I must confess I am a meal planner! One of the most challenging barriers to a healthy lifestyle is mastering meals that fit your diet, goals and busy schedule. We can all agree our days are jam-packed with everlasting to-do lists, so meals often get put on the backburner.
I travel frequently in the summer months for both work and pleasure, as my family and friends live far away. For me, meal planning is determining what travel snacks I’ll bring to have on hand and where I plan to enjoy my meals on the road. I often look at restaurant menus and call the hotel to see what kind of meals they serve. I never leave a trip without protein bars and my homemade Pumpkin Oat Banana Bites.
I am going to share some tips and tricks so planning and prepping your weekly meals can be easy and you can start each week on the right track. Whether it’s packing lunch each day or making a big pot of soup to enjoy all week, make it part of your schedule so you set yourself up to accomplish your goals for optimal health and success!
- Take Time to Save Time
The whole purpose of meal planning is to save time preparing and planning food. Take the time you need to plan meals and even prep food for the week so you don’t waste more time figuring out solutions daily, or even worse resorting to unhealthy options because you’re in a time crunch or don’t have access to healthy alternatives.
- Identify Your Inventory & Tidy Up
Growing up my mother was known for her outrageously stocked fridge. Every time you opened it something was bound to fall out! Check your fridge and pantry to see what you can “use up”. Choosing a few dry or frozen goods like pasta, grains and frozen veggies can help you start the menu brainstorming process. While you’re going through options, keep things organized to save time during cooking and weekday prep.
See what days Jimmy has baseball and Annie is staying late for study group. Maybe your partner is out of town and you need to play chef this week, or you’re solo and should be mindful of how much you make for one. Meal prep and planning is different for everyone. Start by making a simple chart for your household with the meal schedule and what ingredients you need. It can be as simple has seven days and the number of meals needed for each day. Block off meals that are covered, like school lunch or date night. Use MyPlate to build and maintain your healthy eating style.
- Create a Menu
Consider the items you’d like to use up in your pantry, any nutritional needs of those enjoying the meals, and cuisines or recipes you’d like to try this week to add variety. Think of menu items you can make once then eat a few different times, for example roasting vegetables in an omelet for breakfast, then having them cold over a salad for lunch and heated up as a side for dinner.
- Prepare a list and shop
Nowadays there are so many online meal prep companies, stores that provide coupons and weekly sales, and websites where you find discounted products. Consider your kitchen inventory, what foods are in season and available locally and if you will be taking advantage of any sales.
If you’re preparing food, carve out some time and make multiple things at once. Bake proteins, roast veggies and steam grains in bulk. Cut fruit to grab for breakfast, snacks and dessert. If it’s ready to eat, you’re more likely to reach for it. Store prepped items in individual ready-to-eat containers or in bulk so you can create-as-you-go and have flexibility. With a little strategizing and organizing, preparing healthy meals can be easy.
- Soup, Slow-cooker & Snacks
These three things could very well make or break your meal planning game. Soup is a simple way to add variety in meals by making a base from broth, veggies and herbs, then adding a protein (chicken, turkey, ground beef, shrimp) and carb (rice, farro, quinoa or pasta). Slow-cookers save you time in the meal prep process, not to mention they add some serious flavor! Snacks can fit into a healthy eating plan and provide an energy boost between meals, if they’re planned right.
Try these tips and best of luck with your meal planning endeavors!