I’m always looking for ideas to help make meal planning easier… anyone relate??
If you say NO, I’m packing up my family and coming to your house for dinner every night next week! I mean, really… We normal folk who’re responsible for putting meals on the table day in, day out need a little inspiration now and then… or a little relief. We’ll take either one!
Now that my diet has become very structured due to my new competition training program, I’ve had to be very proactive about my meal planning. It was a steep learning curve at first… yes, even for your dietitian! You guys may think I’ve always have my meals planned out from now til next May, but I’d be lying if I said it was true.
The more usual scenario was me walking into the kitchen at 5:30pm, opening the fridge and going, “Hmm… I wonder if we should just have pita bread pizzas again… oh shoot, the pitas are moldy.”
But things have changed now that I NEED to eat healthy foods regularly throughout the day. No more grabbing a handful of this or that… and certainly no more fly-by-night dinners. What’s helped me immensely is getting my planning game going again… and I’ll pass along my best tips to you:
- Shop ahead and make use of your freezer: I buy several packs of frozen fruit (for smoothies & to top oatmeal), as well as a kilo of chicken, fish, & turkey breast, then divide it into meal-sized portions in freezer bags and store it in the freezer. The fish is IQF (individually quick frozen), so it just goes straight in. It’s such a comfort knowing you can just grab something out of the freezer instead of having to make a trip to the store.
- Spend time one day a week doing advance prep & cooking: this is probably the most biggest contributor to my eating well these past several weeks. This is what I have on hand at the moment, and it’s representative of what I prepare each week:
- Brown rice &/or quinoa: to add to lunch salads, to mix into veggie burgers, or for a snack with some baked tofu & veggies
- Sweet potatoes: to eat by themselves or in sweet potato pancakes for snacks
- Chicken breast: to chop up on lunch salads, or for the kids to snack on when they come home from school
- Washed lettuce &/or kale, along with kale chip seasoning: for salads or kale chips… if you keep it in paper towels in a sealed plastic bag, your washed greens should last a week in the fridge.
- Smoothie packs: I make 4-5 days worth of various flavours both for breakfast smoothies and snack bowls, putting all the ingredients except the spinach, almond milk &/or tofu into a small baggie in the freezer, so that when it’s time to eat, all I have to do is dump the pack along with the few fresh ingredients into my Vitamix, blend, & it’s done! So much easier than measuring out everything day by day. My morning smoothie packs have frozen pineapple &/or papaya plus protein powder, and my smoothie bowl packs contain frozen fruit (blueberry/papaya, raspberry/papaya, or banana/cocoa powder), hemp seeds, & protein powder. Feel free to experiment with your own flavour combos.
- Have a basic structure in place that you swap recipes in and out of: Here’s how it works for me: breakfast is my green smoothie with a bowl of oatmeal topped with almond butter (or other nut butter), and lunch is soup or a big salad with tons of veggies, rice or other carb & some kind of protein (usually my advance-cooked chicken or sometimes salmon.) Dinners are planned this way: Monday & Wednesday I cook fish (fish tacos, broiled salmon with honey mustard, pan-seared halibut with zataar spice), Tuesday it’s vegetarian (baked tofu, lentil bolognese, chickpea curry, or veggie burgers like these), & Thursday is chicken (roasted whole chicken, chicken curry, or marinated chicken breast (I use a mixture of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, coconut sugar, dijon mustard, & black pepper), and Friday nights I either make pizza or we have leftovers, depending on my energy level! This is just an example of how your structure could work… go with whatever suits your tastes & preferences. But when you have a basic plan in mind, it helps. Then I fill in with starches such as potatoes, rice, pasta & quinoa, and green or fibrous veggies and/or salad. When prepping veggies, refer to point #4:
- Cook (or chop) double veggies always: because you might go in the fridge & eat cooked (or cut & prepared) veggies with hummus for a snack… but you sure as heck ain’t gonna fix ’em right then when you’re hungry! Which brings me to my last point:
- Plan your snacks in advance of being hungry for them: how many times do we innocently wander into the kitchen, slightly hungry but we don’t really know for what… and then 800 calories later, completely regret diving face-first into the brand-new jar of Nutella… or the rest of the vegan turtles… not like this has ever happened to me. But to help prevent this from happening, I’ve been planning in advance what I’m going to eat and having it ready… for example, this chocolate chia pudding (easy to make 2-3 at once), banana oat cookies, energy bites like pictured below (or try my espresso energy balls!) or even just cut up fresh fruit.
Yes, it does take some time… but it’s so worth it in terms of the time you’ll save later in the kitchen, the money you’ll save by not eating out in desperation, and the satisfaction you’ll get in knowing you’ll be nourishing yourself (and your family!) with real, healthy foods.
Please share your own tips in the comments section… I’d love to hear what works for you! Happy weekend, friends!