Health & Fitness, Healthy Eating & Dieting

5 Tips for Meal Planning and the Benefits Behind It

It still amazes me when I hear that some people don’t do any sort of meal prep or planning. I don’t remember what my life was like before really diving into it, but I’m sure it was much more stressful. How many times have you woken up in the morning and not known what you are going to eat that day? How many of those days do you just end up eating junk because it’s easier?

Here are 5 things to keep in mind when you decide to start meal planning and how you will benefit from it.

Plan it out

Take some time to plan your meals for the following week. Think about what you would like to eat and what ingredients you already have on hand. I like to look through the flyers each week and see what’s on sale. It can help give me ideas of what to cook and helps cut down on costs. If you plan on making a bigger meal one day, figure out how you can work in the leftovers through the rest of the week.

Some examples:

  • One day I made a ham in the slow cooker for supper. The following day I made a quiche using some of the leftovers and a ham & pasta casserole the day after that.
  • I made BBQ pulled pork fajitas for supper one night and the following day I used some of the leftover pork in a wrap with lettuce and tomatoes.

Planning your meals like this cuts down on unexpected runs to the grocery store and food waste by ensuring that your leftovers don’t end up in the trash. Not to mention, when you wake up each morning you will know exactly what you are eating that night. No hemming and hawing or forgetting to take the meat out of the freezer!

Keep it simple

The easiest way to plan your meals is to have overlapping ingredients. As I mentioned above, buy something bigger and figure out how you can utilize the leftovers for the rest of the week. Or if you want to try a new recipe that includes an ingredient that you need to purchase, look up other recipes that incorporate the same item.

If you do get bored with meals easily, try and use different seasonings or marinades. If you enjoy having salads, have a couple different dressings on hand that you can rotate through to add some new flavour. Try some different seasonings on your veggies, cinnamon is surprisingly good with paprika on potatoes!

Make time

After you have put away your groceries, see what you can prep ahead of time. This is especially great if you want to have an easy lunch that’s all ready by the time noon rolls around. The time involved with meal prep can see a bit daunting at first. You may have to spend a couple hours in your kitchen chopping, roasting, seasoning, grilling and cooking your food. Make sure you give yourself adequate time to make all the food and take care of the clean-up after. Keep in mind, doing it all at once is much easier than having to do it every day.

If you’re okay having the same thing for lunch every day, go with that. Grill some chicken, roast some veggies and portion it out for the week. The more simple your ingredients are, the easier and quicker the meal prep is. You are going to feel so overwhelmed if you decide to have 5 different types of meat in your lunch through the week. It takes a lot longer to cook all those different types of meat and the extra expense adds up.

Prepping some of the food can also ensure that you actually use it. If I cut and wash my lettuce that same day, then I will use it for salads at supper through the week. If I haven’t cut it by the time supper has come along, I’m looking at a full head of lettuce with no desire to prepare it. Cutting my fruit also and veggies also ensure that I indulge in a healthy snack rather than grabbing some quick junk food. You can make breakfast easier by cooking up some bacon on Sunday and having that with scrambled eggs through the week. Doesn’t that sound better than another bowl of cereal?

Focus on balance

The nice thing about planning out your meals ahead of time is that you can make sure you get a balance of nutrients throughout the day. If you have a breakfast that has some extra carbs in it, balance it out with a lower carb lunch. Make sure you are portioning out your carbs, fats and protein so that you are getting a healthy amount of each. Don’t forget to include a mix of fruits & vegetables. Fruit can make a great, sweet, snack and vegetables are a great low-calorie and nutrient-dense way to add bulk to any meal.

Be flexible

Sometimes, things happen. Even though you have a plan set forth, something may come up that throws a wrench into that plan. Don’t fret over that. Give your plan some flexibility. I always have one day dedicated to leftovers and one for a low-maintenance meal. This allows me to switch days around a bit if needed. It’s okay if the ground beef has to sit in the fridge for one day after being thawed, it will still be fine the next day and I can have my Tuesday meal on Wednesday instead. No harm, no foul.

Sometimes it can be hard to start meal planning, but it’s well worth it at the end. Like any new habit, you just have to know the starting point and stick with it. After one month of trying, I bet you will never turn back.

Meal planning will allow you to be strategic with your grocery shopping and ultimately save money. It keeps you from running to the nearby fast food restaurant for lunch because you didn’t plan ahead enough to have food with you. It can keep you on track with your healthy lifestyle goals and will allow you to indulge at times that you really deserve it. Now, doesn’t that sound nice?

Do you like to meal planning? What have you found to be the most helpful with keeping on track?

Stay tuned, later this month I’ll be sharing some great grocery shopping tips that will kick this new habit up a notch.

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