5 Tips To Simplify Meal Planning, According to a Nutritionist

By Sinead Berry, Registered Nutritionist (MSc, mBANT, rCNHC)

By Sinead Berry, Registered Nutritionist (MSc, mBANT, rCNHC)

Eating healthily every day may seem overwhelming amidst a busy schedule of work, family, and social commitments. The usual routine of grabbing random ingredients for dinner on the way home from work can add to the stress when you’re tired, hungry and just want to get home. However, there’s a simple and organised solution: meal planning. This approach to eating eliminates the guesswork from meal times, helps you to stick to a budget, reduces food waste, and makes it easy to eat nutritionally balanced meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not only that, research shows that meal planning is linked with a healthier diet and lower obesity rates (1). While planning ahead may seem daunting and time-consuming initially, when done right, meal planning can be an absolute game-changer for establishing long-term healthy eating habits.

What exactly is meal planning? 

Essentially, meal planning streamlines your week by organising everything in advance: choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients and doing as much prep work as possible. While it does require some initial effort, this approach guarantees to save you time and stress on busy days, plus it makes you far less likely to opt for less healthy choices. Regardless of your motivation for meal planning — whether it’s to add more variety to your diet, cope with long work hours, feed your family, save money (or your sanity!) — it should always be flexible and tailored to your needs, allowing room for any last-minute changes. You don’t have to plan every meal throughout the day in detail; start by focusing on the meal that causes you the most stress (dinner, am I right?) and have a few staple ideas for the other meals.

Sounds great, how do I start?

First things first, ensure your kitchen is stocked with essentials like tinned chopped tomatoes, lentils, beans, olive oil, tamari, miso paste, maple syrup, tahini, nut butter. Think of it as curating a capsule wardrobe for your kitchen. Also, do a weekly stock-take of what you already have in your fridge, freezer and cupboards, taking note of ingredients that need to be used up. Next, dedicate some time to sit down and plan your week. If you’re wondering how to create a realistic meal plan that works for you, here are my top five tips for planning a stress-free week.

1. Try one to two new recipes a week.

Selecting recipes is probably the most critical part of meal planning. Simplify busy days with quick and easy meals like traybakes, batch-cookers or ‘cook once, eat twice’ recipes. Be realistic about what you can achieve — if you have to ferry the kids to different after-school activities, or have a late one at the office, you’re not going to want to come home and make a slow-cooked stew. To maintain variety without feeling overwhelmed, stick to a few favourite, staple recipes and integrate one to two new ones each week.

To get inspired, take a look at our recipe library here.

2. Get everyone involved.

If you’re used to hearing the phrase “I don’t like that” when cooking for your family, encouraging children to help with meal planning is a simple solution to ensure everyone enjoys the healthy meals you prepare. Consider showing your kids a cookbook and letting them pick a meal for the week. Alternatively, when there’s time, encourage them to help prep some vegetables or toss together salad ingredients. Children often enjoy trying meals that they’ve had some role in preparing, even if it’s in the smallest of ways.

3. Prepare in advance.

Sundays are a great time for batch cooking and chopping veg for the week ahead. For batch cooking, think stews, curries, ragus; anything that can be portioned and stored in the freezer. Additionally, you can streamline your week by washing, slicing and dicing vegetables, storing them in airtight containers. For starchy foods like rice, potatoes, and pasta, pre-cook and cool them. This not only helps with being prepared but also provides nutritional benefits — it increases their resistant starch content, which feeds beneficial gut bacteria and supports blood sugar balance (2), helping you to feel fuller for longer. Remember, it’s the cooking then cooling that creates the magic, making it perfectly fine to reheat them when you’re ready to enjoy your meal.

4. Have a back-up plan.

Even with a plan for the week, life can throw curveballs. For these (inevitable!) moments, be prepared by having a few ‘emergency’ meals up your sleeve. A good place to start is to ensure your cupboards are stocked with the essentials so that you’re able to whip up a quick storecupboard curry, stir fry or simple pasta dish. It’s also times like these when those previously batch-cooked freezer meals come in handy, so keep in mind what you may have at the back of the freezer. If all else fails, I like to knock up a simple ‘fridge-raid tapas’ — a plate with whatever you can forage that includes ¼ plate of protein (tofu, beans, lentils, hummus), ½ colourful veg (leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers), ¼ root veg and wholegrains (sweet potato, quinoa, brown rice), and some healthy fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil). It’s a perfectly balanced meal that takes minimal time and effort.

Click here for recipes with under 10 ingredients.

5. Make it delicious.

Opt for recipes with ingredients that are in season to ensure meals are full of flavour and packed with nutrients. It may sound obvious, but sticking to a plan becomes easier when meals are delicious and you choose the food you enjoy. Having a go-to list of your favourite recipes will make planning a full week much simpler and a lot more appealing — plus, a truly healthy diet means loving the food you eat.

While there’s a bit of effort at the beginning, meal planning soon becomes second nature as you discover what works best for you and your lifestyle. I’ve found that the rewards far outweigh the initial time spent planning and getting ahead — simple, stress-free healthy eating that saves both time and money. Most importantly, have fun — eating should be a joyful experience, no matter your approach.

Sinéad Berry, Registered Nutritionist (MSc, mBANT, rCNHC)




1. Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, Ibanez G, Allès B, Kesse-Guyot E, Hercberg S, Péneau S. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017; Feb 2;14(1):12. 

2. Bojarczuk A, Skapska S, Marszałek K. Health benefits of resistant starch: A review of the literature. Journal of Functional Foods. 2022; 93:105094.

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