at least one vegetable in your meal will you increase your vegetable intake over the day. 

  • Frozen vegetables
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Garlic and onion
  • Salad vegetables
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Roasted vegetables

Choosing a carbohydrate, protein and vegetable will create the base of your meal. You can then make it taste delicious with fats and flavour from spices and sauces. For example, chicken, pasta, and peas make chicken pesto pasta, or rice, tofu, and capsicum make a tofu stir fry. 


Image by Engin Akyurt

2. Utilise convenience.

Many of us don’t enjoy cooking after a busy day at work or school, so cut corners where you can by using packaged foods. There is no shame in relying on convenience and these options are often just as nutritious as making it from scratch. Note, packaged foods can be high in salt. If this is a concern for you check the nutrition panel and aim for less than 400mg sodium per 100g.

Pre-made pasta sauces and curry pastes make a meal in less than 30-minutes. Frozen vegetables come pre-washed and chopped and are ready to throw into the microwave for a quick veggie hit. Stock up on marinated meats, flavoured tofu, or bags of falafels for a quick and easy meal. 

3. Keep a list of your favourite meals.

Deciding what to cook for the week is harder than preparing the meal itself. Finding the recipe, ensuring it meets everyone’s preferences, and having access to all the ingredients can be difficult and leads to you eating the same thing every week. To avoid this, write a list of all the meals you have cooked that were easy to prepare and you enjoyed. Every time you try a new recipe, add the successful ones to your list. Soon you will have an amazing resource of tried and tested recipes that will make meal planning a breeze. 

4. Always make more.

Having leftovers never hurts. You’re already preparing a meal so you may as well make extra. Leftovers reduce time spent on food preparation as lunch the next day is sorted. Leftovers can be frozen for an emergency meal, or they can be used to make something completely different. A lamb roast becomes lamb sandwiches, or a pot of lentils can become shepherd’s pie.

5. Add variety in small doses.

Trying new ingredients is great for our tastebuds and our health. A varied diet means we receive a variety of nutrients that nourish our body. But if the thought of adding variety sounds overwhelming, try mixing things up in small doses. If you always buy tinned chickpeas try tinned cannellini beans. If you always have white potato try adding sweet potato to the mix. Maybe try swapping a red curry sauce for green curry this week. It may feel small, but each of these changes are adding amazing variety to your diet.

About the author

If you want to let go of the restrictive diet rules and make meal planning simple, Kim is a dietitian who provides gentle nutrition counselling through a virtual clinic Australia wide. 

Kim takes an approach that is personalised to each individual and seeks to understand what you need to reach your health goals. Kim is a Credentialed Eating Disorder Clinician and has a special interest in digestive health and chronic dieting. Find out more here.

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