Healthy weekly meal plan….I love the words, but stink at the process.
I can’t figure out why, but I never stick to the plan. I always buy enough produce to have plenty for the week, but can’t seem to take the next step of actually planning and cooking meals. Knowing how important this is for keeping the sweets eating down and ensuring D gets more veggies, I reached out to someone smarter than I on the subject!
Today Sara Oberle, RDN, LD of EatLaughDrink.com is going to give us her top 10 tips for successful meal planning. I’m so happy I stumbled on her gorgeous site which makes me feel lighter and happier!
1. Don’t plan the meal.
Okay, I know this sounds absolutely crazy that I’m talking about meal planning and then telling you not to plan your meal. Though what I mean here, is to not focus on the whole meal itself and instead only focus on one or two ingredients you want to use.
For example; instead of planning to make tacos one night and make a vegetable stir fry another night, you now plan to use lean turkey and beans one night and brown rice another night.
When you have all the ingredients you want to use for each night listed or planned out, that’s when you start to think about the meal, get the synapses popping and meal ideas flowing. This will help to eliminate a lot of pressure and stress to plan the whole meal right from the start and will actually make you more apt to keep meal planning in the future.
2. Write your ingredients/ ideas down.
I know this might be a given but I had to say it.
When you think of an ingredient or two that you want to use, or even a full meal, write it down.
Personally, if I don’t write my meal ideas down, I will completely forget them. Keep a notebook designated for your meal planning, grocery list and food ideas and just add to it whenever meal planning lighting strikes.Stink at meal planning, but want to get better?? @eatlaughdrink has 10 easy tips to save you!… Click To Tweet
3. Search for dishes using your main ingredient/s.
There are so many amazing resources for healthy recipes now a days. No longer do you have to go into a recipe book and flip through a million pages before finding the one.
Instead you can just go online, use your smart phone or computer and type in “dishes containing brown rice”, you’ll get thousands of hits! Now if you like to be experimental with your dish I say go with it, skip this step and let the ingredients fly. Though if you need more structure and aren’t as skilled in the kitchen, find a time to sit down, think of your main ingredients for the week and start searching for recipes.
Maybe only find 2-3 days worth at a time, index them, and then search again at another free time.4. Always keep “staple” foods on hand.
I would be nothing with out my main staple foods. I find myself night after night not knowing what to make when planning for the week. Though when I look in my pantry or fridge, I see my go-to foods and start brainstorming what I might use.
This also helps when you might forget to plan for a day or even the whole week. If you have these foods in your house, it makes it that much easier and less stressful to quickly make something healthy, like this Crispy Quinoa Salad.
Listed are a few staple foods that I find helpful (most also contain recipes on the back) and they always seem to pull me out of a “what’s for dinner” coma.
Staple Foods I Use: quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, lentils, tofu, frozen vegetables, garlic, spices (garlic powder, onion powder, curry, cumin, chili powered, salt, pepper), grated cheese, olive oil (like that even needed to be said), mixed greens/spinach, eggs, yogurt, lemons. 5. Don’t buy processed, unhealthy, pre-frozen/pre-packaged meals.
No matter how much planning and prep you might do for the week, it can all go down the drain when you’re tempted with an already prepared meal or dish (cough cough frozen pizza).
Frozen or pre-packaged vegetables, fruits and grains are however an exception (I explain this in step 8), but start to question the intention of this product when it speaks of sauces, and different flavorings. This can be a quick hint that it might be loaded with sodium as well as highly processed ingredients that provide your body with nothing but empty calories.
An easy-to-plan meal is also one of my favorites, Cranberry Orange Honey Oats. Breakfast can be one of the hardest meals of the day to consume but these oats can not only be made the night ahead, but they can also be made days ahead, so when that prep day strikes, make a couple batches and store for the week!6. Keep calm if you don’t have an ingredient.
If you’re missing a “side-kick” ingredient (what I call an ingredient that isn’t making up most of the meal or flavor), there are plenty of options to do without it.
If its a special type of vinegar or acid, use white wine vinegar or lemon juice in its place.
If it’s spicy ingredient just add garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes or ground pepper instead. You can also search the internet for alternative recipes or substitutions for that ingredient.Cook and freeze, plus 9 other tips to keep you on track with meal planning! Click To Tweet
Not having an ingredient can also give you an opportunity to be creative and perhaps whip up your own variation that you might like even better. This is also a good strategy for slowly weaning yourself into creating recipes from scratch, which is exactly how this Deconstructed Spring Roll recipe was born!7. Double one recipe so it makes for another meal.
If you find a recipe you really like, make enough so it can serve for lunch or dinner another day during the week. You can also search for recipes that might make more than you are planning on eating.
For example, my Drunken Lentil recipe makes about 6-8 servings, I make it for dinner one night and then have it as a side dish for dinner another night as well as for lunch during the week.
Also don’t be afraid to freeze your leftovers. This can help keep a healthy and homemade meal in your freezer for a night you just don’t feel like lifting a finger.
8. Cut corners when the corners are healthy.
I am a huge fan of using frozen vegetables and fruits, as well as already canned beans and locally made pastas.
If you’ve planed to have vegetable enchiladas one night, buy chopped and frozen peppers and broccoli instead of fresh. This can help same time as well as get rid of a little added stress when you know you have to chop a bunch of veggies.
Now of course fresh is technically best, but frozen is still packed with the full-on benefits of eating fruits and veggies.
If you use canned beans or legumes instead of cooking them yourself, just make sure to thoroughly rinse them. This can get rid of 30% of the sodium, and all you really need to do is just use less salt than the recipe might call for.
For my Three Bean (vegan) Chili recipe I use cooked beans from my prep day, but if I get caught up in life and forget to make beans for the week, I always keep a can or two on hand.9. When given extra time, prep.
Whenever I have a free moment I take this time to prep food that I am going to have for the week, this usually happens on Sundays. This means soaking and cooking beans, chopping vegetables to be used for snacks or recipes, or even making large batches of brown rice, quinoa and other grains.
Doing this can help save time when you’re otherwise crunched for time during the week. It can also help you stay on track with your health and personal goals.
When you’re hungry, it’s sometimes easier to go right to processed or convenient food, but if the convenient food is the healthy food (such as these lovely Parmesan Garlic Roasted Chickpeas or already chopped carrot sticks) then this can help you avoid choosing the unhealthy option.
10. Take time to appreciate and enjoy the food you make.
This is the simplest, yet what I believe to be one of the most important steps to meal planning and eating healthy. When you sit down to the meal you just prepared, take a couple of seconds to think about all the love, the effort and time you put into that dish.
Turn off all distractions (even if its just for 5 minutes) and in that time really enjoy the food. Focus all your energy on thinking about the flavors, the texture, the taste, and how it’s providing so much nourishment and balance for your body. Loving food that is loving you back can make all the difference in the world.
The bottom line here is that meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful, it can be fun and enjoyable. Following these 10 simple steps can help you better plan your week without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.
Keep calm, pantry staples and other tips for successful meal planning from RD @Sarajaneob @runtothefinish #health
Just remember though, like all good things it might take extra time, but in the end your body, mind, and sanity will thank you!
Ok she must be in my brain with the frozen pizza comment! I love these tips, so let’s just see if between this and the 7 tips for reducing sugar what kind of great things I can make happen this month!
Sara is Dietitian and Licensed Nutritionist with a passion for sharing knowledge and love for wholesome and nourishing food. She believes that eating (and drinking) healthy should not only be rewarding, but it should also be simple and fun.
I can use all the ideas you have, so speak up:
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