Successful meal planning can mean the difference between having a delicious dinner on the table in under 30 minutes and staring blankly into the fridge wondering what you can make with 3 eggs and that old zucchini. Even if you already know how to manage your keto, paleo, or Whole30 meal plan, here are 13 simple ways to make your healthy meal planning even easier.
Unfortunately, meal planning doesn't typically happen on its own. Whether you're a keto beginner or have been eating paleo for a while, it takes a little time, thinking ahead, and some serious dedication to your healthy eating plan to stay on track. My readers are always asking how they can make meal planning easier, so here are my best tips and tricks for a stress-free meal planning session.
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Step 1: Set Your Meal Plan Up For Success
This step shouldn't come as a surprise. It takes a little bit of thinking ahead to make keto paleo meal planning easier. Here are my tips for setting up a system that helps you succeed in your healthy eating lifestyle.
1. Set Up A Designated Meal Planning Calendar
You'll need to set up a meal planning calendar if you're determined to manage all of your keto meals on your own. Here are a few different ways to manage your meal planning calendar:
- Set up a designated 'Meal Plan' calendar in Google calendar.
- Create a printable meal plan template.
- Use a whiteboard or chalkboard, so the whole family can see what's for dinner.
Whichever calendar method you choose, make sure to clearly note when and what you're making. Your calendar should also include designated times for you to prep your ingredients and plan meals for the following week.
Pro Tip: If you have limited patience for maintaining a Google calendar or filling out printable meal plan templates, you might like Real Plans done-for-you custom meal plan calendar created specifically for your diet, family size and weekly schedule.
2. Assess Your Schedule & Decide On Your Meal Goals
The best meal plan is the one that you can actually follow.
Meal planning isn't just about assigning random recipes to days of the week. In order for you to be successful with your meal plan, you need to take into account your personal and family schedule. What does your workweek look like? Do you have any evening commitments that you need to plan around?
Understanding what you need from your meals will help you create a paleo keto meal plan that's customized to your schedule. And is actually sustainable for the long haul.
Pro Tip: Do this before you start looking at recipes so you don't waste time considering the wrong types of recipes for your week.
3. Go Digital With Your Macro Tracking
You don't need to track macros all the time when you're following a keto diet, but many begin by tracking their macros to understand what their version of keto looks and feels like. Everyone's ideal macro breakdown is a little different. For example, your keto meal plan might aim for 5% carbohydrates, 20% protein, and 75% fat.
You'll want to aim to keep your daily carbohydrate intake under 50 grams. And if you're a strict keto follower, you may aim for even lower grams per day.
Pro Tip: Of course, there are macro and carb tracking apps you could use, but you can save a lot of time (and mental math-induced headaches) by using a meal plan that has macro tracking tools already built-in. No math necessary!
4. Identify Foods You Need To Work Into Your Meal Plan
Reducing food waste is a great side effect of a properly balanced meal plan. In order to cut down on the number of old ingredients ending up in the trash, try surveying your fridge and pantry for foods that need to be used up before you select your recipes for the week.
Pro Tip: For extra bonus points, keep a list of the leftovers and individual ingredients in your fridge as a visual reminder of what still needs to be eaten.
5. Theme Your Meals
This is one tactic for helping you speed up your meal planning process. When you theme your meals, you essentially narrow your recipe options. Ultimately, this makes it much easier to decide on your recipes.
Here are a few tips for choosing your healthy meal themes:
- Base your themes around what you and your family like to eat. For example, if you love shrimp, add a keto shrimp meal to your meal plan.
- Base your themes around the way you want to cook your meal or the amount of time you have to make your meal. Try a crockpot night if you know you'll be tired at the end of the day. Or an under 30-minute meal day if you're always running out to your weekly yoga class.
- Once you have your themes chosen, save recipe collections that match.
Pro Tip: Deciding on recipes can take a lot of time, even if you've narrowed your choices with themed meals. Using a meal planner that considers your personal tastes (as well as your dietary restrictions) can be a big time saver. Especially if you struggle to make decisions quickly!
6. Decide On A Single Place To Store Your Favorite Recipes
This tip is so easy and even (a little bit) fun! Decide where you'll save your favorite recipes. My recommendation? Pinterest. Its visual set-up is perfectly designed for storing your keto recipes.
Pro Tip: Create a board specifically for your favorite keto meal plan recipes so that you can quickly reference it when you're creating your meal plan for the week. It essentially becomes your digital recipe box!
7. Find Free Keto Meal Plans & Recipe Collections
Of course, you can always let someone else do the heavy lifting for you. Here are some recipe collections to consider:
- 5 keto lunch meal plan recipes
- 27 quick and easy keto lunch ideas
- 20 easy keto breakfast ideas
- How to succeed with a keto meal plan (free printable PDF included!)
Pro Tip: Want a meal plan that not only chooses your recipes for you but also automatically organizes your grocery list and reminds you when you need to be meal prepping? Sign up for a free 14 day trial of Real Plans' keto meal plans.
Step 2: Shop For Your Ingredients
Now that you've got your meal planning taken care of, it's time to hit the stores! Make your list, check it twice, and grab all of the items you'll need this week in one fell swoop.
8. Use A Master List To Finalize Your Weekly Shopping List
First things first, it's time to finalize your keto shopping list. Here's the process I recommend to get your list in order:
- Gather all your recipes and note down all of the ingredients on each list. This is your master list.
- Review your master list, crossing off ingredients you already have on hand in your pantry, fridge, or freezer.
