Handy Nutrition Hacks: Meal Planning 101
If you are already planning your meals on a regular basis, good. Keep it up. The next question is are you consistently following your plan?
If you have never planned your meals before, you are in for a treat. Once you make your plan, you don’t have to rely on your brain every meal to think about what you are going to have. Your stress levels will be reduced greatly because you will have one less thing to worry about during the week.
Are you the type that rebels against structure and want to do what you want, when you want to? Do you want to eat what you feel like eating when you get to a meal? Well, you can still plan and make this work as well.
Your plan could be vague like eggs and veggies for breakfast. Then, in the spur of the moment, you can decide whether you want a Denver omelette or scrambled eggs and avocado.
STRUCTURE YOUR PLAN
The plan is simply an outline and doesn’t need to be adhered to 100%. The important piece is taking time in advance to think about your week. Think about what struggles you might have this week.
- Is it a busy week with events on Tuesday and Thursday?
- Do you have 3 days of travel?
If you take a few minutes to think about the week ahead, you will be able to develop a plan to overcome any barriers that might come up. Then when the stress hits, you already have a plan on how to handle it.
Most people like to plan on Sundays, but do what works for you. Some like to plan 3 days at a time, some like to plan the entire week. Some plan at night for the next day. The strategy isn’t important, taking action is. Try a strategy and see how it works. Pay attention, analyze, and decide if you should continue with that same strategy or try a new one for better success.
WHAT TO DO
If you just want to be told what to do here is your plan:
- Plan the entire week taking into account obligations you may have. If you know you are going to be busy three evenings in the week, bulk cook three meals (such as soup, chilli or roast dinner) so you don’t have to cook on those nights. Bulk cook and you still have good food available when you get home.
- Check your fridge, freezer and cupboards for essential goods, then go grocery shopping to fulfil remaining items on your ingredient list.
- Bulk cook proteins and starchy carbs to pair together and any complete meals for the week.
- Put everything in containers and store in the refrigerator.
- Sit back, put your feet up and take a moment to bask in your awesomeness.
Do any of these situations sound familiar to you?
You spend most of your day busy and stressed and you do your best to stick to eating healthy, portion-controlled meals. Then, when you get home, you are hungry. I mean REALLY hungry. That is when things go downhill. Quickly.
You are too tired to think about dinner so you just reach for the easiest, fastest, most convenient food you can find. Your willpower is shot, so your nutrition plan takes a backseat, undermining all the good choices you made earlier in the day.
Maybe you are a get-up and go type of person with no time for breakfast. You are so hungry by lunch that you are eating anything and everything in sight.
Maybe you go out every day for lunch because you don’t pack food to bring with you and struggle to find healthy foods on restaurant menus.
The overarching reason for the struggle in each of these scenarios is a lack of planning and preparation. All three scenarios have the individual flying by the seat of their pants and trying to figure out things on the fly. This is not a recipe for success, especially if you are trying to change your lifestyle.
It is time to make your nutrition plan really, really simple so it serves you. Literally!
PLAN AND PREPARE
The easiest way to do this is to meal prep.
- Make a list of the recipes you want to make for that week. Write down all the food you will need (saving this to your phone is perfectly fine, no need to get fancy).
- Check your house for the ingredients on this list and mark them off appropriately.
- Go grocery shopping once and stock up on everything you will need for these recipes.
- You may plan to cook 1-2 times per week and make components for lots of meals at once.
- Use leftovers to create new, or repeated, meals for the rest of the week.
Here are a couple of examples to warm-up that huge computer between your ears.
COOK ONCE PER WEEK
On Sunday afternoon (or whatever day you have 2-3 hours), put in an epic cooking session. Bulk cook everything you will need for assembling meals throughout the week. Fire up the oven, get all your pans out, plug in the rice cooker, and start filling up crockpots. This strategy works well for 1-2 person households or VERY busy households that don’t have much time in the evening.
COOK TWICE PER WEEK
This is probably the most common strategy.
On Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening, cook up what you need for the next 3 days. Make a three-day meal plan and get to it. This is a great strategy to save yourself a ton of time in the kitchen. Spend 1-2 hours prepping, cooking, and cleaning and then don’t cook for three days. This strategy works well for a larger family that has evening obligations on most days of the week.
Each meal prep day will probably take you about 2 hours of cooking (4 hours per week), but then you are off the hook for days, which ultimately saves you lots of time and hassle. Put in the work on the front end and save time on the back end.
