Healthy meal planning tips: A beginner’s guide


Nagina Abdullah


November 27, 2017

Beginners meal planning - Monday night dinner

In this Beginner’s Guide, I’m going to share a step-by-step process for easy weekly meal planning.

Why is healthy meal planning so important?

See if this sounds familiar: It’s Monday evening. You get home from work, or your day is done, and you’re wiped out. You don’t want to cook. And you don’t even want to think about what to get out of the fridge.

What do you end up doing? Hello, grilled cheese, pizza delivery guy or two bowls of cereal. The problem is, you do this more than you realize. Before you know it, you’ve packed on an extra 2, 5 or 10+ pounds!

I have to be honest with you. If you’re not meal planning, you’re setting yourself up for failure. At the very least, you’re making healthy eating and weight loss way harder than it has to be.

Thinking ahead and prepping your food on a day when you have downtime makes being healthy easy. You set up daily habits to eat healthy, which results in a healthier, stronger body. In fact, research shows that eating home-cooked food is much better for your health than eating out. (1) (2)

By adding spices, you get tons of health benefits – anti-inflammation, decreased bloating and lowered blood sugar, are a few.

There is more and more scientific research showing how spices help your body burn off or ward off extra fat!

Plus, spices add flavor and variety. They actually make leftovers taste even better as the flavors intensify over time. Spices make food exciting, and even help curb sugar cravings!

Part of why planning your spicy meals is so effective is that it eliminates how many times a day you have to make decisions. Decisions wear down your willpower and causes you to start making not-so-good choices. More on this later.

Here’s exactly what you’ll be getting in this Beginner’s How-To-Guide For Easy Weekly Meal Planning. meal-planning-cover

  • Why meal planning is so essential, what it is and what it is not
  • 6 steps to make meal planning easy (read, actually happen for you)
  • Bonus tips to make meal planning even quicker
  • My favorite flavor boosters (that you can literally keep in your purse or find almost anywhere) that help you lose weight
  • A 3x3x3 Meal Planning Framework to simplify how much to make per person and so no food goes to waste

What meal planning involves and why it’s so essential

  • Meal planning IS spending a small amount of free time wisely so you’re ahead of the game
  • Meal planning IS NOT dumping hours into researching gourmet meals with rare ingredients + more hours into complex recipes.

You probably don’t like scarfing down a bland meal, no matter how healthy it is. Meal planning helps you focus on what you want to eat, and gets rid of the extra work that keeps you from doing it every night.

Wouldn’t it be great to come home to warm, toasty cumin coriander fish and roasted veggies? How about a satisfying lentil dish infused with ancient, aromatic herbs and spices that fill up your senses at lunchtime?

This can be YOUR Monday night dinner! Keep reading for the 6 steps to make meal planning a no-brainer!
This can be YOUR Monday night dinner! Keep reading for the 6 steps to make meal planning a no-brainer!

You can hack your meal planning system so you can look forward to mealtime instead of dreading it. Plus, you’ll practically watch your extra fat melt away. Planning your meals ahead of time basically streamlines your whole life!

You can download an easy meal planning template, 6 steps to make meal planning a no-brainer and this entire post in a PDF version here

Also check out my easy, spicy one-week meal plans (they’re free!):

Imagine your kids and family enjoying healthy food, and you feeling great about setting such a good example for them. Imagine having energy and not having the stress of another decision at the end of your day.

Too many options = impossible to stick with

I used to think I had to eat a different dinner every night. I had to stay exciting in my food all the time. This ended up causing a lot of mental effort and overwhelmed me.  

Because I thought my food had to be totally new all the time, I also thought meal planning and prep had to be complicated. Once I realized I could enjoy my favorite meals in a healthier way and it was actually easy, it changed the game for me.

Decision fatigue keeps you fat, but meal planning short circuits it

You may have heard about how Warren Buffet, is known for simplifying things in his life, like clothes. He typically wears the same thing or something similar over and over.


It cuts down on decision making, which research has found wears down our ability to keep making decisions (especially good ones) and our willpower throughout the day. The American Psychological Association shows that willpower is a limited resource.

The APA talks about a study on willpower in which participants were presented a plate with a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie and a radish. Some people were allowed to eat the cookie, and others had to eat a radish. Then, both had 30 minutes to do a difficult puzzle. The people who had to resist the cookie gave up after 8 minutes, while the people who got to eat a cookie persevered for 19 minutes!

Just exerting mental energy into resisting the cookie on their plate depleted their decision making ability and their drive to follow through on a task. It reduced their productivity and decision making for tasks!

