Original post: 6/11/22; Updated post: 4/19/23
Meal planning is one of the best ways to live a healthier lifestyle. Whether you are trying to lose weight, put on muscle mass, save money, or have more of a routine, meal planning is an easy way to achieve your goals.
What is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is exactly what it sounds like. Planning and preparing your meals in advance for a certain time period. Most people do not have the time to cook 3 nutritional meals a day, so planning ahead is a successful way to work around a busy schedule.
It allows you to include your favorite foods while maintaining a proper diet. Not only can it be done for one person, but it can also involve the entire household. The design around meal planning is to schedule your grocery store trips around it.
Meal planning is not as hard as one might think. To be successful at it, you need commitment and consistency. Find meals you like, make the effort to prepare, and enjoy.
Eating healthy is hard in this era with all the fast food and restaurant options out there. Cooking does take time and it is much quicker to go through a drive-thru instead. However, you are not getting proper nutrition from eating out and in the long run, you are spending more money too.
When people are hungry, they tend to eat whatever they can get the quickest. A lot of times it is something unhealthy like snacks, frozen meals, or fast food. With meal planning, it resolves that issue because you have quality foods already made.
Meal planning allows you to include more balanced, and nutrient-dense options in your life. It is a great way to eat more vegetables, fruits, proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates more often. Home-cooked meals contain less salt, sugar, preservatives, and chemicals.
Another health benefit of meal planning is it can help with weight loss or muscle gain. The key to both is portion control. Planning meals really shows you how much you are actually eating. Restaurants have very large portions, and it is a shock to a lot of new meal planners.
Meal planning makes it easy to count calories since you are preparing the food.
For weight loss, you want to eat in a calorie deficit – eating fewer calories than your maintenance. If you can stick to a healthy plan, the weight loss results should come over time. If you are a couple trying to lose weight, it is a fun and results-driven way to do so. Be creative, switch things up, and try new foods.
For muscle gain eat in a calorie surplus – more calories than your maintenance. You also want to include a lot of proteins and carbs in your planning.
Finally, it can bring more variety to your diet. When we are busy, it is easy to make the same thing again and again. Meal planning can ensure you are eating something different every week and trying new foods.
By having meals planned ahead of time, it can eliminate the stress of deciding what to make. Especially for families, it is stressful to decide what to make after a long day's work. Instead, you have a nutritious meal already on the table.
Eating out is expensive nowadays. Going out for a nice family meal is totally okay, but multiple times a week can add up. The price of take-out can cost up to as much as 4 home cooked meals.
Planning out your monthly meals can save you a good chunk of money on your food bills. A list of what you need is already made, and it lowers the chance of impulse buying.
Meal planning makes one more aware of how much they spend on food. Leftovers are another way to avoid spending and create another meal in itself.
When you go to the grocery store with a list of everything you need, it helps prevent food in the fridge from going to waste.
Time is valuable and planning meals for the week can help with time management. A lot of time is spent, deciding what to eat, going to the grocery store multiple times a week, cooking, and cleaning. Having meals already ready to go can save you all that wasted time.
Strategies and Tips
To be successful at meal planning, you need to have a well-rounded plan. To start, consider these key factors.
Why are you meal planning? Weight or fat loss? Weight or muscle gain? To save money or just be more healthy. Whatever your goals are, once you decide it can help you decide what type of meals to make.
Build around what you do and do not like to eat. There are healthier foods out there and ones that fuel your body better than others. For those who are vegetarian or vegan or have other dietary restrictions, there are still ways to meal prep. Consider your and your families nutritional needs. Do your research based on your goals to decide the right plan.
Meal planning can assist in a more defined eating schedule. Plan around your daily schedule to fit all your meals in. Having a consistent eating schedule can help prevent cravings and unnecessary eating habits. Make time once a week to go to the grocery store and prepare your meals – it will save you time later.
The most important part is what kind of food to buy. First think about how long do you want your meals to last – a week, a few days? Decide if you want to prepare meals ahead of time or have a plan of what to cook each day. See what you already have in your pantry or fridge so you do not overbuy. Meal plans should be easy to make and should not take all day to prep.
There are plenty of recipes out there to choose from. Find ones you like and switch them up regularly. Take the time to stock up on everything you need.
For a healthy diet, focus on these food groups:
Carbohydrates: white or brown rice, oats, whole-grain bread/tortillas, pasta, quinoa
Proteins: chicken, turkey, red meats, fish, shrimp
Veggies: sweet potatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, hard greens, peppers, zucchini, squash, asparagus, beans
Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, berries, frozen fruit
Healthy Fats: eggs, nuts, avocados, nut butters
Besides the essential ingredients, make sure to get any condiments, oils, herbs, and spices you may need.
Once you have everything made, how are you going to store it? Using reusable to-go containers is a great way to bring meals on the go or to work. Glass containers are a good way to see what you have in the fridge and to keep everything organized.
Do not be afraid to use a variety of kitchen tools to cook your meals. Incorporate cooking with the stove, oven, grill, crockpot, or rice cookers to make different meal options.
Having a running grocery list of everything you need is a good way to stay consistent and organized. You always know what you need to buy for the week and anything you may be out of.
#4 Have fun and be creative
Meal planning seems stressful, but it can actually be a lot of fun. Your cooking skills may improve and you can make a lot of cool new recipes. Be creative with it and add your own mark. Cooking is a great way to spend time with a partner or family. The best part once you are done is actually eating the meals. Finally, it can lead to a healthier and more enjoyable lifestyle.
Meal planning is a tedious task and can be difficult to stick with. It does get easier with routine, especially once you find meals and recipes that taste good. Keep your goals in mind and with dedication, you will see them come to fruition. Having a plan for meals makes life less stressful when you do not have to worry about “what to eat?” anymore.