No surprise here right? In many counseling sessions I end up discussing the importance of meal planning with my clients. Although most people are aware of this, I find getting clients to specifically set the intention to block out time each week for meal planning, making a shopping list, and grocery shopping for a specific time period helps get them started implementing their nutrition oriented goals.
Meal planning can be done for any time period that works for you – just the next several days or an entire week if you get ambitious. What works here will be individualized in terms of how big your family is, how much fridge and freezer storage you have, and in general how much of a planner you are. A lot of people can do 3 days but an entire week seems like insurmountable goal.
Not only does envisioning several days to a week’s worth of menus get you on the right track with your eating habits, but it also opens up the possibility of “meal prepping.” This has become a buzz word of late, with many bloggers writing about how to prep your week’s worth of work lunches, dinners, snacks, or breakfasts on a day where you have some down time (Sunday for most folks) so you don’t have to stress all week. You will also be ready when your hunger strikes with pre-prepped, nutritious foods versus a convenience food you may otherwise be tempted to quickly dive into from your pantry.
Personally, I find it is too difficult to fully prep meals on one day so my version of this is cooking a few items my family can use throughout the week. This past Sunday my husband and I grilled several chicken breasts and a boatload of zucchini, cooked some whole grain couscous, and cooked several sweet potatoes on Sunday. Throughout the week, we pulled all of these various items out so we didn’t have to start completely from scratch with each meal. We subsequently made 2 family dinners with grilled chicken, zucchini, couscous, and a Greek yogurt sauce, grilled chicken salads, and a veg meal started with the pre-cooked sweet potatoes and zucchini then adding corn and tofu. I still had to make several meals from scratch but at least we had a few pre-planned meals for hectic days.
To get started planning meals rather than reacting to your hunger, first set the intention. Pick a day where you have a bit of down time and plan to sit down, create your grocery list and at least the next several meals. I have a bunch of handy tools I provide to my clients to help them with this. Many of these are highly personalized, but I’ll provide what I find the most simple to get you in the habit here (Weekly Meal Planner )- It’s a very basic weekly calendar that lists all meals and snacks. There is room to list multiple meals if you prepare meals for family members as well with different dietary likes/dislikes or food allergies or intolerances.
If you are already in the habit of meal planning, but want to get a little fancier, there are several strategies you can implement to make it a whole lot easier. First, organize your go-to recipes. I have both a recipe file in our filing cabinet (I prefer not looking at the computer screen while cooking personally) and a recipe file on my computer. Especially if a certain recipe was a hit with all members of our family (a rarity), I will store it in a Word file or a physical file for easy viewing later. Also checking your schedule or your family’s schedule prior to going shopping can really help you focus on what you really need. There may be a day when you simply won’t be able to get in the kitchen. If you know you’ll be eating out one or a few days during the week, obviously you don’t need to prepare for as many meals. Customized grocery lists, meal planning grids, and sample meal plans can also help simplify things. This is beyond what the average person is willing to do, and I have had several clients hire me to create these things for them to make their meal planning and prep simpler. When things are busy, you recognize a need to improve your diet, and you simply cannot devote the time, outsourcing the work to a dietitian is certainly an option as well!
But let’s face it – life is hectic. Very intentional meal planning and prep are not always going to be the priority in a given week. So what about those times when you are out of food and in the grocery store with no grocery list and NO idea what you will be making? Let’s assume you have a well stocked pantry — many grain options (pasta, rice, quinoa, etc) and many seasoning options (herbs, spices, sauces, etc). All you really need are a few lean proteins (chicken, fish, turkey, tofu, beans), some good fresh veggies (peppers and onions, fresh or frozen spinach, mushrooms, etc), and some fresh fruit and viola! You have at least 2-3 healthy meals on hand for the week.
Thanks for visiting and I hope this motivates you to get planning and get some healthy grub in your belly!