Making a meal plan can seem cumbersome for some, however dedicating a few hours each week can benefit both your health and your budget. The purpose of this article is to provide the benefits and step-by-step process to help you make a meal plan for your goals and encourage you to embrace the method by incorporating meal planning as part of your wellness routine.
Whether you are a busy parent, a young professional who is always on the go or on a weight loss journey, meal planning can be a beneficial tactic for supporting a healthy, active lifestyle. Here are three reasons why:
Having a Meal Plan Helps Hold You Accountable
Meal planning is ideal for those who struggle with controlling meal portions. After the preparation process, you can measure or weigh foods according to serving size. This allows for better management of portion control and supports appropriate caloric consumption. This is especially convenient for managing servings when snacking, which can often be the culprit of consuming excess calories. Using small containers to store snacks will allow for more control in regards to the amount of food you pack for your snacks, and in turn, may help prevent an over consumption of calories.
You’ll Save Money
When you plan your meals in advance, it may allow you to estimate your total grocery spend prior to making a trip to the store. Also, many grocery stores now have online shopping websites and apps that you can take advantage of to assist in planning your grocery lists – and your budget.
Eating home-cooked meals is another money-saving tactic. Dining out too often can become costly over time in some cases, especially when opting for healthier entrées such as grilled options and salads. Meal planning also helps avoid spending money on meals that you probably shouldn’t be eating anyway!
You’ll Save Time
Ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? Make the most of your time by making a meal plan. Although meal preparation can be timely on the front end, once the process is complete, all of your meals are prepared for the week. If you do not have a couple of hours to spare for one full meal prep day, you can always opt to split the preparation into 2 – 3 days per week. Over time, the meal planning becomes easier and takes less time as you become accustomed to the process through weekly implementation of your plan.
The Meal Planning Process
The meal planning process involves just six simple steps.
1) Designate meal prep days
Most individuals generally select days over the weekend to prepare meals for the week, since it tends to be the least busy time during the week. View your schedule the week before, and decide which day(s) work best for you to reserve time for meal preparation days for the upcoming week.
2) Create a menu for the week
Research recipes to complete your menu for the week. Be sure to check Connect’s recipe collection right here on the blog, too. One key to successful meal planning is to keep recipes simple and in proportion to your needs. Generally, each meal should consist of a serving of protein, a complex carbohydrate, a vegetable and/or fruit and a healthy fat. If you are meal planning for the entire family, consult with family members and incorporate their suggestions. Keep a catalog of recipes you find for future meals to make the process simpler for the next time.
3) Organize a grocery list
Based on the meals you have selected, create a shopping list. Use a notepad (digital or physical) or a grocery app on your mobile device to organize your list by aisle.
4) Shop according to your list
Since you created your weekly menu ahead of time, stick to shopping for only ingredients included on your list. By doing this, you will cut down on purchasing unnecessary products/food items that could potentially derail the progress you’ve already made towards reaching your nutrition goals. If you are short on time, try using a grocery delivery service, such as Instacart, or curb-side grocery pick-up service, currently available via a variety of grocers.
5) Prepare your meals on the designated day(s)
Preparing meals for the entire week can sometimes be overwhelming and time consuming, especially when you are under consistent time constraints. If this is the case for you, select 2 – 3 days per week for meal prepping. Make your meal plan work for you AND your schedule.
6) Store meals properly
If you intend on making meal planning/food prepping a consistent practice, invest in quality, portable storage containers to assure proper storage of all meals. Containers come in various shapes, sizes, and materials. There are several options to choose from, such as stackable containers (to save or maximize space when storing food in small spaces) or sectioned containers (to help manage portions). You can opt to purchase a bulk supply of containers for each individual meal of the week, or take the minimalist approach and purchase only the exact amount you need to pack food for 2 – 3 days at a time.
If your primary objective for meal planning is weight loss/maintenance, look for storage containers with compartments or ones that are similar in size to meals intended for them. Three compartment containers are great to use for complete meals since there are individual spaces reserved for protein, complex carbohydrates and vegetables.