Meal Planning

Meal Planning in 8 Easy Steps for Everyone!

July 18, 2016

Oh, meal planning. We know we need to do it, but it always sounds like such a drag. Sitting down, pouring over recipes, writing up a plan, making a grocery list. By the time we get to the grocery store, it’s been hours of preparation! Never mind the fact we still have to unload it all when we get back home. The last thing anyone feels like doing after all of that work is cooking dinner!

Shaving time off of the whole process can be a form of artwork. The good news? It gets easier over time and makes your food life easier and more enjoyable. There are several different ways to plan your meals. Half of the battle is determining which system fits you best! Below I’ll share my preferred approach to meal planning in my personal life as well as what I recommend to patients. Take it, mold it and make it your own!

Ready to Plan Your Meals? Meal Planning in 8 Easy Steps!

  1. Schedule it to make it happen:  Schedule one day a week to plan your meals and plan a separate day to do the grocery shopping. For the reasons listed above, it helps to break up the time needed for meal planning over a couple of days to avoid getting overwhelmed with the process in one day. If Sunday is your day to grocery shop, make Friday or Saturday your day to write the menu and grocery list. Studies have reported the best day to grocery shop is Wednesday for the best deals and the best time to shop is after 8 pm. If that date and time doesn’t work for you, just know that Tuesdays have been shown to be the worst days to shop for deals and selection. You may have guessed the worst time to shop is 5-7pm because, you guessed it, the after-work rush!
  2. Dinner menu:  On your meal planning day, create a “dinners only” menu. Why? Looking at every meal for the next week is way overwhelming. (Three meals a day for seven days a week? That’s twenty-one meals to plan!) Instead, focus on only dinners and make lunch either leftovers or something quick you know you enjoy such as a pre-cooked turkey burger patty and green beans.
  3. Check for conflicts:  Look at the week ahead and write in any activities that would interfere with dinner time. Do you need to have leftovers for that day? Will you have time to put something in the slow cooker? Planning ahead will keep you from rushing through the drive-through. Really busy days mean packing more than one meal in your bag as you head out the door in the morning. That’s when you really feel like you’re winning! Or that you need a vacation!
  4. Find new recipes:  Sit down to your Pinterest board or wherever you go for bariatric friendly recipes. Focus on recipes with lean protein sources and non-starchy vegetables. Fill in your dinners only menu with the nights you will cook and plan your leftovers accordingly.
  5. Grocery list:  Go back and fill in your grocery list on the same page as your dinner only menu. This is key! When you show up to the grocery store and they are out of an item or another vegetable is cheaper than the one on your list, you’ll find yourself thinking “why did I need this item again?” Especially if it’s been a day or two since you planned your meals. With your meal plan in front of you, it’s easy to make small changes at the store. This trick might even save you a little money!
  6. Strategize your trip: Make your grocery list in order of the layout of the store. You might consider keeping a template grocery list on your computer to fill in easily each week. Use columns like “Protein/Refrigerated” “Produce” “Pantry” “Freezer” and “Misc.” This shaves time off the grocery trip itself to keep you flowing through the store and prevent backtracking for forgotten items.
  7. Add breakfast and lunch:  Once the recipe items for your dinners have been added to your grocery list, go back through and add your breakfast and lunch items. Don’t forget the miscellaneous items like toilet paper and toothpaste!
  8. Make it fun:  When you get home, place your meal plan with the grocery list on the fridge, so you remember your plans. They also have whiteboards or other cute menu boards to keep in your kitchen for added fun. The more fun you have, the more you stick with it right?! I recommend KEEPING your meal plan with grocery list and filing it. Place it in a binder or folder and re-use the plan in a few weeks when those recipes sound good again. If you’d rather not have the paper trail, save the meal plan on your computer for another week. Huge time saver!

If you are more of a smartphone user compared to the ole' pen and paper method, play around with different phone apps for meal planning and grocery lists. Kraft Foods has an app called iFood which includes several easy recipes. Find the recipes that best fit your diet guidelines and omit starchy ingredients like rice, potatoes or pasta. If you find a recipe you’d like to make, you can add it to the calendar on your phone within the app. Several apps have easy to use resources like this! I personally still do best with a paper list but cater your meal planning method to your personal style!

If you’d rather not plan your meals and grocery lists at all and don’t feel you are a picky eater, you might consider purchasing pre-written menu plans. Be sure they are low-carb and bariatric specific meal plans to reach your health goals. It may sound time-consuming but the time on the front end will save you loads of time and stress throughout your week when mealtime hits!

Meal Planning


Steph Wagner MS, RD/LD is a Registered Dietitian with over seven years of experience specializing in weight-loss surgery. She loves making healthy food taste good and is very passionate about helping patients finding freedom from weight and food issues. Steph provides online support at and has published a bariatric cookbook “Best Fork Forward: Everyday Dinners After Weight-Loss Surgery” Read more articles by Steph!