How I Meal Plan
The concept of meal planning is daunting; it requires that we think about the week ahead in terms of food and nutrition, and plan our meals in advance to save time and energy. It's hard! Meal planning means taking time out of our weekend to grocery shop, recipe develop, recipe select and cook for the week ahead; all while strategically thinking about what our bodies individually need for the days in the near future.
When I first started meal prepping, I started small: grabbing a few ingredients in advance, choosing a recipe that I knew I wanted to make, and stocking up on my favorite teas. After a few months of playing around with my meal-prep strategies and bettering them, I realized that I was eating way more good stuff than bad. Because I already had healthy options available and prepared, I reached for them instead of unhealthy 'quick-fixes'. This being said, when you read how I meal prep below, don't think that meal prepping has to be all-or-nothing! Meal prepping even in the slightest can save you the littlest bit of time and energy that you can spend at the gym or doing something you really love instead.
I'll walk you through my Sunday meal-prep steps, while also mentioning why I believe that meal-prepping (even in the slightest) is so vital to leading a healthy lifestyle!
My Meal-Prep Basics
Step 1) Based on where I am in my hormonal cycle, I use the WomanCode ingredient list for that phase to help guide me while I make my grocery list. If you aren't familiar with the hormonal phases, you can find more information here.
Step 2) I use the phase list above to help guide me in my recipe choice(s) for the week also. I look through paleo, gut-health, anti-inflammatory or whole-food inspired cookbooks and online recipe archives to find some recipes for the week that look good and are good for me! Whatever ingredients I don't already have available at home, I add to my grocery list.
Some of my favorite go-to recipe outlets:
Note: Obviously, it's not realistic for me to think that every single one of my meals and snacks will be cycle-based. I like to consider my diet cycle-influenced! I think that if we genuinely try to incorporate as many phase-focused foods as we can (even 50%), then that is enough. Ultimately, it is what we put into our bodies that determines what we get out! Good foods = good feels.
To get myself inspired and excited about the week ahead, sometimes I write out my meals and ingredients on 8 x 11 sheets of paper. I make a colorful chart of what I want to be eating and my nutritional goals for the week (i.e. "this week I'd like to limit my daily caffeine intake to only 2 cups of tea instead of 3). Other times, I scribble my ideas down on a notepad and keep it on my desk for the week--adding notes, scratching things off, jotting down new recipes, etc. You can use a chart similar to the one below to visualize the week, or you can draw your own and add or subtract sections!
Step 3) Grocery shopping! MY FAVORITE. Ideally, I would shop at Whole Foods, Sprouts and local farmer's markets for all of my ingredients. However, budget and location come into play and sometimes the nearby neighborhood grocery store is my go-to. No matter where I end up, I stick to my list. Sometimes I wander into the chocolate section though... actually, most times (hello Eating Evolved).
Step 4) The actual meal prep. At the most basic level, it's ideal to have vegetables already washed, cooked, chopped and/or roasted before the week starts; proteins baked and sliced, and dressings or sides made. This is all done on Sunday, and foods are stored in glass containers (if you use plastic, make sure they are BPA-free) in the fridge.
When it comes to breakfasts, I typically gather ingredients for smoothies and quick scrambles. I choose different smoothie recipes from recipe developers and or just create my own quick scramble with protein and veggies.
Typically, I make a giant salad in advance for the week that I can take to lunch and top with different proteins (salmon, turkey or chicken). This salad is usually a recipe of someone else's that I find via a cookbook or online resource. To keep the salad fresh, I place it in a giant covered bowl and leave the dressing separately covered on the side. This way, I can just toss the salad mix and dressing into a container to take for lunch every day!
If I don't make a giant salad, I'll roast a bunch of veggies with coconut oil, salt, pepper and herbs in the oven at 425 degrees (F) for about 20-25 minutes. Sometimes I do this in the mornings when I wake up before work. The veggies can last me either all the way or halfway through the week, depending on how much I buy at the store. I'll also pre-bake my protein in the oven so it's ready to go for lunches.
Dinners can be tricky. I'm still learning how best to meal-prep for this time of day. I've found that at least having good ingredients in the fridge or ready-to-eat roasted veggies and baked proteins makes it easy to throw a meal together. Usually, I'll have an idea on Sunday of one or two meals that I definitely want to have for dinner during the week, and then I'll put that into action on whichever night I decide. Other times, I like to make smoothies for dinner or just a simple scramble.
The biggest thing for me is knowing that I have ingredients in the fridge for a healthy and nutritious week and knowing that I'm saving money by preparing my meals instead of ordering them. I don't want to be scrambling around at 7:45am for breakfast, feeling depleted at 3pm after not bringing enough for lunch, or struggling to find the motivation at 5pm to make a healthy meal; and I don't want to cave in to unhealthy choices when I'm tired after a long day. So, I try to dedicate Sundays to food preparation for the week. My body thanks me for it, and this way I'm always 7-steps ahead (HA).
Not every week is meal-prep-perfect. I find myself scrambling sometimes, and sometimes I don't even meal-prep at all! There are a lot of external factors in life and sometimes Sundays aren't dedicated to a day of meal prep, but are instead full of family events, time spent outdoors and/or activities with friends.
I don't think meal-preparation has to happen one certain way. The goal of preparing your meal(s) and/or buying your ingredients in advance is to decrease the amount of time spent cooking and preparing foods during the week, ease the morning stress of getting both breakfast and lunch together for the day, and keep you in line with a healthy diet. When you have healthy options available, you're more likely to use and eat them. On Sunday, if we set the intention to have a happy, healthy week, we are more likely to actually have a happy, healthy week. So, #letsgetit.
Do you have a favorite way to meal plan?