When you’re rushing through a busy day, your nutrition plan may be the last thing on your mind. Maybe you grab a doughnut during a morning meeting, buy lunch from a vending machine, and pick up a bucket of fried chicken for dinner because you’re too tired to cook.
Meal planning puts you totally in control of your diet. These quick tips will help you realize you DO have time for meal planning in your week.
Figuring out what you’re going to eat in advance can actually make it more convenient to eat healthy. Plus, you’ll probably spend less on groceries and dining out.
Baby steps are the best way to begin. Concerned about all the fancy containers you see on people’s Instagram? Don’t be, plastic bags work just fine for prep when you are starting your meal planning journey.
Put your diet back on track. Take a look at these tips for taking control of meal planning.
Dealing With The Logistics Of Meal Planning
1 // Schedule by the week.
Unless you have a personal chef, it will probably be easier to design your meal plans for several days at a time. That way, you can cook in batches, and make fewer trips to the supermarket. A week at a time is a good starting point. When I began my meal planning journey I used Cook Smarts as a go to resource to get ideas for healthy, easy to prepare meals.
ProTip: Don’t forget to open your calendar and refresh your memory on evening meetings, kid’s sports practices or competitions, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve planned a great meal only to realize that either I wasn’t available to cook it, OR no one else was around to eat it when I was ready to serve it. Calendar planning goes hand in hand with meal planning!
2 // Inventory and stock your pantry.
When was the last time you decluttered your pantry? Meal planning is most successful when you know what you have on hand and then make a list of what you need to make those meals you planned for the week! Are exciting recipes passing you by because you’re out of tahini or pink salt? Make a list of products you want to keep on hand.
3 // Clear away junk food.
Make room for healthy fare by minimizing products that are high in sugar, salt, and empty calories. If you are like me, you are most likely trained to not waste food, throw perfectly good food away. This is valid ONLY if the food is healthy for you. If it’s junk, and won’t help you reach your goals, toss it right away! If you want to hold on to a few cookies, totally acceptable. Strict denial leads to binge episodes!
4 // Shop mindfully.
Focus on the perimeter of the supermarket where you’re more likely to find fresh whole foods instead of processed foods, candy, chips. Visit farmer’s markets and ethnic stores to experiment with exotic ingredients that will add variety to your table.
5 // Ask for support.
Invite your family and friends on board. Ask for input on the meal list for the week. This takes the pressure off of being the sole planner, and enlist the help of others who will be more likely to clean their plates! Plus, shopping and preparing meals is more fun when you have company. Even small children can suggest what side dishes to serve, and help with kitchen tasks like tearing up salad greens.
6 // Be flexible.
While a meal plan is likely to make your diet more balanced, there will be days when you slip up. Congratulate yourself for making sound choices most of the time.
Meeting Your Nutritional Needs with Meal Planning
7// Load up on produce.
Create a plan where you fill at least half your plate with vegetables and fruits. Aim for 5 to 13 servings a day. Most fresh or frozen produce is high in nutrients and low in calories.
8 // Choose healthy fats.
Most adults need about 30% of their calories from fat. Good choices include olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
9 // Create substitutes.
Almost any dish can be made lighter. Browse online or pick up a cookbook that will give you helpful ideas. You may find that you like baked tofu with barbecue sauce just as much as fried chicken.
10 // Carry snacks.
Snacks are part of your meal plan too. Keep a jar of natural peanut butter in the office refrigerator. Pack a cooler with yogurt and whole grain cereal for road trips. ProTip: snack bags loaded up with fruits, veggies, mixed nuts are a great grab and go snack! Never leave home empty handed lest the siren song of the drive thru be too loud to ignore.
11 // Learn to read labels.
Labels provide a great deal of useful information when you know how to interpret the numbers. Check how many calories you’re consuming, and the percent daily values for minerals, vitamins, and fiber. I recommend using a food tracking app for a few days to see where you’re coming in against your goals. Read all about how this can help here!
12 // Divide up your servings.
If you’re trying to lose weight, calculate how many calories you need per day. Then, you’ll know about how much to eat for each meal or snack. Check out some of our handy tools that can help you out with this important step!
It’s An Evolution….
Whether you enjoy gourmet cooking or barely know how to operate your microwave, there’s a meal plan that will suit your lifestyle and health needs. As your new eating behaviors become automatic, you’ll find it easier to maintain a healthy weight while enjoying delicious foods.
Feel like you could use a little help getting started on healthy meal planning? I did too. Check out our friends at Cook Smarts! They offer amazing weekly menus with all sorts of options, vegan, vegetarian, number of people, etc. They even offer a free trial! Check it out here.