Meal Planning - The Key to Eating Better
When I meet people who've successfully made changes to their diet and lifestyle that have positively impacted their health, I like to ask them what they do differently now versus before. Interestingly, the answer that comes up most often is "I spend more time planning and preparing my food." This makes sense. As with most things, planning ahead, anticipating obstacles, and being prepared, makes a big difference. The same holds true for how you choose to nourish your body. That's why today, I'm going to share with you 5 simple steps to creating a meal plan. Before we get too far, let's first make sure we're all on the same page as to what a meal plan is. At its simplest, meal planning involves planning out your meals ahead of time. A meal plan says that on Monday you plan to eat x, on Tuesday y, Wednesday z, etc. The number of meals that you plan for is totally up to you. Generally, most people go grocery shopping once a week, so creating a meal plan for one week is the fairly common. However, if you shop more or less often, you can adjust the number of days that you plan for accordingly. The reason to tie meal planning with grocery shopping is that you create your shopping list based on the foods that are part of your meal plan, ensuring that you'll have the ingredients and needed items on hand. How to create a meal plan in 5 simple steps:
Start with a blank piece of paper (loose leaf works great). Draw three vertical lines to divide the paper into 4 columns and label them as follows: protein, vegetables, smart carbs, healthy fats. Then along the right hand side write down the days of the week starting with the day you do your grocery shopping. For me that's Monday, so my menu plan goes from Monday through to Sunday. If you generally shop on the weekend, you can start your weekly plan on Saturday or Sunday. Or maybe you shop on Tuesday so your plan will run from Tuesday through Monday. Alternatively, you can download my meal planning template.
Look at your calendar for the upcoming week to determine if there are any nights when you don't plan to be home for dinner. Put NA next to the day as you don't require a meal for these dates. Next, considering your calendar, see if there are days when you know you'll be home late or have evening plans and may want quick and simple meals - put an asterisk next to these days.
Pick a free day - choose one or two days and mark them as free or with a smiley face if you prefer. These days allow for flexibility. It usually happens that something comes up, you have leftovers from a previous meal, or you just don't feel like cooking the meal you planned and this leaves room for you to adjust on the fly.
For the remaining days, build a balanced meal for that day by writing an item in each column, 2 in the vegetable column for brownie points! Remember that days with an asterisk require simple quick meals.
Flip the sheet over, and on the reverse side, build your grocery shopping list by writing down all the ingredients you need to make the meals you planned.
Here's an example of one of my meal plans.
A few tips if you are new to meal planning:
Start small by planning supper. Eventually, you can expand to include breakfast and lunch, but when starting out, keeping the change small increases the chances of success.
Plan for one or two fewer meals than you think you need. Things will come up - an unplanned dinner out, working late, a kids activity, etc - and you'll discover that you don't end up making all the meals on the plan. Additionally for those personality types who don't like their life too structured, having one or two "free" days eases the resistance.
Keep it simple . Don't plan a gourmet, blog worthy, 5 star meal every night. Don't include a bunch of new recipes that you've never made before. Start by simply putting the typical meals you already eat on your plan.
Choose which day of the week you plan to eat which meal. You may be tempted to simply choose the 5 or so meals you want to eat in the coming week and not assign each to a specific day of the week. The drawback with this approach is that each day you'll still have to decide which of the 5 meals to make, thus by-passing the benefit of reduced decision fatigue. In addition, by deciding ahead of time, you can take your meat out of the freezer the night before, ensuring that it's thawed and waiting in the refrigerator when you need it. There's nothing worse than having to thaw meat in the microwave, or in a sink of cold water. This extra step is often the reason why people end up grabbing something on the way home, ordering takeout or warming a pre-packaged convenience food like frozen pizza, or whatever other frozen, boxed or canned convenience food you have on hand. Is the idea of meal planning new to you or is it something you already do regularly? If you don't already have a meal plan for this week, then why not create one today? Even if you've already done your grocery shopping for the week, simply use the template and make a meal plan based on the foods you have in your house. Then, as an experiment, follow it for the remainder of the week.