Meal Planning 101
How to eliminate the guesswork and prepare for success
Think about the healthiest meals you’ve eaten this week…and the least healthy. We’re willing to wager the healthiest ones were the result of at least a little planning. Whether you prepared the meal in advance or merely looked at the menu before you got to the restaurant, planning ahead is one of the best ways to ensure healthy eating.
When you’re tired, stressed or over-hungry, it’s almost impossible to make a disciplined food choice. The odds just aren’t in your favor. And while everyone experiences these situations, meal planning makes it easy to set yourself up for success. Whether you choose to plan all your meals or just dinners, the work you do in advance can deliver great returns.
Analyze Your Week
Start by looking at your upcoming week. Consider your plans (and your family’s) and get an idea of how many meals you’ll have at home and how many you need to pack or plan for eating out. Don’t forget to consider social engagements and holidays.
Making your eating decisions all at once with calm, focused purpose will support your goals more directly than independent decisions made at each mealtime. Impulsive dashes through the drive-thru can be avoided if you have a better option waiting at home.
Plan the Menu for the Week
After analyzing your week, create a schedule that identifies each meal. You can start on Friday and plan your weekend first or begin Sunday for the week ahead. If it’s a busy week, stick with simple meals and familiar recipes. Whether you use a notecard, a calendar or an app, be sure to record your plan. Hanging a copy on the front of the refrigerator is a popular method, as is creating a sub-calendar just for meals on your phone.
Shop for the Week
Having all the ingredients on-hand is essential for creating healthy meals. Shopping for the upcoming week (or two) makes it easier to follow your meal plan. As you make this part of your routine you’ll find tools—from printed shopping lists to grocery list apps—that make the process fast and efficient.
Prep for the Week
Once you’ve got all the ingredients for your upcoming meals, do as much prep work as possible beforehand. Chopping vegetables, making sauces and defrosting meats can save time and consolidate work. If you’re planning salads for multiple meals, you can do much of the work beforehand and enjoy the benefits throughout the week.
We’re fans of cooking once and eating twice (or more)! This means making large batches of soup and slow cooker meals that can be made ahead and frozen. A large batch of chili can be used as a meal one night, become the base for taco salad another night and the topping for loaded baked potatoes the following week.
If you live by your phone and digital calendar, an app may be your best tool for meal planning. Here are a few, although there are many more:
Like any endeavor, a little planning goes a long way toward healthy eating. For weight loss and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the preparation you do ahead of time can be invaluable. The key is to find a system that works for your lifestyle and keep adapting it to your needs. Just like the missions Shapa gives you, meal planning is a habit that helps you work toward your goals.