“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” We’ve all heard that quote before, and we often apply that to areas of our lives, such as making daily schedules, financial planning, planning a vacation, but when it comes to planning our meals, we often fall short. You’ve also probably heard that eating healthy starts at the grocery store. However, I would say it starts at home, before you go to the grocery store. When we fail to plan our meals, it can result in resorting to quick, convenient, processed foods and eating out more. Bottom line: it can be more timely, costly, and most of the time, more unhealthy. So, here’s what to do to prevent this common mistake.
Write it Down (or Type it Up!)
1) Breakfast: this may not vary a whole lot, but still write down some meal ideas.
2) Snacks: if you snack, make sure you write down healthy snack options. It is easy to snack with our emotions and senses, even when picking out “snacks” at the grocery store. If snacking is a tough area for you, 1st of all, don’t have any poor options around. It’s not a lack of willpower, rather a lack of creating an optimal environment for you to make proper food choices. The other thing to consider for snacks is making them small meals. They don’t necessarily have to be your typical snack options, like bars, chips, crackers, etc…
3) Dinner: I put dinner next, because I often start here, and then PLAN to have leftovers for lunch. But, the key there is plan. You may have to double or triple a recipe in order to have enough for leftovers. After you have cooked and dished out dinner for yourself (and your family), make sure to set aside what you need for your lunch, so it doesn’t get gobbled up.
4) Lunch: If leftovers is the plan, then when you are writing out your menu, whatever you had for dinner Monday night is Tuesday’s lunch, and so on and so forth. Another option is to cook in bulk on a day you have a little more time, and portion out meals for lunches.
Make a Grocery List
After you are done planning out you (and your family’s) menu for the week, extrapolate a grocery list. Make sure to not only note what you need, but also how much. You may have to do some math. For example, if you are planning for 4 oz of chicken/person for a family of 4, you would need 1 lb (there are 16 oz in a lb) of chicken + 2 extra servings for lunches = 1.5 lb. I would aim for that or a little more to take into account hungry significant others.
To keep things even easier, make your grocery list into columns for each area of the grocery store: 1) Produce, 2) Protein (meat, fish, eggs) 3) Other (for spices, condiments, nuts, etc), but remember to keep this column small as we want to stick mostly with healthy protein, fruits and veggies, and healthy fat (i.e. avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter, etc.). See how simple grocery shopping can be when you stick to just buying whole, real foods. You don’t have to waste time reading the novels on the backs of the food packages!
Tips & Strategies:
1) Have your calendar near by. Make sure to note when you have a lunch meeting or a dinner date. If you know where you will dining out, look up the menu online and make your meal decision- write it down. That will help prevent making decisions based on emotion and external cues (i.e. small, ambiance, sight of bread at the table…)
2) Don’t forget to plan even when you travel. Just because you are out of your normal routine, doesn’t mean you have to break you eating habits routine. This is a time planning becomes essential. What foods to you need to pack to ensure that you have healthy options available?
3) Keep it simple. When planning out your meals, don’t try to be Emeril Lagasse at every meal. If you enjoy cooking and have time to, great, go for it! If you know you will be busy taking kids to practice all over the town, then plan for something simple. Can you throw something in the crock pot that morning or on your lunch break? If not, do you need to make more the following day in order to have leftovers around? There are also many many healthy meals you can cook in 20 min or less, which is about the time it takes you to grab fast food and way less than the time it takes to eat out. But, if you weren’t prepared, it will definitely take time to think, gather, and prepare a meal.
4) Use your favorite cookbooks or online recipe sites. I have listed some of my favorite (resources). Make sure to make note of your favorites as you cook them so you can go to those quickly when you’re having trouble finding a recipe. But, also make sure to vary it up, so that you don’t get bored with what you are eating. Your family will appreciate that also
You have too many other things to think about during the week. Don’t let having to think about what to eat be one of them.