Recently, we discussed the benefits of meal planning for helping you achieve your nutrition, weight loss, or fitness goals. But, like many people, maybe you don’t know where to start. Meal planning seems tedious and time-consuming, or just plain foreign to your usual scramble for whatever food happens to be available. Despite how painful it sounds, meal planning isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and –surprise– you might even enjoy it! Just like that energized feeling you get from your fitness center workouts, there’s something empowering about taking control over the food you put in your body. Here are a few beginner tips to help.

Formulating Your Plan

Our schedules tend to fluctuate from week to week, so start by focusing on a plan for one week. As you get the hang of it and anticipate your schedule and meal needs further out, you can then plan up to two weeks or even a month in advance. Ask yourself the following questions as you formulate your meal plan:

• How many meals do I need to plan for this week?
• What types of meals should they be? (quick breakfasts, packed lunches, evening meals on the go or at the table)
• What are my (and my family’s) dietary needs and preferences?

Answering these questions will help build the framework you need to more easily and effectively choose recipes and foods that fit it your lifestyle and desire to eat healthy meals.

Take Advantage of Helpful Resources

If you’re not used to choosing healthy recipes and foods, there are tons of resources out there to help you — from calendars with suggested meals, to weekend meal-prep groups, to blogs and videos by fitness gym trainers and nutritionist. Choose resources that best fit your dietary goals, caloric needs, and taste preferences. Finally, ask friends or workout buddies from the fitness center who meal plan for suggested recipes and ideas. They may even be happy to help you get started.

Account for Your Grocery Bill and the Season

Our grocery budgets also plays a role in determining meal plans. Believe it or not, it’s possible to eat healthy on a budget. That may mean choosing fewer name brands, shopping sales ads, and following what’s in season. If you’re conscientious about buying organics but can’t afford to, utilize the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” to prioritize organic for foods that have higher pesticide residues. Finally, during the summer be sure to take advantage of fresh, pesticide-free produce from farmers’ markets and roadside stands.
Remember: There Are No Rules and No Failure

The great thing about meal planning is that it’s wide open. You can customize it to your needs. Because what you eat and how you plan your meals is so unique, it’s a constant learning process. It isn’t something you either “get” or “don’t get.” A planning technique someone else uses might not work for you, so tweak things you go. Most meal plan pros say it only takes a few weeks to get a basic idea of what works for your lifestyle and dietary needs, so don’t despair after one failed attempt. You’ve got this!