How to Save Time, Money, and Manage Diabetes with Meal Planning in 4 Steps

how to meal plan in four stepsOne of the most important aspects of your lifestyle that can make or break your diabetes turnaround or weight loss journey is nutrition.

Many people are afraid to try a new lifestyle because they’re not ready to part with their favorite comfort foods and desserts. If you can relate to this, then good news! Here at Smart Diabetes Solutions, our philosophy is not about sticking to a strict diet, but rather about making a smooth transition to a healthier lifestyle. Our favorite way to do this is through meal planning!

Meal planning is the best way to save yourself the stress behind figuring out what you should be eating. As added benefits, it also helps you save hours in food prep time each week as well as money on your groceries!

Let’s take a look at our four step process for meal planning and prepping so you can start this week and begin controlling your diabetes and weight with the most delicious of meals!

Step 1: Plan

Planning can be the most time consuming piece of the puzzle if you do this from scratch; this includes looking for the right recipes, laying them out into a menu, and creating your shopping list. 

But we have a shortcut for you… we’ve already created a kit with three weeks of meal plans for you! These meal plans come complete with shopping lists and recipes cards for every recipe! We strategically designed each plan to minimize the number of ingredients you have to shop for each week as well as minimize the amount of cooking you need to do for the week. Click here to learn more about the plans so you can skip this planning step!

If you don’t use one these pre-made meal plans, you can create your own. Here are the steps to creating your own meal plan and shopping list.

  • Start by selecting dinner ideas for each day of the week. Plot these onto a week calendar.
  • Consider which meals would reheat well for lunches. Plan to make a large portion of these meals for dinner and save the leftovers. Plot these into the following day’s lunch slot.
  • Next, fill in the missing lunch slots. Think about meals that you can make that will work for several lunches, such as a large salad with chicken or tuna.
  • Then, consider breakfast. Again, think of meals you can make in advance and eat for several days, such as muffin tin frittatas. (See the recipe book for examples.) Plot these onto your calendar.
  • Finally, it’s time to create your grocery list. Separate your list into sections by food type: meat, produce (fresh vegetables and fruit), dairy, dry goods, frozen.  This will make it easier to shop more efficiently.

Step 2: Shop

Once you have your plan in hand, it’s time to hit the grocery store. Below, we’ve put together the keys for ensuring that eating healthy will save you money over eating unhealthy. We realize that many people are on a fixed income and a strict budget. Part of our mission is to expel the myth that healthy eating is simply too expensive to make part of your lifestyle.

Following these steps will help you save money over eating out and will help you understand how preparing fresh food can be less expensive than frozen meals, processed snacks, etc.

  • Shop for Pantry Ingredients in Bulk: Pantry ingredients are things that are added to many recipes and are non-perishable staples like flours, rice, vinegar, seasonings, etc. Since you’re going to use these items often, it’s smart to shop sales for these items and buy in bulk. Try shopping sales at Walmart or closeout stores, or shopping at club stores like Costco for the best deals.
  • Buy the Store Brand: Did you know that many store brand items are exactly the same as the branded items (even created in the same factory), but with a generic label? Compare labels of your favorite brands to the matching store brand and you may be surprised to find very little difference. Shopping the store brand can save several dollars per trip.
  • Shop the Perimeter: The perimeter of the grocery store is where the majority of the fresh, healthy foods such as vegetables, meat, eggs and so forth are located. Shop the edges of the store first to make sure you get all the produce you need. Then, you can go to dry food section if you need to pick up any staple items. Finally, shop the frozen aisle if you have any frozen fruit or veggies on the list.
  • Make Sure Your Plan Doesn’t List Too Many Types of Food: Double check your menu plan and make sure you’re making good use of the items on your list. If you’re using our meal planning kit, we’ve designed the menus to ensure that dishes on your list make use of many of the same ingredients to avoid waste and having to spend money on too many different ingredients. We also made sure that a single recipe can make enough food for two or three meals, cutting down on not only the time you spend cooking but also on the amount of food needed to keep you satisfied.
  • Supplement the Fresh Foods With Frozen: Check your grocery flyers before heading to the grocery store so you can check what fresh produce is on sale. If some of the items on your menu are too expensive that week, buy it frozen instead.
  • Stick to Your List: Buying only what’s on your list does a couple of things. It helps ensure you’re sticking to your budget, and it ensures you don’t cave into buying unhealthy snack foods. Not buying the unhealthy foods is the best way to ensure you avoid them. If you only have nutritious foods in the house, you don’t have to worry about opening the cabinet and finding chips and cookies tempting you. (Hint: We have weekly shopping lists already created for you! They come with our 21 Days of Meal Planning Kit, which you can get here.)

