Winter meal planning

Dietitian, Rhodene Leydekkers, shares basic steps to help you on your winter meal planning journey.

The winter cold is here, and with winter typically comes warmer, hearty and comforting food. But just because the season is changing doesn’t mean that you should stop nourishing your body with good nutrition.

Planning your meals for the week can save you some money, time and stress. It can also make healthy eating a bit easier and prevent food waste. But if the thought of meal planning overwhelms you, here are basic steps to help you on your meal planning journey this winter

First decide what works for you

There are different styles to meal planning, so you need to decide for yourself what will work best for you. Although planning and meal prepping a perfect week sounds amazing, sometimes you need to ask yourself whether that is realistic for you.

Some people prefer to only plan their meals to know what to get from the shops, and other people like to meal prep and cook some or all of the meals in advance to lessen the load during the week. Some people only plan their dinners for the week, while others prefer to plan for breakfast and lunch as well. Your food preferences are also important to take into consideration when planning for the week.

Focus on balance

Before we plan our meals, it’s important to know what to aim for. Balancing our meals is important to ensure that we are getting all our nutrients in that our body needs to function optimally.

An ideal plate would be: ½ your plate full of vegetables, ¼ of your plate lean protein (skinless chicken, fish, lean beef, beans, lentils or eggs), and ¼ of your plate high-fibre carbs (brown rice, whole-wheat couscous, quinoa, barley, sweet potato or whole wheat bread or pasta), and then to include some fats that will usually come from using a little bit of oil in preparing the meal, or by adding fats to a meal like avocado, nuts or seeds.

If you want to enjoy a warm soup, stew or curry (because who doesn’t enjoy a warm meal on a cold day), you can still apply this model to that meal. Soups, stews and curries are a great meal to add lots of veggies in, a lean protein like mentioned above, and enjoying that meal with some brown rice, barley or a slice of whole wheat bread.

Evaluate your week

Now that you know what to aim for, the next step would be to evaluate your week and plan your meals according to your schedule. There might be upcoming social events, work functions or other obligations that can influence your meal planning. If these events include food (which honestly is the best, am I right?), then you don’t have to plan for that day. Or it could mean that you will not have a lot of time to prepare a meal, so then a quick heat-and-go left-over meal would be best to plan for those days.

Make a menu for the week

So, now that you know what to plan for, you can start colouring the picture in. Have a list of go-to balanced meal options that you know will work for you and your family. Choose recipes with simple ingredients that you can use in different dishes, and that is quick and easy to make. This makes it easier to pick the meals for the week without thinking too much about it.

Food should also be an adventure, so continue to add recipes to this list, and even experiment here and there with new flavours if you have the time.

Ideas for meals

  • Chicken or canned black bean stir-fry with whole wheat noodles.
  • Lentil curry with lots of vegetables and brown rice.
  • Baked fish, boiled potato and roasted vegetables.
  • Chicken soup (again with lots of vegetables) with a slice of whole wheat bread.
  • Whole wheat spaghetti bolognaises made with lean mince and bulk it up with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini and spinach.

Make a shopping list and stock your kitchen

This is my favourite part, the shopping. From your meal plan for the week, you can now make a shopping list for what you might need for the week to prepare the meals.

Stock your pantry and fridge with some staples like salt, pepper, herbs, spices, olive oil, etc., and then go and buy the necessities for the week.

If you find that you just don’t have the time to go to the shops, or it is just too cold to leave the house, then there are other options. Most of our favourite grocery stores have online options available to help you stock your kitchen for the week without putting a foot in the shops.

Prepping your meals

Now remember, meal planning and prepping looks different for everybody, so this step depends on what will work best for you. One way of meal prepping is to choose a day, like Sunday, to prepare some of the meals in advance. The pre-prepared meals can then either be refrigerated and eaten over the next few days, or frozen to eat over the next few weeks or even months.

Meal prepping can also include preparing ready to cook ingredients for a specific meal, like chopping vegetables or cook starches, like rice, to save some time on cooking. By doing this, it can really save you a lot of time in the kitchen, especially now that your days are shorter with the sun setting much earlier.

Meal planning might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but the moment you start doing something, you might notice how easy it makes your life. So, go make yourself a warm cup of tea, grab a pen and get planning.


Rhodene Oberholzer Leydekkers is a registered dietitian and is passionate about people and wellness. She believes that life is too short to eat a boring meal, as food can be both nutritious and delicious. She encourages her clients to focus on enjoying every meal and is eager to help them build a healthy relationship with food and themselves. She also has a special interest in diabetes management, gut-brain connection and women’s health.

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