Meal Planning 101.
As you can probably guess, we do a lot of cooking in this house. Well, I do a lot of cooking. Unless you count heating up Trader Joe’s frozen chicken or making a peanut butter-covered english muffin cooking.
And I do most of the shopping, too. Mostly because I love to spend money, and when I send my husband to the store in search of things like pancetta and creme fraiche, he calls me about 16 times from the store insisting those products don’t exist.
Since we both have full time jobs, it is really important for us to plan ahead and prepare in order to eat healthy. We never eat out. Especially lunch – I never go out to lunch, my husband rarely does. We may go out once or twice a month for dinner, but I get too excited in the kitchen otherwise. Plus, I’d rather spend my money on gruyere cheese, expensive shoes, and Mac makeup. I’ve got my priorities straight.
So, how do we do it? Plan and prepare!
Decide ahead of time. I usually plan out our lunches and dinners for the upcoming week at some point on the weekend. I usually plan on 3 dinners and 3 lunches, because we usually have leftovers to fill the other slots. Many of these are the same things – for instance, my husband went through a period of eating chicken, pasta, and veggies for lunch for 4 months. He doesn’t really exemplify diversity, does he?
Take inventory. I check our black hole of darkness and grocery-store-in-a-drawer, otherwise known as our fridge and pantry, for what we have. I note all of the ingredients we have for the planned meals. This is KEY. It really helps us save money and avoid having 92 cans of black beans at once. It also shortens the grocery tips.
Always make a list. It never fails – if I forget my list, I always forget something. I always make a list of things I need, and I usually do it in order of how I shop – produce, meats, dairy, grains, then canned/frozen goods, condiments, and anything else in the aisles. This saves me time and money. I also try to go to the grocery store on any day but Sunday. It is packed and I tend to lose my temper and have a hissy fit mid-shop.
Buy in bulk. We buy certain things in bulk, especially when they are on sale. This includes cereals, water or bottled drinks, and meats that freeze for future use. When it comes to produce, I usually buy 3 days worth. After 3 days, I may have to hit the store really quickly for a few perishable items – like fruit, veggies (not really, since I hate them), and seafood.
On Sunday’s, I prepare 2-3 lunches for the upcoming week. Occasionally I will prepare dinners, but I actually enjoying coming home in the evening and cooking. Most of the time, I cook dinner at night. I also wash fruit/veggies, freeze meats/meals for the future, and pre-package snacks.
Certain snacks that I pre-package are things like cereals, trail mixes, yogurt mix-ins, and nut butters. First, it controls portion size, and second, it is easy to grab and go. I do not like to prepare food in the morning, unless I am immediately eating it.
Planning the meals
When it comes to choosing and planning the actual meals, I tend to plan around protein. I eat some protein at each meal – it keeps me feeling MUCH fuller than a meal without protein. I also feel more alert, more energetic, and not weighed down. It also keeps my husband from having a no-protein nervous breakdown.
I tend to choose these foods from each group – they are what makes me feel great, and what I enjoy the most.
Proteins – these are true protein sources, meaning the protein count is higher than the fat/carb count.
greek yogurt/cottage cheese
Starchy Complex Carbs
potatoes – all varieties
whole wheat pastas
whole wheat bread products
high-fiber, low-sugar cereals
bacon (can’t live without it!)
desserts (see below)
Fruits and Veggies – we aim for 6-8 servings of these a day.
Dessert – I always plan for some kind of sweet treat everyday so I don’t feel deprived. This usually falls in the fats/carbs category.
Of course these lists are not all inclusive – I am just giving you a few examples.
Whatever your goals may be – losing, gaining, or maintaining weight, it is important to have a healthy, realistic balance. It MUST be something you can stick to. In reality, it all comes down to calories. If you are in a consistent calorie deficit, you will lose weight. If you consistently eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you want to gain muscle, they are steps to take to do just that. That is a whole ‘nother can of worms. :)
I plan most meals, but do not eat on a super strict schedule. Since I do not have the luxury of staying home all day, I plan 3-4 balanced meals/snacks to take with me. I eat when I am hungry. Sometimes I eat it all, sometimes I don’t eat every meal. Regardless, I always have enough food. I’d rather be over-prepared, than end up starving and eating junk food.
How I do it: I plan for 4-5 meals each day, beginning with protein. An example:
Breakfast – eggs
Snack – protein powder
Lunch – chicken
Snack – greek yogurt
Dinner – fish
Obviously, I get more specific, such as ‘salmon’ for fish. Once I plan out my protein for the day, I incorporate other items, condiments, seasonings, etc:
Breakfast – eggs, oatmeal, peanut butter, banana
Snack – protein powder, skim milk, blueberries, spinach, nut butter
Lunch – chicken, black beans, salad, oil for dressing, piece of chocolate
Snack – greek yogurt, strawberries, cereal
Dinner – fish, soup, rice, corn, salad on side, dressing
Dessert – few pieces of chocolate
I do pay attention to the foods that have a great combination of protein and carbs, like beans and quinoa, and protein and fat, like nut butter and cheese. I often have snacks that incorporate both, like fruit with nut butter and whole wheat wraps with beans.
I get bored very easily, so I rarely eat the same thing twice. My husband loves to eat the same thing over again, so I use my weekly-creative streak on myself. :)
Meal planning and preparing does take work, but once you get the hang of it, it can be done in a snap. I spend maybe 1-2 hours preparing our food for the week. I think that is more than worth it, considering it provides us with healthy choices. I do look forward to the day where I can hopefully stay at home, and have a bit more creative freedom throughout the day.
This is what works best for me – and by no means do I think this is the only way to have a healthy diet. We have had success with it and I wanted to share my tips and tricks.
Do you plan and prepare your meals?