I have updated this post from 2015 and am sharing again!
Meal planning is one of the easiest ways to dramatically improve your nutrition so I am going to break it down to some easy, manageable steps. I would argue meal planning is probably one of the best uses of your time all week. I’m sure we could all cut back on some sitting time to get up and plan our meals. Here is how to do it:
Step One: Find a time that you can devote 15-20 minutes to looking up healthy recipes online or if you already have some that you like, choose 5 meals that you think you would enjoy eating over the course of the upcoming week. These recipes do not have to have 20+ ingredients. We want healthy, but they can be simple. It’s also best to have whole ingredients. By that, I mean, we can actually identify each ingredient in its natural form. We aren’t opening boxes or cans and dumping in pre-made or pre-mixed items. After doing this long enough, you will have a binder full of quick and easy recipes that are healthy.
Step Two: Once you have your recipes, grab a pen and start your grocery list. Hopefully your weekly shopping list includes lots of fresh, whole foods and the usual items that you consume or need on a regular basis. I have actually gone one step further and I have a typed-up, printed list that I hang up and just add things throughout the week. This saves me from rewriting all of those items I get on a regular basis.
Step Three: Once you have your list of weekly items and ingredients that you need, head to the grocery store. Try to go after you have eaten so that you will be less likely to fall for impulse purchases, or things that “sound so good right now”. If you have children, I recommend leaving them home if at all possible. It is their sole mission in life to fall for every marketing ploy at the store and you don’t want to be getting things that aren’t on the list.
Step Four: Once you get home you can begin to wash and cut up fruits and vegetables to take in your lunch or as snacks throughout the week. You could also do some basic food prep for your recipes for the week if you wanted to save some time as well.
Step Five: During the week, when you prepare the recipes that you have chosen, you might consider preparing two dinners each time that you cook. This will cut your time in the kitchen to only 3 days a week versus 5-7. Healthy meals also make healthy leftovers for lunches the next day.
The most efficient use of time is to find one day a week to do all of this but sometimes your schedule will leave you having to do it twice. It may take up to 2-3 hours to complete on any given day. This may seem like a lot to someone who hasn’t been doing this. However, it has some major advantages including:
- It improves the overall quality of what you are eating.
- It helps cut out engineered, processed, preservative laden food.
- You have a better sense of exactly what you are eating and where it is coming from.
- It can increase the amount of fresh, whole foods that you are eating.
- Allows you to cut out unnecessary, unhealthy calories if you would like to do so.
- It reduces money spent on food. Dining out is expensive.
- It saves time. By thinking and planning ahead you no longer have to stop to pick up food during the week.
- It helps you feel better. When you have healthy foods ready to go, you can eat and snack when you need to and be ready to perform.
- Preparing food is absolutely essential for those people looking to add muscle mass. An increase in overall calories and meal timing are very important in order to achieve that. If you don’ t have healthy snacks and meals prepared, you can’t eat every 3-4 hours like you need to.
- It shows children and families that good, healthy food is not always convenient. We get constant messaging in our society that food has to be quick and quantity is king. We all know that these things are not always good for health.
- It allows children and families to be involved in preparing their own food which is critical in terms of developing healthy eating habits.
- It allows children and families to spend quality time together.
If good health is a priority, then it would make sense that you spend time on it. Good nutrition takes work, but it’s worth it.