Many of us struggle with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and putting together meals that are nutritious and delicious. We have busy lives: work, school, family, relationships, stresses. It can become easy and seem cheaper to grab a frozen meal or a take away because there is so much else to do. This cycle of rushing around is often the hardest thing to break because we think we do not have the time to plan meals or cook for ourselves. Meal planning is one of the best ways to ensure you are prepared for your day with a healthy, balanced meal.
What is meal planning? Meal planning is essentially what is says on the tin. Planning what you eat and preparing as much as you can beforehand, to prevent yourself from having your hand in the cookie jar or purchasing some not-so-nice takeaways. It is an amazing skill to develop for those who are busy and rushing around all over the place. Trust me, it is something that is doable even more those who have 6 kids and a husband to look after. It actually gives you back time to spend on other things that are important in your life because you are not fiddling around with your cookbooks and kitchen utensils to decide what to cook.
Whatever your goals are, be it wanting to lose weight or just eat more healthy, wholesome foods, by planning your meals out for the week you are in control. You control what you are eating because you have been mindful and taken everything about your week into consideration. The way you book in your gym sessions, dentist appointments and work commitments, your meals and what you eat should be treated with the same importance.
So, I quickly jotted down some key tips that are essential for meal planning. I hope they prove to be useful to you!
Have a set of recipes / meal ideas
Collect recipes and meal ideas that you like or want to try. By having a set of go-to recipes, you do not have to spend much time thinking about what you want to include in your week of meals. Keep a folder, either a physical one or online, that has a range of breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes. Try to include ones that have meals that can easily be transported around with you if you were to have them for lunch. Have a range of long and short recipes that you can alternate between depending on how much time you may have. Pinterest is always a good place to start, as is your mum or aunt’s recipe book. I have a few recipes on my blog too!
Make a plan
At the beginning of the week, make a plan of what you are going to eat each day. Make a table or simply write it in your diary. This should include your breakfast, lunch and dinner plus any snacks you want to have. Your recipe folder will come in handy when you are deciding what you want when. Take into consideration what else is happening that day and plan your meals around that. Are you going to the gym that day? Maybe look for high protein meal ideas for those days. Are you working until late? Perhaps choose a recipe that is short and easy. Work to prepare your lunch the night before, rather than the morning so you are super prepared in the unfortunate situation of a late wake up.
Keep left overs in mind when planning your meals. If you know you have a busy couple of days which mean it will be hard to make some dinner, prepare a larger portion of food the night before so you are prepared. Perhaps take leftovers from dinner as your lunch for the next day. This mind set helps you be much more productive with your time in the kitchen and helps you prevent food from going to waste.
Buy your ingredients
Knowing what you plan to eat for the week makes grocery shopping easy and productive. Based on your weekly plan, write out all the ingredients you are in need and head to buy just those. This helps avoid the temptation to buy things that you are trying to avoid (yes the sweets and chocolate!). Want to know a benefit of that? You also save on money because you will not be buying things simply because you want to. You will only be buying items that you need hence reducing the chance of waste. Some items you should try to have in your cupboards, ready and waiting. You can read my (continuously growing) healthy eating grocery list of essential items here.
Check what is on sale
Going with the above, if you notice that some items in your local grocery shop are on sale – work around those. This is a great tip for those of us wanting to eat healthy on a budget. This is working slightly backwards from what I mentioned above because I told you to plan your meals then buy food, right? If dry items that will keep are on sale, use these as the basis for your next week. If it is fresh items, like veg, work them into your recipes or change some aspects of it. The key to meal planning is to be adaptable. It is not about being stuck on a diet plan and never expanding your wings – that is the route to disaster because we should not constrict ourselves.
Some things can be cooked in batches and kept to make your life easier. You may decide you want to have tomato pasta on a Monday for dinner and Thursday for lunch. Make a larger portion of sauce and freeze half to be used the next time round.
I hope these ideas have helped you realise meal planning and being prepared is not something that is as scary as it seems. It really does help you be more productive. I would love to hear what you think – leave a comment below!