Meal planning is so necessary! I know it's a pain, but fail to plan = plan to fail! And we don't wanna fail.
Here's the super simple bottom line, if you want to have delicious and nourishing foods at your fingertips, it’s going to require a little thought and planning. Unfortunately the healthy food fairy, like the dirty dishes fairy, is not real... so she's not going to sneak some meals in your fridge while you get your beauty rest (haha, what's beauty rest, right moms?). Instead of waiting for a fairy that isn't gonna show, I do some simple meal planning. This is not a HUGE meal plan, just a no muss no fuss way to make my life easier, not more cumbersome. There are meal plans out there that are extremely detailed, but I tend to focus on very simple meal planning.
Good nutrition doesn’t have to mean hours of searching for recipes, planning, writing long ingredient lists, making an excel spreadsheet, food prep, chopping, peeling, and slicing. It also does not mean that you have to make 20 identical containers filled with the same ingredients for each day of the week. How boring is that?!
Instead, I would like to show you how I meal plan. I start with knowing which foods are good foods! I want to feed myself whole foods... vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats. I know which foods I like from each category. I also have an arsenal of Clean Eating Recipes that I love! I rotate them out each month, adding a few newbies here and there. My first step, I plan dinners for 14 days, usually I include 10-12 dinner ideas, because the other days I know we will likely eat out (yep, I still eat out!). Then, once I've got those dinner ideas, I make a list of the ingredients I need and I head off to the grocery store. What about other meals? For me, dinner is the biggie! My breakfast and lunch meals are simple, so if I have enough yummy food in the house, I can always find something healthy to eat during breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I make sure my cart is filled with all my clean eating staples...
Coffee (wait what? LOL, gotta have coffee in my cart!)
And as long as I have plenty of great foods on hand, I'm set. It really helps me to plan out some very simple ideas for breakfast and lunch, very broad (muffins, eggs, toast, chicken salad, wraps, green salad) then at least I know I have the ingredients for those things on hand.
You can use your local grocery store, a buy in bulk grocery store like Costco or Sam’s Club, and for some healthy and specific foods, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Whole Foods and even a farmer's market. I personally go to Costco, Von’s, and then Trader Joe's/Sprouts. And I meal plan for 14 days at a time so I only have to do this twice a month! Easy Peasy!
Now let’s make YOUR Meal Plan!
Here’s a foolproof way to plan meals:
1. Make a list of your favorite foods.
First, make a list of all the foods you love which are (relatively) healthy. Think of all the possible food categories: meats, dairy, fruits, veggies, fats, grains, nuts and seeds. Visit here for a list of foods that you should be eating on a daily basis, and some that you should be avoiding!
I don’t “DIET,” instead I have a lifestyle that helps me eat according to my goals. Eating for weight loss or fitness goals means balancing good nutrition with foods that you enjoy. I can make almost any recipe into a clean recipe, I have many clean eating desserts that I enjoy, but there are "those" foods in which you just cannot modify to be clean. One of those for me is cheeseburgers, I do buy lean meat, however I do not enjoy turkey or veggie burgers. So every now and then, I'm going to have an actual burger! If you forget to tick off some foods that fulfill your “satisfaction factor” you will be getting your arm workout while reaching into a bag of Cheetos a hundred times...which, contrary to popular belief, is not the kind of exercise we are going for!
On your list, don’t just write down foods you think are healthy and you SHOULD eat, but write down decent food choices that you LOVE. Then figure out where you can balance that in.
2. Start planning your dinners.
Working with your Favorite Foods List, begin to plug in your favorite dishes. I start with dinner first because dinner is generally when I need to exercise my creativity and feed myself and my family. Check to see if there are any nights you will dine out and note those days on your planner. I plan for two weeks at a time, and I never know when we will decide to eat out or head over to my parent’s house, so I just plan for 10-12 meals instead of 14. Then I have some leeway for 2 eat out options, whichever night that may fall on.
When I plan out my two weeks of recipes, I use the notes application in my iphone to jot down either general notations like “chicken” or specifically name my favorite chicken dishes such as “Chicken Parmesan.” My list always includes specific dinner ideas that I can use throughout the week. I cook for 4, so I need a plan for each day to make sure I have enough groceries to fulfill these two weeks! Then, I add the ingredients for my chicken parmesan, for example, to my shopping list.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be hard!
3. Simplify breakfast and lunch.
Generally I choose two or three lunches and breakfasts and rotate them throughout the week. I hate lunch actually, I have to force it down! But I hate breakfast too, and I've already had my Shakeology, so lunch ends up being actual food, not my delicious feels-like-a-cheat-meal shake.
If you are new to meal planning, start out SIMPLE. Maybe just choose two breakfast meals, two lunches, and a few dinners and rotate. And WRITE IT OUT!!!