- Create a pared-down list of your missing ingredients, organized by section of the store.
Using this method to finalize your shopping list helps you avoid buying too much (or too little) of a particular ingredient, as well as reduces the risk of missing necessary ingredients. This method is easier on the budget AND makes it easier to prep and cook your meals.
Pro Tip: Creating the master list can be time-consuming. If you're short on time, try a digital keto meal planning service that automates this step.
9. Add "Out-of-Stock" Pantry Essentials & Freezer-Friendly Ingredients
Your shopping list should include more than just your weekly ingredients. Why? Healthy low carb meals are infinitely easier to make when you have a well-stocked pantry and freezer. That means keeping ingredients like almond flour and coconut milk on hand, as well as your favorite grass-fed meats in the freezer.
Beyond pantry and freezer essentials, I also usually keep some store-bought keto snacks on hand. They're easy to toss in my purse and I feel more confident that I've got my mid-afternoon snack craving covered.
With this in mind, make sure you check your pantry, fridge, and freezer before you head out to the store. Take a quick scan of what's missing on your shelves and stock up. Bonus points if you stock up during sales!
Pro Tip: I keep a running list of my 'out of stock' pantry ingredients on my phone inside the Thrive app. This way I know that I won't forget to restock my pantry essentials.
10. Shop Your List While Skipping The Lines (And Stores)
This is my absolute favorite way to make keto meal planning easier. I skip the lines and stores altogether! Instead of driving to all of my local stores, I simply hop online and order my groceries. They're delivered straight to my doorstep.
Here's a little bit more information about my favorite online grocery suppliers:
- How I saved over $1000 on paleo keto food
- How to buy keto-friendly grass-fed meat online
- The easiest way to buy sustainable seafood online
Pro Tip: Some keto meal planning services help you save time on your meal plan AND let you skip the line. I like Real Plans because they integrate directly with Instacart. It's as easy as finalizing your shopping list and then using the integration to order your groceries for delivery. This is such a time saver!
Step 3: Meal Prep Your Ingredients Like A Pro
Of course, setting a little time at the beginning of each week to meal prep is one of the best ways to make keto meal planning easier. By prepping key ingredients, or even entire meals, you'll be able to pull together your keto recipes much faster and it will be easier to make healthy decisions. Even when you're exhausted or feeling crunched for time.
11. Make A Plan For Your Meal Prep
This is the not-so-secret key to this step: plan to meal prep. I recommend blocking in 1 to 2 hours every Sunday to do a little hands-on work in the kitchen. We're talking about slicing, dicing, chopping, and maybe even cooking up a common ingredient (like roast chicken) in your keto recipes for the week.
Pro Tip: Block this time in your calendar and stick to it! And usually, I'll make dinner for that night at the same time so I'm not spending extra time in the kitchen.
12. Prep Your Ingredients In Advance
I like to begin my meal prepping session with a little time at the cutting board. I'll slice and dice ingredients like garlic and vegetables. I'll also wash up any salad greens and fresh herbs so they're ready to go when I need to use them.
This is also a great time to prepare common base components of your meals. For example, you might have planned for lunches with roast chicken. If that's the case, you can also prepare that ingredient now. It'll save you plenty of time later and you won't have to worry about that dreaded moment when you realize you don't have quite enough time to prepare that particular ingredient in your lunch before heading out the door for work.
In my prep sessions, you'll usually find me cooking up my favorite base protein for easy keto meals: crockpot whole chicken. With only 10 minutes of prep time, it's almost too easy to call a recipe. This simple keto-friendly recipe is great sliced up on salads, in soup, lettuce wraps, and even chicken salad.
Pro Tip: While I try to do the bulk of my ingredient prep on Sundays, you can always spread this time out on weeknights. The important thing to keep in mind is making sure you actually have the time to spend in the kitchen. That's where planning in your calendar comes in! Set reminders or make sure that you have a meal planning service that automatically plans prep time out for you.
13. Double Your Recipes – Your Future Self Will Thank You!
Simply put, cooking extra portions helps your keto meal plan go way further. Doubling up your recipes allows you to keep some in your fridge or freeze the rest for later. This is especially helpful if you're heading into a busy week where you have minimal time to spend in the kitchen.
Here are a handful of keto recipes that are perfect for double-batching to freeze:
- Cauliflower rice
- Homemade breakfast sausage
- Instant Pot pulled pork
- Keto sandwich bread (there are several in this recipe collection that are freezer-friendly)
Of course, not all keto recipes are freezer-friendly. Make sure you understand freezer cooking best practices to make the most of your meal prepping time. For example, you'll want to know:
- Which containers are the best for your freezer meals (and which are not!)
- Which ingredients you'll definitely want to avoid in your freezer meals
- The only way you should be freezing recipes like keto bread, hamburgers, and pancakes
- The best freezer-friendly meal prep hacks that make dinner time a breeze
Pro Tip: Want to learn how to meal prep for your freezer like a boss? Learn the best tips here.
More Ways To Make Following Your Healthy Meal Plan Really Easy
So, there you have it. That's my system for making paleo keto meal planning ridiculously easy. Now it's time for you to get to work and manage your keto meal plan like a pro!
Rather skip all the heavy-lifting and let someone else take care of creating a keto meal plan that's perfectly suited to your schedule, diet, and tastes?
Here's one way to reclaim your time while still living a healthy lifestyle: try Real Plans done-for-you custom meal plan calendar created specifically for your diet, family size, and weekly schedule.