Meal planning involves three general steps: finding recipes, shopping, and finally, meal prepping. Overall, we think meal plans can be beneficial, whether strategic for weight goals or health reasons or capitalizing on-time efficiency. However, in some cases, they cannot accommodate the randomness of everyday life.
For a meal plan to work, it should be flexible. It's equally important the recipes you choose are appetizing. Bland food isn't sustainable because no one wants to eat it; how long can you keep up a routine that doesn't bring you joy. A better question is, why commit to a plan that feels like punishment?
The gist of it is a meal plan shouldn't worsen your relationship with food, so planning is crucial. With that said, below are some scenarios when a meal plan would be beneficial.
- You want some short-term guidance on healthy eating.
- You're an athlete and need to meet a goal in time for a competition.
- To get accustomed to appropriate proportion sizes.
- You want to save money or stop eating out.
- You want to eat clean.
- Your a mom on the go
How to Chose a Meal Plan
Your existing habits should predetermine when you eat, at least initially. For example, if you don't eat between noon and 8 pm, don't automatically follow a plan that dictates you eat dinner at 6 pm. Instead, if you want to quit eating earlier in the evening, begin in increments (e.g., moving dinner from 8 pm to 7:30 pm for a couple of weeks.) Once you no longer feel hungry at 8 pm, repeat the process.
Similarly, if you don't eat breakfast, skip the idea of three meals a day and save money. Both of these 'timing' adjustments are examples of being flexible and accommodating your body's natural clock.
Meal Prep Tips
Meal prepping is a part of meal planning. While picking recipes, consider the amount of time you can reasonably allocate for meal prep.
- How many prep days are you working with each week?
- Will you dedicate a Sunday to cooking for meals M-W?
- Will you be freezing food so you can have prepared dishes for the entire week?
- Are you chopping veggies on Monday, cooking grains on Friday, etc.?
Meal planning can sound time-consuming, but the rest of your week is off and running once you get the planning out of the way. You can also consider cooking grains in batches, keeping them separately to later pair with main dishes.
By preparing various fun and yummy dishes, you can also get excited about eating at home. It's not hard to pass up a dinner invitation if you want what you already have. But on the other hand— it's okay to plan for one night where you're getting dinner with friends. Just because you want to eat healthy doesn't mean you can't have a social life.
Variety is the Spice of Life
If you decide not to use recipes and instead cook what you know, substitute, and substitute some more. You can upgrade old dinner classics like pasta by adding lots of veggies, lean meats, or even plant-based alternatives.
Freezing your Food
If you're freezing your food, it gives you a chance to do long-term preps, especially if you own a deep freezer. But even if you're working with limited space, freezing works. You can put food in portion-sized bags to grab and thaw in a snap. For example, white bean chili keeps excellently in the freezer.
However you go about meal planning, remember the main rule, do only what energizes and enhances your lifestyle.