5 Tips for Less Stressful Meal Planning
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Luvo. All opinions are my own.
Raise your hand if you love to eat, but you don’t always the time (or motivation) to cook. You are not alone! Something that I often help clients with is the process of meal planning. Setting aside a little time to consider what you will eat throughout the week can be a huge time and energy saver down the road. To some, meal planning may be a daunting task, however, I am a big believer that it doesn’t have to be complicated or require hours of prepping on the weekend (if you aren’t into that kind of thing).
There are many different approaches to getting food to your plate -- it’s all about experimenting and finding what works best for you. Here are a few of my favorite meal planning tips to help you get started if you are new to meal planning or perhaps are looking for a less stressful approach to the game:
1. Assess your kitchen and make a list.
Check to see if you have any expired products or foods that are about to be past their prime and need to be used up ASAP. Be sure to add any staple items to your list (i.e. cooking oil, spices/herbs, eggs, grains, beans, etc.) and consider building your meal plan around items that you don’t want to go to waste. For example, maybe those sweet potatoes that have been sitting on the counter the past two weeks could be turned into a breakfast casserole or roasted as a quick and easy side dish. I find that it also helps to categorize your list with the layout of the grocery store you go to (i.e. produce items, meat, dairy, canned goods, frozen, etc). This helps make the grocery trip itself go a little more smoothly with less running around back and forth between aisles.
2. Evaluate your schedule.
What is your schedule going to look like for the week? Are there particular days of the week that you know you won’t have as much time to spend in the kitchen? Do you have any lunch or dinner dates scheduled for dining out? Planning your meals/snacks around your lifestyle and your schedule is key. For example, maybe you intentionally cook extra of a meal one day to have for leftovers, serve breakfast for dinner on a night you get home late, or rely on slow-cooker, casseroles, or one-sheet pan meals for less dishes to clean up. If you are crunched on time or are a beginner cook, try looking for recipes that have shorter ingredient lists, don’t need fancy kitchen gadgets, or take less than 30 minutes from start to finish.
3. Ask yourself: what sounds good? Anything new I’ve been wanting to try?
Satisfaction is so important in the eating experience. If we don’t like what we’re eating day after day, it can be difficult to get excited about eating at all. A question I often ask my clients is “what do you liketo eat?” Instead of thinking about what you “should” be eating, think about what is appealing to you in different seasons of life. If you’re getting bored of the same ol’ same ol’, consider trying a new recipe or ingredient to jazz things up. Try to have foods on hand that can provide a variety of tastes, textures, and temperatures to add interest and variety when the mood strikes.
4. Batch cook a few ingredients or prep ahead one recipe.
To be honest, I am not a fan of spending >1 hour in the kitchen on a day off to prep out all of my meals and snacks. That’s just me! I would rather spend my time doing other things I value. If you are like me and prepping out every single meal for the week seems overwhelming or unrealistic, sometimes batch cooking one or two ingredients or even a single recipe can be more manageable. Some examples for batch cooking include: hard boiling eggs for a quick snack or add-on protein to a meal, roasting vegetables to reheat as a side, putting chicken in the crock-pot and shredding to use in different ways throughout the week.
5. Consider convenient options such as ready-made frozen meals or products.
From flavorful pesto sauce to interesting salad kits, there are an array of packaged food products you can purchase that still honor your health while saving you time in the kitchen. The idea of “shop the perimeter” of the store is old news! Those middle aisles and freezer sections contain many nutrient dense, convenient options. For example, one product I love having in my quick-and-easy meal rotations are freezer meals from Luvo. They are flash frozen, which means they are still packed with nutrients and flavor when re-heated. They have a variety of delicious entrees, made with wholesome ingredients that keep me feeling full and energized on busy days between seeing clients.
Oftentimes I get questions like “how can meal planning and intuitive eating go together?” This is where the 10th principle of intuitive eating comes in, “Honoring Your Health with Gentle Nutrition.” Fueling your body with a balance of carbs, proteins, fats, fiber, nutrient dense foods and fun foods is a part of taking care of both your physical and mental health. Meal planning can be a form of self-care and ensure that you are nourishing your body. Remember at the end of the day, it’s okay if things do not go to plan. I’ve had many occasions where what I had planned to eat for a meal/snack either A) didn’t sound good or B) didn’t work out for one reason or another. Embrace the gray, remain curious, give yourself some self-compassion and be open to flexibility.
Keep in mind there is a big difference between a “meal plan” and the act of planning or prepping meals for your week. In the dieting industry, cookie cutter meal plans may not mesh well with your unique tastes/preferences, food budget, schedule, etc. They may even be nutritionally imbalanced or may not meet your body’s energy needs. On the other hand, there are situations where more structured meal plans may be necessary. For example, if we are recovering from disordered eating, have certain medical conditions, or are working towards becoming an intuitive eater. Work with your dietitian to help you meet your individualized needs.
Let me know what your favorite meal planning hacks are in the comments below! And as always, if you have any questions or feel like you could use more 1:1 support, click here to get scheduled for a free 30 minute discovery call.