See how it’s a vicious cycle?

You’re worn out from making decisions, so your willpower depletes, which makes resisting food you know is not good for you even harder, which further depletes you decision-making abilities.

But you don’t have to stay stuck in this!

Click here to simplify and get the beginner’s bundle to meal planning, including:

  • A meal planning template you can use to simplify meal planning
  • 6 exact steps you need to plan and execute your weekly meals
  • Bonus hacks to make the whole process even easier
  • A 3x3x3 Meal Planning Framework to simplify how much to make per person and so no food goes to waste

Your day is full of chocolate chip cookies and radishes

You have to make so many decisions throughout your day – some food related, some not. But it all adds up.

At the office, there’s the constant temptation of resisting the free (usually junk) food people bring in. At home there are dozens of mini decisions or big decisions to make – from whether you should sell your house or stay where you are, to refurnishing the living room, to what to make for dinner.

When you meal plan, you eliminate decision fatigue. You already did the thinking when you had plenty of time, now you just execute.

Eating healthy food has a huge impact on your health and happiness. Make it a top priority.

Wake up feeling excited and refreshed because you enjoyed a satisfying, healthy meal last night, and you know most of the work is already done for you today too!  

Let’s get meal planning!

Write your meal plan out on a template like this:


6 steps to make healthy meal planning a no-brainer

You can download the meal planning template, 6 steps to make meal planning a no-brainer and this entire post in a PDF version here

 1. Find the recipes you want to try.

For the first week, choose one to three recipes to make. Plan to make them in bulk – 3 servings for each person.

Don’t do more than this, it will be too overwhelming. As you practice, you can add in more dishes or you’ll find tricks to simplify.

  • Bonus Tip: Using spices that go well with lots of different things (like cinnamon or turmeric) and can be easily mixed and matched. This saves time/money!

You can find recipe ideas by Googling, using Pinterest or other idea platforms, or you can pick some from my recipe plans.

Look for recipes with easy and healthy cooking methods like:

  • Roasting / Baking (hands-off technique)
  • Crockpot (hands-off technique)
  • One-skillet meals & stir-fries (fast and less cleanup)
Spiced Roasted Veggies For a Spicy Vegan Fajita Bowl, see my Easy, Spicy One-Week Vegan Meal Plan here (includes downloadable grocery list!)
  • Bonus Tip: Here are some of my favorite flavor additions (Keep travel shampoo bottles (that were never filled with shampoo!) full of the sauces and you can take it anywhere in your purse!)



  • Low-sugar salsa (<3g sugar)
  • Balsamic vinegar

Keep things simple, but if you start to feel bored, switch up combinations as you like to keep it interesting.

 2. Write out an ingredient list

Go through the recipes you want to try and write out all of the ingredients on one master list.

Then, go through your list and see what you already have in your kitchen and cross those things off the list.

This step will ensure you don’t end up with double what you need and that you use up what you have.

 3. Write a grocery list

Once you know what you need, write out your grocery list in order of the departments as you move through the grocery store. This is a huge time saver, and keeps you from buying extra stuff.

I recommend writing your list out on a list pad like this one. Or, if you prefer digital/apps, write a note in your phone or use the checklist feature in Evernote.

  • Bonus tip – Buy pre-cut and washed onions, veggies and herbs if possible. It makes prep time quicker and easier.
I love this simple grocery list notepad that comes with or without a magnet (it’s what I use in my home!)
I love this simple grocery list notepad that comes with or without a magnet (it’s what I use in my home!)
Here’s a weekly meal-planner AND grocery list notepad in one
Here’s a weekly meal-planner AND grocery list notepad in one

For done-for-you weekly grocery lists, see my Easy, Spicy Paleo, vegetarian and vegan Meal Plan blog posts.

 4. Schedule a day to go to the grocery store OR order groceries online to be delivered on a specific day

Don’t leave this to chance. By putting it in your calendar you hold yourself accountable to take it from a nice plan to an executed plan.

  • Bonus Tip: Have all ingredients by Friday if possible, so you can have your prep day over the weekend.

How to store herbs and fresh produce

When you get your groceries, store your ingredients properly right away so they stay fresh and are ready to use easily at prep time.

Here are some general guidelines:

You can read more about storing veggies and herbs in detail here.

 5. Prep time!

On Sunday or your day off, start with Mise En Place the secret tip famous chefs + busy moms use for stress-free cooking

Mis En Place is French for “putting in place” or “everything in its place”, and it’s a long-time secret of success in the kitchen.

Check out my 2-minute video where I show you how to do Mise En Place!

