Everything You Need to Know About Meal Planning in 6 Simple Steps.

I am going to help you to get organised, make sense of how to meal prep for the week. AND it won’t take up all your time and energy. End result? Gorgeous, easy meals that are nutritious, filling and fat-loss friendly.

If you have a weight loss or fitness goal for the new year, if you’re not organised and you don’t make your own meals, you make it harder on yourself to reach your goal. What you put in your mouth affects up to 80% of your results.

But meal planning doesn’t have to be hard or arduous. Being organised helps remove anxiety and helps you feel happier going about your day-to-day. I know, that’s a big call. But just think of the little stresses you have in your day to day.

‘What’s for breakfast? Do you pack lunch or will you buy it? How much will it cost? What’s in it? OMG- did you stop on the way home to get something for dinner? Oh, well. Takeaway again.’

It’s such a waste of energy to be forever chasing yourself around in circles. Organisation helps you to deal with the day to day and leaves you feeling more relaxed and in control. Plus, this is a biggie. You’ll save money. Lots of it.

My weekly organisation is simple. I look after a chronically ill child full-time, I work part-time and I have to work around specific dietary restrictions (my son) and a social triathlete’s appetite (my hubby). If I get tasks that are difficult, time-consuming and require my attention for extended periods, I simply can’t commit or follow through. This would be the same (for different reasons) for many of you, of course.

This is my routine and what I have honed down to after years of practise. I know what I can do without over-stretching myself.

1. I shop for meals twice a week. Sunday and Wednesday or Thursday. If I can’t shop, I have fresh food delivered. I never skip this step so we always have good food on hand. 
2. I eat simply. And relatively cheaply by reducing packaged foods. I choose to prepare salad bases I can organise in bulk in advance for at least 2–3 days, I love a frittata and I always roast or spiralise vegetables — every week of the year. These are the ‘base’ components of all our healthy meals. 
3. I shop and prep on the same day. When I get home from shopping or when it’s delivered, I organise 2 things before anything gets done- a fridge salad (completely undressed— the salad, not me — and I add finishing touches before each meal) and a fruit salad. I eat 1–2 cups of salad or vegetables of some description before each meal.
4. I roast vegetables and meats on prep days. These form the basis for many meals. Add to salads and meals like risottos, pasta dishes or sandwiches. Make dips and spreads. I use at least 50% vegetables in my bolognese — it reduces the calories, adds fibre and flavour too. Plus, it makes the meal go further. Roasted pumpkin can also be cut up small and added to smoothies for an additional veggie boost. 
5. I grate, puree, spiralise and chop things up — some vegetables get bagged for the freezer (think bags of spinach, pumpkin, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, etc). You can pull these out frozen and add to sauces, egg dishes, rice dishes — all sorts of things. I also store small containers of chopped, sliced or spiralised vegetables in the fridge ready to snack on, to create a salad or add to a meal. 
6. I check on my frozen smoothie packs — and I make up more of those too as need be. This way I ALWAYS have things on hand, ready to go.

Does this sound like a bit of work? Yes, it is. And no, it’s not. I lead a busy life (don’t we all?) so the aim for me was to perfect a process that minimised my kitchen time and reduced stress around what we would eat.

Twice a week I know I need to invest a small amount of time in preparing ingredients to ensure that for the rest of my week I am organised. I am an expert at throwing together a healthy meal in no time flat with the ingredients I have prepared, ready to go.

I also work from home which is both a blessing and a curse. The curse is that I work in the room next to my fridge all day, every day. If I’ve pulled an all-nighter with my boy, I am tired and will crave carbs. Over time, I’ve learnt to have healthy prepared food ready to go that is fruit and veg based — so that’s what I eat (because I’m lazy, I’ll admit it). To eat anything else is a hassle because I’d have to prepare it from scratch. I make sure my healthy chocolate replacement is ready to go at all times.

I usually go from feeling fine and not thinking about food to starving in approximately 2 minutes (is this a record?), so I want something to satisfy me that is both filling and fast. Preparing different kinds of salad bases in advance almost forces me to stay healthy and eat well (see mum, there are benefits to laziness) because when I’m hungry, there’s amazing, colourful and attractive food sitting there, ready to eat — for me and the rest of the family.

