Let me start by saying that I am certainly not perfect when it comes to planning my meals. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I quit, sometimes I just eat junk food for a week because heck, we’re on vacation and I’ll start back up on Monday. But what I will admit is the fact that I do love planning my meals and attempting to make healthier decisions for my body. Throughout my nutrition and fitness journey, I have picked up a few tricks of the trade when it comes to making these healthier decisions, and what it looks like to choose a balanced life day-after-day. AKA, my “hidden secrets” to making a meal plan every week.
So if you’ve been fumbling around trying to think of a meal planning system, and keep slipping up halfway through the week, then these “hidden secrets” may just be the key to finally getting you on track to a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Eat what you like
I think newcomers to the world of meal planning always feel all planned meals have to be super healthy and nutritious—which, I will let you know right now, will end up in complete failure. When you take a 180 on your eating lifestyle, your body won’t be able to keep up and you’ll be ordering take out come day two of your meal plan. Instead of trying to plan meals around nutritious superfoods—like quinoa, kale, or spaghetti squash—choose foods that you actually enjoy eating, keeping your meals as an enjoyable experience. For example, I love eating rice and sweet potatoes. They are still carbs, but I would rather eat these than pasta or bread products. I usually plan meals around foods that I like to eat, like chicken, ground beef, sausage, zucchini, spring greens, broccoli, beans, bell peppers, and much more. Forget trying to eat super healthy (& expensive) foods that you actually don’t enjoy. Keep eating food that you like, and you’ll find yourself having a more successful experience.
Plan dinners that take 30 minutes or less to make
I do love cooking every night—but if it takes more than 30 minutes, I’m OUT. I am in no mood to cook hours on end after working all day, and maybe even attempting a workout when I get home. I try to choose meals that I know won’t take a ton of time to prep. For example, I have a chicken enchilada recipe that takes a simple 15 minutes to throw together. Yes, it takes 30 minutes to cook in the oven after that, but it still didn’t take a ton of effort on my end to put it together. I know for a fact (because yes, I have done this) that planning 5-weekday dinners that take over 45 minutes to make will evidently make me want to quit by day three. I found that a simple 30 minutes is a healthy stopping point for trying to put together your evening meal.
Don’t get fancy with it
I know it’s tempting to want to put together fancy recipes from Pinterest when trying to meal plan, but trust me, the more complicated you make it the tougher it will get later in the week. Try to keep it simple by planning all of your meals around a simple grocery list. For example, if I pick up a bag of sweet potatoes, you know I’ll be planning for at least 3 of my dinners to have sweet potatoes in it during the week. 3 pounds of chicken? That could easily make a delicious chicken rice bowl for lunches, and two other meals with chicken in it for dinner. Try to keep it as simple as possible. The more complicated you make it, the harder (& more expensive) it will be for you to keep up with it during the week.
Use a simple meal planning system
Let me take a while guess on how your current meal planning process works. You sit down at your computer, pull out a pad and pen, and write down five dinner recipes, one lunch recipe, and one breakfast recipe to make in bulk for the week. Then you look at all of those recipes, write down all of the ingredients you need, and end up with a ginormous grocery list. Sound familiar? Trust me, I’ve been there multiple times before—which is why I created a simple meal planning system that will help you to create five meals, and your to-go breakfast and lunches, with a simple grocery list that I guarantee, will cost you much less compared to your list before. Want to get my system? I have a free e-book How To Meal Prep In Less Than Two Hours that I will give you, completely for free!
Good snacks set you up for success
How many times have you made a trip to your local pharmacy during your 4 p.m. snack craving during your work day? Or maybe a quick binge as soon as you get home? It is a terrible weakness of mine, and something I try to avoid at all costs by having a few healthier snacks on hand. If you plan out two or three snacks ahead of time, then you will feel way better about having a snack break towards the end of your day. Because let’s be real, one terrible snack break can lead to a binge, which can lead to quitting the original meal plan you started.
Give yourself some breathing room
I think this is probably going to be the most important point that I am going to explain to you when it comes to being successful with your meal planning. Give yourself a break. If you decide to go out to eat and get burgers or make a huge skillet of homemade mac & cheese with your husband at home (guilty as charged), don’t beat yourself up. We are human, this is life, and mac & cheese tastes so good that sometimes you just can’t say no. After a small cheat such as this, it’s easy to just give up. What’s difficult is giving yourself some grace and continuing with your meal plan as much as you can afterward. To err is human, and we all need to enjoy life a little. So if you take a small break for a meal or a snack, don’t sweat it. Just make sure you hop back into it!