I love having everything set out before I start prepping because it makes the process so much more straightforward.

No missing ingredients, no rushing around, just tasty healthy food with minimal effort.

Set things out at one time, maybe in the morning, so you won’t have to think as much later. Then, when you’re ready, come back to your Mise En Place and jump straight into prep.

Wash and chop veggies and herbs. (If you bought the pre-cut stuff, you can skip this and prep goes even faster.)

You can cook your meal and side dishes in just an hour or two, and you’re set for the whole week!

For my Cumin Quinoa Power Bowl recipe, 3 tips to simplify meal prepping AND a weekly meal plan and grocery list, see my Easy, Spicy One-Week Vegetarian Meal Plan here.

Feel fancy and spend less time cooking by using Mise En Place strategy while you prep

There are 3 options for cooking your week’s worth of meals.

  • Cook all your side dishes like lentils and veggies on Sunday + MARINATE all proteins in large ziplock baggies and line them up in the fridge. This way, you can just scoop what you need from the already prepared dishes, and do nothing more than preheat the oven, or heat up the skillet and cook your pre-seasoned proteins throughout the week.
  • Cook EVERYTHING (even the protein dishes) on Sunday and pull out whatever you feel like eating every night. Reheat it in the microwave in minutes.
  • Prep twice a week – Sunday and Wednesday. Then each day you have two smaller prep sessions instead of one big one.
This Dill Salmon and Asparagus is roasted so it’s completely hands-off cooking and saves even more time! For more delicious Paleo style recipes like this gorgeous salmon meal, check out my Easy, Spicy One-Week Paleo Meal Plan here.
This Dill Salmon and Asparagus is roasted so it’s completely hands-off cooking and saves even more time! 

 6. Food Storage for the win

Either way, you’ll want to make sure your food stays fresh for the whole week. I’ve found the best way to do this is with these glass containers.

When you store food in glass containers, it will stay for at least 4 days in the fridge or freezer (that’s at least 1-2 days longer than plastic containers and a much safer way to store food).

I recommend getting two of these 10-piece Glasslock Glass Storage Sets or something similar to get you started.

Being able to easily grab and store your meals will make you so much more organized, leaving you feeling relieved (instead of searching around your kitchen for old take-out boxes or Tupperware missing a lid).

I’m supposed to lug heavy glass containers to work?

Taking your lunch to work is a key part of staying on track with your healthy eating habits. For that, it makes more sense to use a plastic container, especially if you have to carry your lunch on a long commute.


If you’re worried about plastic and food safety, Workweek Lunch has a great post about that.

She notes, “…you’d have to come into contact with large quantities of these plastic components to be at risk of serious health danger.”

Use BPA-free to be extra safe, and don’t worry about using plastic containers if it’s more practical and you’ll actually do it.

Keep it simple and surprise yourself

The bottom line is your meals don’t have to be complex to taste gourmet. Once you know the structure – protein, healthy fats, vegetables, fiber – you can plan ahead and make it so much easier to be healthy with healthy meal planning.

You can be fit, full of energy and feeling sexy. You DO have to plan, but it’s really not hard!

I’ve got the beginner’s bundle to meal planning all set up for you here, it includes: 

  • A meal planning template you can use to simplify meal planning
  • 6 exact steps you need to plan and execute your weekly meals
  • Bonus hacks to make the whole process even easier
  • A 3x3x3 Meal Planning Framework to simplify how much to make per person and so no food goes to waste


And here are those Easy, Spicy One-Week Meal Plans for Paleo, vegetarian and vegan eaters. Download them (for free!) as PDFs so they’re always handy!

What’s holding you back from meal planning or cooking something on your day off? Let’s get started!

Avatar photo

Nagina Sethi Abdullah, BA, MBA

Nagina Abdullah is a health coach for middle-aged women and professionals. She coaches women to boost their metabolism naturally, shed pounds and keep them off. Her work with weight loss clients led to the creation of Masala Body, an online weight loss platform that provides an easy and accessible system that helps women sustainably lose weight. She has helped over 1200 women successfully lose from 10-80 lbs and create a sustainable lifestyle change. Nagina earned her degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley.

Reader Interactions


  1. Aminah says

    Hi Nagina!

    Thanks so much for this very helpful post. When you say, choose 1-3 recipes to start off with, do you mean 1-3 recipes for each cateogory (i.e healthy carb/veggies/protein)?

    • Avatar photoNagina says

      Hi Aminah – No, 1-3 recipes total! Make it simple in the beginning. When you make servings for 3 days, that will be enough food and you didn’t have to cook too much.

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