“Repetition is key,” Turoff says. You don’t have to eat the same thing every day, but cutting down on the number of different meals you have during the week will make things easier. She recommends picking two or three breakfast options and two or three lunch options for the week (at most) and adding variety through dinner and snacks. You can even repeat those meals for a few weeks before switching things up.
Having a few staple meals every week can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed while ensuring there’s enough variety, according to Turoff. For example, have fish for one dinner every week, tacos for another dinner, and burgers for another. You can change the recipe by trying different fish dishes, taco fillings, and burger meats, including vegetarian options.
Set aside a few hours on a day that isn’t very busy to batch cook any meals that repeat, so you’re all set for the week. “Let’s say you’re planning to have oatmeal three days a week. You can make three servings of overnight oats at once,” Turoff says. Or make a large egg frittata so that all you have to do is heat up a single portion in the morning, and you’re good to go.
Be sure to factor any wild cards into your meal plan. “If you like to order food one day a week, include that in your plan so you know not to plan a meal for dinner that day,” Turoff says. Or if your office provides snacks, you may not need to plan for those.
If you or any family members have food allergies, dietary considerations, or intense dislikes, try to make the meal work for everyone so you’re not making multiple dishes. For instance, if you’re making lasagna and someone has a gluten intolerance, you can make the meal with gluten-free noodles so everyone can enjoy it and you only cook once.
You can also keep the main dish the same but allow family members to customize their meals according to their needs and preferences. For example, if it’s taco night, offer different tortilla options and keep add-ons like avocado and onions separate.
If you’re still feeling lost and overwhelmed, or you’d like guidance on how to plan meals for a specific goal (such as weight loss or blood sugar control), you can always seek help from a registered dietitian.