4. Don’t forget to include snacks and desserts.
To be sure you have healthy snack options in the house, write some possible snack choices on your list.
Be careful not to use snacking as an opportunity to graze all day. I know, it’s hard. I’m a grazer, and it totally rubbed off on my daughter. I plan to have 5-6 small meals a day, so I eat a small snack 2-3 hours after breakfast and then 2-3 hours after lunch and sometimes I sneak in an after dinner snack, aka dessert!
5. Transfer the ingredients for your meals onto the Shopping List.
Use your meal plan as a guide to create your shopping list. This is where having recipes is helpful so that you can write out all the ingredients you'll need. Or if you go simple for dinner, protein/veggie/carb, grab enough lean meats, veggies, and something like quinoa or brown rice to get you through the week. Or if you follow a recipe, make sure the ingredients of the recipe get transferred to your shopping list.
If you work outside the home or have multiple kiddos that need attention at home, prepping may be beneficial for you! Prep fruits and veggies for easy salads and snacks!
6. Prep your food to make building meals a snap.
It’s easy to buy fresh fruits and veggies at the store, but when dinner time rolls around after a long day at work, often we are too tired, frazzled or otherwise not inclined to spend loads of time slicing veggies or cooking produce. Or your kids make your meal times really difficult, you just don't have time to cut anything, so you SNACK on something that isn't healthy or is healthy but is an extra carb that quite frankly, you don’t need.
One tip is to think about what foods you can prepare in advance. Maybe cook a big batch of rice to use throughout the week, or wash and chop fruit and veggies into bite-sized pieces. Try grilling chicken breasts for lunch or throw a roast in the crockpot on the weekend to be sliced and eaten in sandwiches throughout the week. When you're making your meal plan, plan for easy grab and go snacks and prep those in advance.
One component missing in nutrition plans is the satisfaction factor. I cannot follow someone else’s plan to the letter because it won’t suit my personal taste and dietary needs. Experiment to find what foods YOU enjoy, what foods make YOUR body feel good, what foods fill YOU up and flood your body with nutrients. Find healthy recipes that your family loves and rotate those, you’ll get so good at making them that you know the ingredients off to top of your head.
My Personal Meal Plan
People are always asking me "but what do YOU eat?" So here it is! This is a sample of my meal plan, on any given week, it usually looks the same! Shakeology, plus other lean proteins, lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, a carb here and there, and healthy fats (which are my addiction).
Before I eat my breakfast, I have a large glass of water to get everything circulating, improve digestion, and help my my body shed toxins. Then, I'll have coffee with a couple tablespoons of unsweetened vanilla almond milk and a dash of stevia... there are times I want something more creamy, so I'll use half at half sometimes, or coconut milk, or my homemade pumpkin spice creamer
Each morning I workout on an empty stomach, well, just coffee. And then after my workout I drink the most delicious breakfast every, Shakeology!
My usual recipe is:
1 Scoop of Chocolate or Vanilla Shakeology
1 cup of green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
1 tablespoon of nut butter, usually peanut butter
4 ounces of water, 4-6 ounces of unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 cup of ice
* Sometimes I add in rolled oats or chia seeds, but most often the recipe above.
Blend and enjoy! It's like a cheat meal.
2-3 hours later I have my mid morning snack, which is typically some kind of fruit, usually one of these options:
* 1 apple with 1 tbsp all natural almond/peanut butter.
* 3/4 cup of lowfat cottage cheese with 1 cup of pineapple.
* 1 cup of strawberries
Lunch for me is typically some kind of salad or lettuce wrap.
1 piece of grilled chicken on a salad, with added vegetables or fruits like strawberries, apples, cucumber, peppers, onion, etc, and some feta cheese and nuts with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Or 2 romaine lettuce spears with chicken, veggies, cheese, and dressing inside. Something easy, and usually something that has been prepped in advance! If I'm really on top of my meal prep, I'll have some chicken salad on hand! And it does help to cook a few chicken breasts in the crock pot and have them ready!
Always drink a big glass of water with meals!
Usually some raw vegetables, whatever I have on hand, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, red/orange peppers and hummus.
Usually chicken of some sort and veggies and maybe a carb, because my husband can't live without them! I know we are typically supposed to use carbs in the beginning of the day, but that doesn't workout for my family, so we have carbs with dinner. If I'm really focusing on dropping weight, I'll eliminate them at dinner time, but typically I'm just enjoying a healthy lifestyle and carbs at dinner doesn't bother me. I use sweet potatoes a lot of times and brown rice and quinoa at other times. Check out my eating clean recipes for more ideas.
Snack, aka dessert!
If I am still hungry in the evenings, scratch that, okay let's face it, I'm not hungry I just want a treat! So, I will have this amazing little dessert!
And that's it! The basics of my meals that keep me satisfied and healthy.