Fresh Meal Plan Basics: How to Get Started & Stay on Track + Recipes

by | Jul 8, 2019 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

Do you end up eating junk food because you simply can’t find the time to cook? If so, consider yourself normal: Only 36% of Americans manage to cook daily. 

But fresh, home-cooked food is the best! It saves you money and often leads to healthier meals. Additional reasons to opting for a fresh food diet include: 

  • Limiting the amount of additives such as preservatives and artificial flavors 
  • Having control over the ingredients and keeping track of calories
  • Better for the environment – especially when limiting food waste and buying in bulk 

But preparing meals daily can take up to sixty minutes out of a day that tends to be too short as it is. So what can be done to eat fresh foods daily without cutting back on other important things in your life? 

Ultimately, it comes down to good planning. With the right combination of meal preparation and solid fallback options, you can have a healthy option to reach for at any time. 

Breakfast: Oats are your friend 

One of the most time-effective ways to prepare breakfast is making overnight oats. The concept is simple – combine oats with any type of fruit (frozen or fresh), seeds (flax seeds, chia seeds etc.) and milk (plant or cow’s milk) and let it sit in your fridge overnight. You can prepare overnight oats for up to four days in advance, a massive time-saver! 

Some of our favorite combinations include: 

  • Monday through Wednesday: Oats with frozen raspberries, flax seeds, and maple syrup in oat milk
  • Thursday through Saturday: Oats with banana slices and diced apples with chia seeds, cinnamon powder and almond milk 
  • Sunday: Wild card. Maybe you’ll be in the mood for something other than oats. We recommend toast with avocado, brie, or cream cheese, and scrambled eggs or scrambled tofu.

Lunch: Meal prep ground rules 

Most meal preppers cook on Sundays and prepare food that lasts all week. This means using ingredients that keep well or can be frozen. We recommend preparing two or three different meals to keep it interesting throughout the week. Our all-time-favorites for an entire week of fresh foods are: 

  • Monday through Tuesday: Burritos with spicy tofu, veggies, guacamole, and black beans
  • Wednesday through Thursday: Sweet potato curry with quinoa 
  • Friday through Saturday: Vegetable and lentil stew (freezes very well) 
  • Sunday: Leftovers from the week or a freshly cooked soup

Snacks: Keep it simple

Most fresh foods are found in the produce section of your grocery store. The great news is that many of these can be eaten just like they come off the shelf – with little or no preparation. Therefore, you can simply shop for fruit like apples, bananas, pears, oranges etc. to serve as snack options anytime. Nuts and seeds as well as dried fruits can offer a more calorie-dense and filling option. 

Your week of fresh snacks could look like this:

  • Monday: Handful of trail mix
  • Tuesday: Almonds and cheese
  • Wednesday: Banana and peanut butter
  • Thursday: Apples with cinnamon powder
  • Friday: Berries with (coconut) cream 
  • Saturday: One orange and cashews
  • Sunday: Dried mango and walnuts 

Dinner: Light foods for better sleep

When planning your dinner options, you should not only consider the time that goes into making them but also how well they will digest before you go to bed. Foods that are heavy will keep you from sleeping well and make it much harder to rise and shine in the morning. 

Ideally, you have some soups in your fridge or freezer that you prepare on the weekends or throughout the week. These can be combined with wholegrain bread. On hot summer nights you might find a salad more enjoyable. Always keep some dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in your pantry to add for a delicious and filling salad. 

A healthy week of fresh dinners might look like this:

  • Monday through Wednesday: Creamy vegetable soup with quinoa. Alternatively, a big green salad with dried tomatoes, artichokes, and tofu or chicken strips
  • Thursday through Saturday: Potato soup with sausage or seitan. Alternatively, a chickpea salad with cilantro
  • Sunday: Fresh vegetable soup with noodles

No time to cook? Try these fallback options

There will be days where you find yourself on the run without a chance to even just defrost a premade meal. This doesn’t have to be a big setback, however. In most of the US, you’ll be able to find restaurants with fresh food options if you know where to look. 

If you live in a bigger city, you’ll have all kinds of options including Sweetgreen, Freshii, Honeygrow, Cava Grill and By Chloe. Even midsize and smaller cities tend to have smoothie and salad bars. If you need to hit up a restaurant chain, you’d be surprised how many fresh, interesting meals you can throw together at a Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A, or Subway. And if there is really no chance to find a fresh meal, a “cheat meal” here and there isn’t the end of the world!

Of course, any meal plan is easier with the coaching of certified nutrition experts and community support. That’s why you should see what Noom has to offer. Our coaches can help you to understand which foods are healthiest, and figure out a meal planning schedule that works for you!