My number one priority each week is to ensure that my all my salads and vegetables are all done ahead of time. Then I just pop some rice into the rice cooker (oh, you must have one of these) or cook wholemeal pasta and grill fish, chicken or meat. And eggs. I love a good egg. I have it down pat now — my meals all take 10 minutes to assemble, cook and plate.

Leftovers are packaged up at the end of the meal — and I try to put at least one additional serving in the freezer a day so my partner has lunch done for work too. I’m not making lunches as well — leftovers are fine to be divided up between lunch boxes. Just don’t dress your salads or they go soggy.

Make meal prep a priority and think of it as doing something nourishing for yourself (and the family) — I promise you, it’s so easy after a few weeks, you can do it with your eyes closed. But give yourself time to practice and play with what works for you. Being this lazy, I mean efficient, with what you eat makes one chore in your life so much easier. And it’s not hard to get help from the family too.

Add variety by season — what’s plentiful, delicious and cheap. My favourite Pinterest board is my vegetarian one because it keeps me inspired… And no, I’m not vegetarian but I want fun, simple and vegetable based ideas.

Some other tips?

  1. Inspiration

Stay inspired or you end up eating the same stuff over and over. Boring. Use seasonal produce, eat dishes from around the world — all these ideas serve to keep you engaged and interested in looking after your nutrition. I highly recommend browsing blogs and websites and then saving as many recipes as you can. Hang out on Pinterest. Pile up some cookbooks and reach for the sticky notes. Get inspired!

  1. Create a place to save recipes, and keep it SIMPLE.

Do whatever works for you and don’t get caught up in a system that’s rigid. Personally, I like Pinterest because it’s easy to browse visually what I’ve saved, it has an awesome search function, and a lot of my favourite chefs are on there. It also serves as a visual reminder of the recipes I have made and loved too so I can always come back to recipes I have made in the past if I feel like something specific. I have also just started using Plan to Eat because I can save recipes by clipping from a website I visit (so easy) and I can create meal plans that print out and shopping lists too. You can also link it to your calendar so you know what to buy at the shops and what’s on the menu (and you can share with the hubby too — I don’t want you to have all the fun of being responsible for feeding the family).

3.Go with theme nights (soup night, meatless Mondays, roast, slow cooked, pizza, etc.).

Some clients find it helpful to have a theme night for each day of the week. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it may be especially helpful for those of you with kids. See if they want to get involved with planning their favourite burritos or homemade pizzas (with cauliflower or zucchini crusts) once or twice a week, or suggesting soups for the next week.

Keeping the focus narrow will help you and your household make quick recipe decisions.

4. Cook components of your meals.

Going beyond prep, cook components of the meals. For instance, start a batch of tomato sauce for pasta while you wash greens or prepare roast vegetables. The sauce can go on pizza one night and in lasagna the next. Or roast a chicken that you can eat that night and use for lunches the rest of the week. Use carcasses to make stock — I make mine in the pressure cooker in around an hour. All my vegetable scraps go in here too — peels, tops, everything.

5. The freezer is your friend.

It’s the friend of future prepared ‘you’. Make a double batch of sauce and freeze half for later. Make a double batch of soup, stew, chicken cacciatore, cooked beans — throw it in the freezer. Let a month go by, and those leftovers will look fresh and tasty! Even just a small container of something like a stock or sauce or cooked rice could mean you have the basics of a meal for one. Label everything — no, you won’t remember what it was in 3 months time.

6. Don’t overfill the fridge.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when your fridge is stuffed. Things get hidden in the back, lost behind the new shopping. Don’t let things go bad — if your spinach is a few days old, freeze it for smoothies or sauces. Blitz tomatoes and freeze. Keep your fridge airy and light, with a sensible, realistic amount of food in it. Label and date everything that goes into the fridge, especially leftovers, as a visual reminder of what remains to be eaten.

7. Stock a healthy pantry

Meals are easier and quicker to prepare if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Don’t run out of olive oil at inconvenient moments. Have spices ready to dress up chicken and beans quickly. Keep a lemon and a sheaf of fresh herbs in the fridge at all times. A tin of tomatoes, some coconut milk and a can of beans have saved my household from starvation at times.

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Originally published at www.smartbodyproject.com on December 15, 2016.

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