Posted by Caroline Lazur, Registered Dietitian
February 11, 2014
I’m not a planner in all aspects of my life and I appreciate spontaneity and surprises, but when it comes to my meals, I plan. It is something that I don’t even recognize I’m doing! Most likely, planning has become so second nature to me because I studied nothing but nutrition and food for 5 years; food is the main topic of discussion at my job and I’m a huge foodie! I simply find myself reading restaurant menus more than books and inventing healthy recipes at night in bed!
Even though food is my profession, I think everyone can make meal planning become second nature to them as well as an enjoyable activity! When you plan and prep your meals in advance, it makes life easier, but it’s also really important if you are trying to eat healthier or lose weight.
Depending on your schedule or what is going on in your life, meal prep can go in a few directions. Because I eat breakfast and lunch in the hospital cafeteria, I plan ahead the day before or even an hour or two before meals based on the weekly menu or what I know is offered. Weeks that I do not feel like eating the cafeteria food I specifically plan out those meals and pack everything up in separate containers (or double up portions and leave in my office fridge). Dinner is where I get more of my creative juices flowing and for me it requires most of my purchasing and prep. Here are the steps I normally take to plan my meals.
Step One: I will normally create or find some recipes the night before or on Sunday for the week. I might find a fun meal from some of my favorite websites (try skinnytaste.com, epicurious.com or hungrygirl.com!) or something from a magazine, or a healthy recipe I invented, but have yet to try (which are not always successful). A lot of my meals during the week are simple and I save the fun/more advanced meals for the weekends when I have more time to actually enjoy the cooking process.
Hungrygirl.com is one of my favorite places for easy, little prep recipes for busy weeks or I just stick to “The Plate Method” and prepare a quick lean protein with a fiber-rich starch and roasted or steamed veggies seasoned with herbs and spices.
Step Two: After you’ve planned your meals, consult your kitchen for the ingredients you already have, and make your list. Decide which ingredients it makes sense to buy cooked or cleaned ahead of time and which ingredients you’ll prepare from scratch.
Step Three: Cook! Set aside a few hours and prepare and pack up all of your meals. For me it is mainly dinner, so I will cook a meal on Friday or Saturday and usually cook enough so I have extra I can freeze and use it during the week. For those who also need to pack for breakfast and lunch, make some time to prepare those meals as well so they are ready to grab on your way out the door!
Don’t forget to also research restaurant menus before an event to prevent making an unhealthy choice because you didn’t look up calorie information or basing your decision off of what others order. Chain restaurants all have the calorie information available online and for other restaurants that do not have this info available, choose words like steamed, grilled, broiled, roasted, baked. Avoid food that is creamy, fried or tempura sautéed, or served with lot of sauce or gravy.
If you find yourself eating whatever is accessible because you are hungry, try to set some of these as goals to work on for your week. For example, “I will plan my breakfast and lunch for the week on Sunday and take an hour before bed to prep those two meals each night.” Track how you do each day and see how simply planning prevents you from choosing unhealthy foods just because they are available! Also find ways to make each step fun for you so it becomes something you enjoy a little more. Do step 3 with a friend, family member or significant other each week and share the results! For step 2, try exploring new grocery stores while you are out on the weekend or make going to a local farmer’s market a weekend event with family or friends! For step 1, take some “me” time and do this at a coffee shop or book store or maybe while you are getting a pedicure ;) . Eventually you can make meal planning a permanent habit!