Meal Planning 101

Meal Planning 101

Hi everyone! I wanted to share my notes from the meal planning webinar(video at the bottom of the post) I posted in January. This can be used as a great resource for the essentials of meal planning. And truly, meal planning is where the rubber hits the road: this is where we implement the solid nutrition foundations that we are learning. I highly recommend making meal planning (to the extent that is reasonable to you) a part of your weekly routine.

Meal Planning 101

  • First, Why meal plan?
    • Financial benefits: meal planning can save literally thousands of dollars on your annual food budget
    • Meal planning saves time:
      • With meal planning you can typically can get by with just 1-2 stops at the grocery store (or less)/week instead of having to stop every day or every other day.
      • You can be more efficient in the kitchen when you know what you’re making
      • You can make several meals at one time, freeing up time on other days
    • Many health benefits!
      • Research shows when we eat at home, we tend to consume more healthful foods (fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy protein sources) and less ‘unhealthful’ nutrients – sodium, added sugars, unhealthful fats
    • Meal planning allows us to achieve our performance goals:
      • If we have nutrition goals that align with our fitness goals – whether it be following carbohydrate protein and calorie goals, or a more simpler approach of the plate method, to achieve this requires some planning, and this can greatly benefit our performance
    • What to meal plan?
      • Meal planning can be as detailed as planning out each individual meal, or, can be more relaxed such as planning out dinners for each night and having an idea of what you’ll be eating for the other meals.
        • Typically the plate method planning approach can be a little more flexible/less detailed. This is where you use the plate method to guide what will be eaten at each meal – what is your protein source, your whole grain/complex carbohydrate, and fruit/vegetable.
      • At a minimum meal planning should include:
        • A plan for the week’s breakfasts, lunches, and dinners – or at least the ingredients needed for these meals
          • Keep in mind monotony is fine! If you eat the same thing for breakfast every day and you are okay with this, there is no need to plan out a different breakfast each day. Alternatively you can plan out 2 to 3 breakfast options and have a choice each day.
          • As an example, I use pantry staples for breakfast, I use leftovers for lunch, and so I just need to specifically plan out dinners for each night. Do what works for you!
        • Pantry staples are key! These are ingredients you should always be sure you have on hand, so when you go to the grocery store do a quick inventory of what needs to be replenished
      • How? There are many different ways!
        • Start simple – perhaps you decide to start by just planning out dinners
        • Get your calendar out – decide which nights you’ll have more time to cook vs. the nights when you’ll need a 20 minute meal, or potentially which meals you’ll need to make ahead
        • Meal method vs. Ingredient method – 2 different meal planning methods:
          • Meal method – decide exactly which meal you will make each night
          • Ingredient method – decide which ingredients you’ll use each night, and then you decide on that evening what you will make from those ingredients (I make the joke that I am not ‘creative’ enough for this approach, this is great for people who like to spontaneously decide what to make!)
        • Have a way to organize – I use a binder to collect my recipes and meal plans, but there are apps and other online tools
          • At the very least, I recommend writing/typing out the plans and saving for future use. For example, write down your meal plan for a week, and then save this plan – you may be able to reuse it as is for future weeks or make minor tweaks.
          • If you opt to use a binder, take 2 minutes to create tabs/sections to organize recipe types – this will save so much time each week!
            • As an example, I organize my binder (by using tabs) according to: make ahead meals, slow cooker meals, 20 minute or less meals, soups/stews, dinner salads. Then each week based upon my schedule I can pull from recipes according to my needs (Monday night I’ll need a ‘make ahead’ meal, Tuesday I’ll need a ‘20 minute or less meal’, etc.
          • Have a consistent time of the week when you meal plan – this helps to keep meal planning consistent and ensures that it happens each week
            • If you meal plan every Sunday evening, for example, you are more likely to remember to do it.
          • Tips:
            • Have a ‘go-to’ list – a list of meals that you have learned to prepare in 20-30 minutes (or less)
              • Good pantry staples will help with this
              • This helps to serve as a repertoire of ‘back-up’ meals in case something happens
            • Crockpot, soups, stews – you can make big batches of these and freeze some for later use
            • Always make double portions and use leftover for dinner another night, or for lunch the next day
            • Crockpot shredded chicken and shredded pork (though doesn’t need to be made in the Crockpot) – can use for several different meals throughout the week such as fajitas, wraps, and salads
            • Only try one or 2 new recipes a week
            • Have a hard time thinking of what to make? Try having a theme for each day. For example:
              • Sundays – a roast, roasted veggies, grain/starch
              • Mondays – Mexican night
              • Tuesdays – grill night
              • Wednesdays – stir-fry night
              • Thursdays – dinner salads or soups
              • Fridays – homemade pizza night
              • Saturdays – leftovers
            • Prep/pack lunch for the next day when you are putting away dinner/cleaning up – everything is already out making it easy, and then it’s ready to go in the morning
            • Cooking for 1 or 2?
              • Soups/stews are great because can freeze in individual portions, eventually have literally dozens of different options to choose from
              • Rotisserie chicken can be great to have throughout the week – several different meal ideas
              • Individually frozen fish fillets can be great
              • Salad mixes are 1-2 servings as a meal, add some meat and a grain and it’s a complete meal
              • com – cooking for 2 recipes – if cooking for one can use for 2 different meals.
              • Lunches – ‘salad in a jar’ – google will find hundreds of options
            • Breakfast:
              • Doesn’t have to be traditional breakfast foods – a peanut butter and banana sandwich can do the trick
              • Overnight oats – great for integrating all 3 components of the plate method, several can be prepped at one time
              • Mix and match, gran n’ go – Greek yogurt, piece of fruit, peanut butter toast

Take Action Now

Consider the following options to take action and start menu planning:

  • Decide how often you will do menu planning (weekly, biweekly). Schedule time
    to plan the number of meals needed between planning sessions and create a grocery list. (See menu planning form provided at the end of handout.)
  • Plan time for meal preparation into your daily schedule
  • Organize cooking and food supplies for quick and easy meals
  • Make/Prepare extra to simplify meals on another day

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