Meal planning 101

Planning meals ahead of time can make life easier and healthier. But don’t stress if the idea of meal planning overwhelms you; Jessica Pieterse shares a few tricks to get you going.

You may have seen professionals posting meal plans on social media and thought that they are very unrealistic. However, anyone can become a meal-planning champion with everyday foods, even if you have a busy lifestyle.

  • Look at your calendar

Check your schedule to see what upcoming social events, work commitments or other ad hoc obligations you may have. Do any of these involve food that is already catered by someone else? Will these situations influence meal choices or times?

  • Write a menu

You don’t need to write a restaurant menu though, just a “list of meals” menu.

Write the list of meals according to what your calendar looks like.

Thinking ahead about what meals you will eat will guide your grocery shop, avoid wastage of food not eaten, optimise preparation time and save time.

You can plan a particular meal for a specific day or compile a rough framework of 5-7 meals. As the week goes along, you can decide what meal suits you on that day.

  • Build a repertoire

Make a list of meals you know how to make. It will be faster to draw up your weekly meal plans if you have a more extensive list to get ideas from. Add to your repertoire list as you find new meal ideas.

  • Shop wisely

Use times on a weekend, like a Sunday afternoon, when family commitments may be less, then grocery shop for the week. Sunday shopping may also allow you to leave the kids with your partner to get shopping done quicker.

Use the gift of technology and shop online. This will save time and is a very convenient option for making meal planning more attainable.

Check your freezer and pantry before you shop to use what you already have and save a few pennies.

  • Share the labour

If you have a Jamie Oliver moment and you want to make your own meatballs from scratch, then enjoy the cooking. However, for most days make your life easier by buying foods where the shop has taken some of the prep away from you. Buy peeled and chopped vegetable packs, buy broken-down meat pieces, etc.

  • Cook in bulk

Besides using the quieter moments in your week to grocery shop, use these times to bulk cook. Set aside 1-2 hours and take your kitchen by storm. Have multiple things on the go. Food cooking in the microwave, stove and oven. Storing already prepped or cooked food in the fridge can help you stick to your meal planning for the week.

  • The layover method

If you make unhealthy food choices because you often arrive home late in the evening, try the layover method. The layover method is when you refrigerate the meal you’ve cooked tonight for eating tomorrow night and eat tonight what you made yesterday. This leapfrog approach allows you to come home to a healthy homemade meal that you can eat straight away without being tempted to veer from your meal planning.

  • Freeze meals

Buy food in larger quantities, cook the meal in bulk and freeze a portion. The time spent cooking is not that much longer when you cook in bulk and then you can have a freezer meal ready without any cooking needed at a later stage. Doing this regularly will mean you won’t need to cook every night and will have a set freezer meal weekly in your meal plan.

  • Eat a balanced meal

Meal planning in itself is a great step to being healthier. You can bump it up a notch by trying to plan meals that are healthy and balanced. Aim for your meal to consist of the following healthy options:

  • Lean proteins like chicken, fish, legumes, cottage cheese, etc.
  • High fibre starches like brown rice, barley, spelt, millet, quinoa, baby potatoes, sweet potatoes with skin, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils), fibre crackers, etc.
  • Vegetables in large portions and in a variety of colours.
  • Healthy fats like nuts, seeds, nut butters, olives, olive oils and avocado.


Jessica Pieterse is a registered dietitian and owner of Dish Up Dietitians. She practices in Edenvale, Johannesburg and has a special interest in women’s health and gut health.

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