When life gets busy (let's be honest, when is it not?), my number one secret weapon for eating well and feeling great is healthy meal planning and preparation. Starting to plan and prep healthy meals for an entire week can be overwhelming, but with these tried and true methods, you'll feel like a pro in no time. This blog post is the first of many in which I'll break down my methods for meal planning, purchasing, and prepping.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT TO EAT?" "I DON'T KNOW."
How often has that frustrating conversation happened in your life? Too many times, in my case. Avoiding 'Food Decision Paralysis' was my entire motivation for learning how to plan meals.
Start with a meal plan that includes your list of recipes and groceries to purchase. Without a meal plan, you might find yourself wasting time roaming around the grocery store, and ultimately purchasing too much (or too little) food. If you buy ingredients without intention, food inevitably goes bad or you waste time daily thinking about what to cook.
+ STEP 1: PLAN YOUR MEAL COUNT
Every Sunday morning, shortly after completing my morning routine, I brew a cup of coffee and sit down at my dining room table to plan my weekly meals. This is when you decide how many meals you're going to plan for each week: Every meal? Just dinners? Snacks and desserts, too?
To keep things simple, I usually plan to repeat meals for breakfast and lunch, opting to reserve different meals each night for dinner. The meal plan breakdown I use is as follows:
- Breakfast: 3 (2 for the weekdays, 1 for the weekend) - Lunch: 3 (2 for the weekdays, 1 for the weekend) - Dinners: 6 (with 1 night reserved for dining out on date nights)
This comes to a grand total of 12 recipes / meal plans that I create each week. I personally don’t plan for snacks because I don't have time to eat them during my typical workday; instead, I plan a lunch and make a smoothie to go. The meals I plan for weekday breakfasts and lunches are fairly straight-forward and simple. It’s where weekday dinners and weekend meals come into play that I get more creative with my recipes.
+ STEP 2: PLAN YOUR PLATE
One of the more difficult aspects of meal planning is ensuring that you are eating a well-rounded meal. If you’ve ever stressed over counting calories in order to stay healthy, give yourself a break. The template I use to structure meals is based on visual cues, in which the plate is divided into three sections according to the following ratio:
1. Non-Starchy Vegetables (50-70%): raw, cooked, sprouted, or fermented vegetables. 2. High-Quality Proteins (10-15%): grass-fed and -finished meats, organic or pastured poultry, wild-caught fish, organic or pasture-raised eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds, or bone broth. 3. Healthy Fats (20-30%): avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, or cheese.
The bulk of the plate (or bowl) is dedicated towards non-starchy vegetables, followed by a palm-sized portion of proteins, and a dose of healthy fats. As for starchy vegetables, legumes, and grains, it’s best to keep portion sizes small.
Use this template to easily put together a healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can download the FREE weekly meal planning template PDF below.
Here are some examples of meals for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner:
1. Breakfast - V: sautéed spinach and mushrooms - P: fried or poached eggs - F: avocado
2. Lunch - V: romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, celery, and red onion - P: chicken salad - F: avocado
3. Dinner - V: roasted broccoli, cauliflower rice - P: broiled wild fish with lemon juice - F: extra-virgin olive oil
BONUS! I’m all about giving you the tools you need to optimize your life, so I’m sharing a FREE weekly meal planning chart to help you map out your week and plan effectively. Get yours now!
Click to download the FREE Weekly Meal Planner template!
Includes a place to write out your nutrition goal for the week. Some examples include: drink more water, eat 1,200 calories/day, increase veggie intake to 70%, no fast food, no sugar, eat a salad every day, etc. The possibilities are endless!
+ STEP 3: PLAN YOUR GROCERY LIST
Once you have chosen your meals for the week, go back through and create a shopping list. Write everything down, whether or not you have it in stock. Next, cross any ingredients off your list that you already have in stock in your pantry, fridge, or freezer. I do it this way so when I go to prep my meals (more details on this in another blog post soon), I can set aside ALL of the ingredients I need to cook, not just the items I purchased.
EXTRA BONUS! Here's a FREE weekly grocery list to help you plan your next shopping trip!
Click to download the FREE Weekly Grocery List template!
That's it... meal planning complete! Now give yourself a pat on the back for taking action to reduce your stress levels and avoid the dreaded 'Food Decision Paralysis.' The first few times you sit down to plan meals, it may feel overwhelming. There’s a lot to consider and you may overestimate your ability (or willingness) to cook a full meal on weeknights. I encourage you to take things easy and keep your meals relatively simple during the week and to live lavishly on the weekends when you can afford more time and energy to testing out new recipes and cooking skills. The process will become faster the more often you do it. Let me know how it goes!