It took me years to learn how to make a meal plan and live by it. Not sure why it seemed like such a difficult hurdle to get over, yet it was.
Yet even when I was at a high level of competition, and had a good grasp of training and nutrition, all my theories fell apart when I got into the kitchen. I knew what healthy foods were, and the difference between proteins, fats and carbs, for example.
But, if I was busy and hungry, I ended up throwing together whatever was convenient and tasty. Even though the meals I ended up with didn’t match my high health ideals.
It was only after I started the Dirobi Health Show podcast and interviewed many world class experts that I finally “got the memo” and started meal planning.
Here are some things I’ve learned that I pass along to you to hopefully teach you how to make a meal plan that’s delicious, easy to follow, and sustainable.
Listen In On The Dirobi Health Show Podcast Episode
The Importance of Meal Planning
A meal plan is a crucial aspect of a healthier lifestyle that goes beyond simply choosing what to eat at each meal. It involves considering the nutritional content of meals, as well as timing and portion sizes. Meal planning can seem daunting, especially if you’re not in the habit of doing it, but it’s actually pretty simple once you dig in and get started.
Benefits of meal planning include:
- Better Nutrition: Meal planning ensures a balanced diet because you control what goes into your meals. It allows you to plan for variety, ensuring that you’re getting a wide range of nutrients from different food groups.
- Weight Management: By controlling portion sizes and planning meals around nutrient-dense foods, you can maintain or lose weight more effectively.
- Saves Time and Money: Meal planning reduces time spent deciding what to cook, grocery shopping, and even cooking (if you batch cook). You’ll also save money as planned meals make better use of ingredients, reducing waste and reliance on more expensive convenience foods.
- Reduces Stress: Knowing what you’re going to eat in advance reduces the mental load of last-minute decisions and gives a sense of order and control.
- Takes Advantage Of Your Best Decision Making: Social scientists tell us that as the day goes on and we get tired, we make worse decisions. We resort to our more primitive instincts, you know, the reptile mind that knows what’s healthy but REALLY wants that big bowl of ice cream at 7 PM. But we tend to plan out meals when we are at our best, and rarely plan “big bowl of ice cream,” thus reducing the chances of making those bad, late in the day decisions.
Practical Tips and Ideas for Meal Planning
The thought of planning meals can be intimidating, especially if you’re not used to it. However, it doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Here are some steps to help you get started:
- Start Small: If you’re new to meal planning, start with planning just one day, or even one meal in advance. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can gradually increase to three days, and eventually, a full week.
- Go For Delicious: Nobody said eating right was supposed to be a burden. Remember the last meal you had at a great restaurant, that included healthy proteins, carbs and fats, with wonderfully cooked veggies? Eat like that. Pick the proteins, carbs and fats you LOVE, not the ones you tolerate. Making it delicious makes it much easier to stick to.
- Reduce And Simplify: I have identified three delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners that I LOVE, and these “9 perfect meals” make up all the meal planning I need. Going out to dinner, business lunches, and meals my wife cooks fill in to provide all the variety I could ever want. But the 9 perfect meal theory keeps life simple.
- Take Inventory: Take a look at what you already have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. This way, you can use what you have on hand, reduce waste, and save money.
- Choose Your Meals: Using the “9 Perfect Meals” principle, identify what they are, and make sure they balance proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and incorporate 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Make a Grocery List: Based on your meal plan, make a shopping list. This not only helps you remember everything you need, but also keeps you focused at the grocery store, reducing impulse purchases.
- Prepare What You Can In Advance: If possible, chop vegetables, marinate proteins, or pre-cook some components of your meals. This can save a lot of time during the week and makes it easier to stick to your plan.
- Stay Flexible: Life happens, and you may not always be able to stick to your meal plan. That’s okay. Use it as a guide, not a strict rule.
Advanced Meal Planning Strategies
Once you’re comfortable with planning a few days ahead, you can move onto more advanced strategies:
- Batch Cooking: Cooking large quantities of a meal and portioning it out for future meals is a great way to save time. Dishes like casseroles, soups, and stews are excellent for this.
- Themed Nights: Having themed nights like “Meatless Monday” or “Taco Tuesday” can help make planning easier and add variety to your meals.
- Rotation Planning: This involves creating a few weeks’ worth of meal plans and rotating through them. This can reduce the stress of coming up with new meal ideas every week.
Taking It To The Next Level
Once you’re comfortable with planning for a week, why not try planning for a month? This can save even more time and money, but it requires a bit more organization.
Meal planning is a vital health principle that can transform your diet, manage weight, save money, and reduce stress. Start small, be consistent, and soon you’ll enjoy the benefits of this healthy habit. Happy meal planning!