DINNER IS LUNCH
Some people like to cook and enjoy cooking most days of the week. For this type of person, try the double portion ‘dinner is lunch’ strategy.
Each time you make your evening meal, you will make a double portion and save the second portion for lunch the next day. You get two birds with one stone.
WHY IT WORKS
- It takes the excuse out of eating well.
- Say goodbye to “I have no time to cook today,” and “There was nothing healthy at home for me to eat.”
- It gives you more control over what you eat.
- More homemade meals mean fewer takeouts and meals at restaurants which also means more green stuff in your pockets.
- It gets you in the habit of eating portioned meals.
- For storage, you will pre-portion out your carbs, proteins, and fats for each day.
- It frees up more time in your schedule
- What will you do with your extra time?
To effectively meal prep, you will need to get to know which types of foods last the longest in your refrigerator once cooked, and also what sort of kitchen gadgets and equipment really comes in handy when you’re cooking a large quantity at once. You will learn more about those tips in the next lessons.
Since you may be new to bulk cooking and meal prep, let’s start at the very beginning. Today is all about planning your shopping day. The cool thing about planning is the saving part. If you save the plan, next time when you want to recreate the plan, you won’t have to start from scratch.
1. RECIPE SELECTION
Stop finding recipes just to find recipes. Select three to five and commit to making them. You probably already have a few things on your menu that you are currently eating that you can continue eating. If so, just add one or two to that. Then cook the same thing week in and week out changing a recipe here and there as you see fit.
I’m new to this healthy eating thing, where do I find recipes?
- Look on Pinterest! Search for foods you are in the mood for, foods that you know how to cook, or foods that are in season. Take screenshots of recipes and save them to your phone (or even pin them) or use an app (such as Plan to Eat).
- Look on Instagram or check out food blogs! Whole30 has a great Instagram page with lots of healthy recipes.
- Google any recipe you normally like to make but that you know is not healthy, and watch how many ‘healthy versions’ pop up.
- Type in things like baked chicken, healthy soup, chilli or stir fry.
- Check with your coach.
- Check out some cooking shows, magazines or books.
Don’t feel like everything you make needs a recipe either. This idea of cooking a recipe for every meal can be very overwhelming to some people. Sometimes just sauteing some vegetables and throwing in a protein like eggs or chicken is a great option. No recipe, just real food. Steam some vegetables, drizzle olive oil on top and add a protein to it. Throw a roast in a slow cooker with onions and carrots and some water. Boom, done!
2. BUILD THE LIST
Once you know which recipes you plan on making, create a complete list of ingredients, double-checking for what you already have at home.
Create a digital version of your recipes, just the name is okay, and the corresponding shopping list. This way the list doesn’t get wrecked when you spill water all over it as it sits on your counter. Plus, it’s easy to share with others. A simple word, excel, or note document works well for this.
3. GO SHOPPING
Put aside about one hour to go grocery shopping.
Avoid grocery shopping on an empty stomach or you will probably come home with things you never set out to buy. Hungry shopping leads to impulse buys you wouldn’t normally make with a full stomach.
Sticking to your pre-planned shopping list is important because:
- It keeps you from grabbing ‘junk’ that you will then be tempted to eat all week.
- It makes you more likely to eat healthy meals all week because you invested your time and money into the recipe and grocery planning. You are invested in the process.
- It saves money! You will use the food you buy, reduce impulse buys and avoid throwing unused food out.
- It makes things nice and simple (plus excuse-proof) for you for the rest of the week.
Things that are NOT on your pre-planned list, but YOU MIGHT WANT to add to your shopping trolley:
- Any vegetables you want that interest you (you can figure out how to use them later)
- Extra fruit
- Things that can add flavour to leftovers like mustards, hot sauce, vinegar, lemons, limes, spices and fresh herbs
- Beverages such as water, sparkling water, herbal tea or coffee
Plan B: Ready-Made Meals
We know that sometimes life can just get in the way. Maybe your usual weekly meal-prep time gets overtaken by family duties, or a hot date you couldn’t turn down, or you just wanted some downtime to yourself…
Whatever the reason, if you aren’t able to set aside as much time for preparation as you’d like, a safety net is always a good idea. Macro-friendly ready-made meals offer a great alternative to home-cooked meals.
One company I rate highly is My Muscle Chef. The variety of dishes not only taste amazing but are measured out for you in terms of their nutrient breakdown so can slot right into your daily/weekly calorie target. Basically, all the hard work is done for you.
If you want to give them a go, use the code BRANDO20 at the checkout for $20 off your first order and tell me what you think!