Skip to main content

The Rules & Models of Meal Planning

When it comes to meal planning, I have only one rule– don’t overcomplicate it! Trust me, I know from experience. My first attempt at meal planning involved choosing five recipes, shopping for the ingredients, and spending an entire Sunday preparing each meal. Needless to say, this method lasted one week. I was convinced meal planning wasn’t for me. But here’s the thing– I was attempting something that was so far removed from my typical routine, it’s no wonder I went down like a sinking ship! 

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to meal planning. You have to do what works for your lifestyle.  

3 Components of a Meal

Let’s start by defining the three components of a meal. Because dinner is typically the most frustrating meal for people, this series will take on a “What’s for Dinner?” theme. 

I like to keep things as simple as possible, so here’s my take on the components in order of prominence on your plate:

  1. Veggies: Vegetables include the various types of greens and also any vegetable in the Heinen’s produce department. Your Fx-100 List can help you get started. These are recommended foods that can be added to meals to support the seven Fx Pillars.
  2. Protein: Organic chicken or turkey, organic grass-fed beef, omega-3 rich fish like salmon or trout, omega-3 rich eggs, nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters, beans and lentils, quinoa, protein powder, tofu, and tempeh. 
  3. Pizazz: This is the fun component! It adds flavor and texture to round out your meal and includes sauces, dressings, herbs, spices, fermented foods, fruit, cheese, or a drizzle of honey for example. 

Using this formula, a meal could be as simple as an almond butter and banana sandwich on sprouted bread with a cup or two of raw veggies like baby carrots and cherry tomatoes!

3 Meal Planning Models

Now let’s get into meal planning models. Don’t panic! Although there are many models out there, I’ll offer only three here. You can try any one of these or even combine them. Personally I do a little of all three! 

Recipe model

With this model you start with recipes. Choose family favorites, new recipes, or both. I recommend beginning with just one recipe until you get the hang of it. Then add another one if you’d like. If you’re the type who likes to try new creations, I’d recommend limiting it to one new recipe a week to avoid overwhelm. 

Some of my favorite places to search for recipes include:

Tip:  It’s a good idea to have a set of tried and true family favorites to pull from. I call these “back pocket recipes”. My back pocket recipes include slow cooker lentil soup, pan-seared salmon, roasted vegetables, Better-for-You Sloppy Joe’s, and air fryer tofu nuggets. 

Staple model

This model uses basic ingredients that you prepare and then mix and match to make various types of meals. For example, three of my favorite dinners are big salads, noodle bowls, and omelets. The staples I keep for these meals include avocados, lentils, canned tuna/salmon, tofu or tempeh, bean-based noodles, raw veggies, eggs, greens, marinara sauce, nuts, and quinoa. 

One downside of this model is that it can get boring if you don’t mix up the ingredients once in a while or try new combinations.

Tip: Having a list of staple items for your kitchen is key. This way you are sure to have ingredients on hand when you’re in a pinch. If you need help, check out our Club Fx Starter Kit. This is a list of 20 essential foods for your kitchen. 


Reverse Meal Planning model

This model can also be called “Inspired Meal Planning” because it utilizes the ingredients you have on hand and adds to it, any items you are inspired to pick up while grocery shopping. For example, plantains, eggplant, a seasonal fruit, or even a new meat you haven’t tried before (like bison!) are all fair game. Once home, you search for ways to incorporate the ingredients into one or more of your meals. Not long ago I was inspired to add plantains to my cart. I found a fabulous recipe for mashed plantains that I will definitely make again! 

Tip: If you need more structure or are limited in the amount of time you can spend meal planning, this method may not be for you. However, you can still try it out on a day when you have more time to search for recipes.

Take Action …

Let’s get this meal planning thing started! Start by making a short list of staple ingredients you like to have on hand at any given time. If you don’t have a list of staples, start with your Club Fx Starter Kit

Next, think about your tried and true “back pocket” dinners and write them down. I don’t care if it’s scrambled eggs and pancakes or grilled cheese and a can of tomato soup! Just write them down– even if it’s just one. 

Remember, the quickest way to fall off of the meal planning wagon is to overcomplicate the process. Learn from my history of type-A, overly ambitious, short-lived meal planning– it gets you nowhere fast! Instead, see this as something you’d like to play with for years to come– even if you are limiting your plan to only one meal per week. That’s better than nothing! 

Personalized Nutrition Services

Want a store tour so you can make better choices when you shop? Need help understanding what foods would help you meet your health goals? Managing or concerned about health issues and need help with your diet? Check out the Club Fx services with Heinen’s Wellness Consultants and Registered Dietitians and book an appointment today!

Melanie Jatsek
By Melanie Jatsek RD, LD
Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek believes that the answer to a strong, healthy and vibrant body lies within. She graduated cum laude from the University of Akron, earning a degree in Nutrition & Dietetics and has over 20 years of experience in wellness program development, health coaching and professional speaking. As a published author of three books and registered dietitian for Heinen’s Grocery Store, Melanie offers programs, services, and tools to help Heinen’s customers take inspired action to build the healthy body they were meant to live in…without giving up their favorite foods.

This site is not optimized for your current browser (Internet Explorer 11).

Please switch to one of the following browsers for a complete viewing experience:

Chrome Logo Chrome Firefox Logo Firefox Edge Logo Edge