Preparation is the key to success.
Big cliché, I know, but it’s a saying that resonates across so many different situations because it holds true. Having a plan puts you in control and gives you a road map to reaching your goals, particularly when it comes to weight loss. If you don’t make a plan for healthy eating you’re much more likely to slip back into bad habits such as buying takeaway, serving excessive portions and snacking from vending machines. Meal planning helps you to know where your calories are coming from and allows you to prepare ingredients in advance, making healthy eating easier, cheaper and more convenient. This month’s how-to is your road map to healthy eating success; How-To: Meal Plan Like a Nutritionist.
These are my personal tips to meal planning success and what I do each week for my family. They’re the basic stepping stones to helping you make healthy eating a normal part of your life, even if weight loss isn’t your goal. Meal planning can help relieve the morning stress of “what am I going to take for lunch today?!”, consume more nutrients from a wider variety or in-season food and save money by shopping what’s on special. I also love scanning recipe books and Pinterest board for new meal ideas, or just letting my creative juices run wild and creating something new.
Step One: Set a theme for your mains
This step is sort of an optional first step but something I find very helpful. Each night of the week has a designated category to narrow down meal ideas. So in our house we do Mexican Monday (we LOVE Mexican food), Chinese Tuesday (really anything Asian – stir fry, curry, noodles), Kid-friendly Wednesday (something the kids love and request), Italian Thursday, Fish on Friday and weekends are usually taken up by recipe testing and meals with friends and extended family. Having a clear idea for each day, even if it’s just a few days each week, makes choosing what to eat much easier. I also like to make at least one main meal each week vegetarian or vegan.
Step Two: Read the catalogues
A great way to keep grocery shopping costs down is to shop what’s on special. Browse the catalogues and see what meats and vegetables are discounted that week and base your main meal ideas of what is abundant and cheap.
Step Three: Think about lunches
We often have leftovers for lunch a few days each week as well as a selection of easy-to-prepare salads. Doing this means I get a good spread of cooked produce, fresh vegetables and different protein sources to make sure I’m maximising my nutrient intake.
Step Four: Sort out Snacks
You don’t need to sort every snack for the week ahead but having a few different things allows you to pack a lunch with minimal effort and stress. Think of things that have a mix of lean protein, high-fibre and healthy fats to keep your stomach full and your hands away from the vending machine, such as protein balls, wholemeal muffins, vegetable sticks with hummus or cottage cheese.
Step Five: Breakfast
Breakfasts in our house need to be quick and easy so I plan for things like overnight oats, smoothies and toast. This might not be something you want to plan too much, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes to eat the same sort of thing each day – just make sure you’re switching up the base ingredients a little so that you’re getting a spread of nutrients from different sources.
Step Six: Review your menu
Once I’ve written a base menu for the week I like to check it over to make sure I’m not eating the same thing every day, like scrambled eggs for breakfast and frittata for dinner. I also try to make sure that if I have cooked vegetables with lunch I have a fresh salad or different mix of vegetables for dinner and vice versa. I also check that I’ve included at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit for each day, and that I’ve chosen a few different protein sources such as chicken, fish and beans/lentils. I also make sure I check the calendar for family and personal commitments so I don’t plan to make a roast when I’ve only got 30 minutes to prepare and cook dinner.
Once your meal plan is made you can then create a shopping list to match, which is another great way to keep costs down and impulse junk food purchases out of your trolley. It doesn’t have to be complicated or ultra time-consuming, I don't believe eating healthy should be either of those things. Meal planning is just another tool in your arsenal to make cooking, eating and being healthy as easy as possible.
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