Step 3: Prep Ingredients

Once you get your groceries home, it’s time to begin prepping the food for the week!

Do the shopping and prepping the same day, perhaps allotting a morning or afternoon to your meal planning. Pick your least-busy day of the week, if possible. A lot people including myself like to prep on the weekend because it allows you to prep for the start of the work week.

  • Step 1: Prep Your Workspace: When you get the food home, go ahead and get meats and dairy into the fridge. Get all your veggies and other produce out onto a clean counter. Place your clean storage containers on another clean spot. Get out two cuttings boards: one for fruit and vegetables, one for meats. Also get out a large bowl to throw all the trash in as you prep. I like to put my bowl right in the sink next to my cutting board so I can just scoop skins, ends etc. into one place.
  • prep-containersStep 2: Wash and Chop Vegetables: Choose one produce item as your starting point. Wash well. Place onto the veggie cutting board and trim off stems and any bad spots. Chop the produce as desired or according to your chosen recipes. Place chopped produce into a storage container. Repeat for each piece of produce.

Pro Tip: If preparing any fruit for the week, don’t chop it more than a couple of days in advance, or the fruit will become more soggy than if chopped fresh.

Pro Tip: Always chop onions and garlic last so they don’t flavor the other fruits and veggies.

  • Step 3: Wash and Chop Meats: Take the meats out of the fridge. Rinse, if desired. Chop the meat on the meat cutting board. (Be very careful to keep this board for meats only to avoid cross-contamination.) Place chopped meat into plastic zippered bags or storage containers.

Step 4: Prep Meals

Now that you’ve done the basic preparation of washing and chopping, you can begin putting together meals.

  • Prepare Dressings, Marinades and Sauces: Time to prepare any sauces on your list for the week. Get out your clean dressing containers, Mason jars or small round storage containers. Combine the ingredients called for in each recipe. Cover and store in the fridge door shelf. (Hint: our meal planning kit comes complete with delicious recipes, including dressings and sauces! Click here to learn more.)
  • Marinate Meats, if Desired: If you’d like to begin marinating meat for any of your upcoming recipes, go ahead and pour the marinade over the prepared meat.

Pro tip: The USDA recommends a maximum marinating time of two days for poultry before cooking.

  • Prepare Cold Meals: The next, easiest step is to put together meals that require no cooking and that will be eaten in the first half of the week. If a large salad is on the menu for the week, prepare the salad now. Take the chopped ingredients and place into a large salad bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge. Prep other cold meals now, like tuna salad, overnight oats, hummus, etc.
  • Prepare Hot Meals: Finally, it’s cooking time! This is where you get to decide how much cooking you want to do during the week. The more you cook now, the less cooking you’ll need to do during the week. However, food always tastes fresher when just cooked, so you may only want to pre-cook meals that you’ll be enjoying within a few days. Once you’ve completed a meal, portion the meal into individual storage containers if you plan to eat on the go. For multi-portion meals like chili or egg cups, consider freezing a portion if you don’t plan to eat the entire amount throughout the week.
  • Organize Your Fridge: Place all of your prepped containers neatly into the fridge so can you quickly and easily find what you’re looking for at all times. The lower shelves are the coldest in the fridge, so keep meats stored here.

That’s all there is to it! With these four simple steps to meal planning, you’ll have a fridge stocked full of healthy meals for the entire week. You’ll drastically cut your time spent cooking by having the ingredients prepped in advance.

Next Steps

Meal-plan-kitNow that you’ve got the basics of meal planning and prepping down, it’s time to dig into your first meal plan and give it a try! You can get our meal plans along with their shoppings lists and recipe cards inside our 21 Days of Meal Planning Kit, which you can check out by clicking here.

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-Mary K.

“One of my diabetic obstacles has been what to eat. Now with the Meal Planning Kit, I have choices that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Went on my shopping excursion. I had the shopping list for all three weeks so I was on a mission to save both time and money. Sure this took planning and a bit of time, but buying just the appropriate quantities from the lists resulted in me spending less than $50.00 for 3 plus weeks of meals. Eating has never been this inexpensive!”

Meg is the co-founder of Smart Diabetes Solutions. She is passionate about clean eating and helping Smart Diabetes members create their best selves.

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