Meal planning is a concept that has recently gained more attention in the nutrition and exercise fields. Why has meal planning become so popular? Because it sets you up for success —it gives you the ability to prepare healthy meals and snacks in advance, so that you’re less inclined to eat anything and/or everything in sight last minute. It also allows you to stick to your budget and can be a major time saver in the long run.

New to meal planning? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

1. Plan, plan, plan: Dedicate a set amount of time to meal planning. Next, make a list of a few recipes to make for the week and follow the plan. A helpful budget tip is to read over the supermarket circulars and coupons before planning your dishes. Next, make a grocery list, and you’re good to go! Planning will eliminate asking, “what’s for dinner?” because you’ve already thought about it and planned in advance. Avoid being unprepared, as Benjamin Franklin said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

2. Cook a few staple dishes: Use leftovers for other meals during the week.

3. Cook simple foods in bulk: These can be recycled for other recipes and dishes in the week. Some foods include lean protein, whole grains (i.e. quinoa, brown rice, multigrain pasta), vegetables, and sauces. For example, a rotisserie chicken can be used in other meals, such as a quesadilla, in a sandwich or soup, on top of a salad, etc.

4. Freeze leftovers: Your future-self will thank you when you’re pressed for time and can heat up your favorite soup, chili, crock pot meal, and or sides that are already made for convenience.

5. Try frozen and canned foods: Previously packaged and canned foods are great budget-friendly options and time savers. If purchasing canned foods, check the sodium content. When choosing canned beans, be sure to rinse them with water in a colander to remove most of the sodium. With fruits and vegetables, steer clear of any additives, such as sugar and sodium.

6. Take a food risk every so often: Challenge your firehouse cooking skills and taste buds by trying a new recipe or healthful cooking method. Something new may eventually become a staple in your meal-planning regimen.

To start, grab some paper or a calendar and try to plan three meals for the week. Over time, increase the number of meals prepared once you get the hang of things.