The fine folks at Precision Nutrition (PN) have an awesome little saying: "Unless you're lucky enough to live at a health spa or have your own personal chef: Eating well doesn't happen by accident. So, you have to make it happen with planning and prep."
What is meal planning? And how do you do meal planning?
At its' essence ... Meal planning is whatever way you organize yourself to cook a meal, whether that's breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is the plan you make before you shop. For some - it's the plan they make after they shop. Whatever works for YOU; neither is right, or wrong. At its very basic level meal planning takes effort, consciousness, intention. Meal planning doesn't really happen by accident, just like saving for retirement requires some forethought, some intention, some effort and eventually a destination, a goal amount. But I digress...
Some people plan a week in advance or a month in advance, freezing neatly-labeled packets of soup and stew. Others may wing it, shopping for that evening's meal at the grocery or farmers' market and picking up whatever looks good to them. Meal planning is a truly personal thing. What works for you may not work for me. The goal is to find a process that is both enjoyable and effective.
Perhaps you have no plan. That was definitely me in my younger days. I spent my 20's and my 30's as a Flight Attendant for a major airline. In those days my version of a meal plan was to buy a 6 pack of Thomas Blueberry bagels, toss them in my suitcase, and live off of those, and airplane food, for the course of 3-4 days. I never thought about planning a meal. I just went to the store occasionally, bought things, and would look in the fridge around meal time and feel lost. This was seriously me even just a mere 14 years ago as a new Mom.
There was even a pivotal "come to Jesus moment" my husband had with me around the hot dogs, veggie burgers and cereal for dinner that I came to rely on as a new Mom. These options were the extent of my go-to repertoire for meals. He grew up with family dinners around a family table. I did not. I truly did not know any different. But this is a story for another blog post...
Now ... Fast forward to 2016 and I've tried a lot of different ways to meal plan. Along the way I've learned to cook a whole lot more and I enjoy the process now, which helps! I've morphed into THAT person who has a white board on my fridge and uses it to sketch out my meals for the week based on my schedule. This may be you - and perhaps you too have evolved your own finely tuned system that's working for you. If so - smashing. Keep on keeping on and consider sharing any of your survival tips in the comments.
My Version of My Meal Sanity Saver for the Weekdays: Here I normally list the proteins I have on hand to make meals from, anything I need to use up (like the goat cheese), plus my meals listed for the weekdays (burgers, gumbo, pork chops, thighs). I normally list any produce I have on hand so I can think ahead to the veggie sides I'll prepare. I also LOVE to make large portions so we can eat leftovers several times throughout the week. My husband cooks on Sat/Sun, so that planning isn't on this board.
Or ... Perhaps you aren't one to have a white board with menus written out for every day of the week. Perhaps the old version of me resonates with you, or you fall somewhere in between. Consider for a moment where you currently fall on the spectrum of meal planning. One "split the distance approach" is to purchase the staples (e.g. Chicken, ground turkey, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, spinach, eggs) and throw them together into an easy, spur of the moment meal. The upside? No complicated recipe to follow. The downside? You may end up eating the same meals (e.g. scrambled eggs with spinach, greek yogurt with nuts, cottage cheese with fruit, turkey burgers, canned tuna over spinach) again and again, and get bored. If you are a planner (like me) this "not-knowing" may stress you out, but if that is the case you may already be leaning more towards my whiteboard approach, even if it means repeating some go-to meals/combos.
Consider what action you might take today to move a little bit further along towards planning your meals. Perhaps you can scour around for some recipes and put together a grocery list for non-staple items that you may need for those recipes. Maybe the first step is to simply start with tonight's dinner. ONE meal, because this mere concept stresses you out. Or perhaps you want to simply start by planning ONLY your dinners for the week, or your breakfasts. Think about your style ... Are you a planner? A non-planner? Or an in-betweener? If you need a template to start working with check out The Sisters Cafe for several downloadable and printable options. The basic template can be used to sketch out just one set of meals for the week (think breakfast, lunch OR dinner), along with a separate grocery list. Or you can go "all-in" and pick the template that has you plan all 3 meals; at the bottom is a spot to make your shopping list.
Remember, eating well doesn't just happen. It doesn't happen by "accident." What has your meal planning style been? And as my friends at PN also are fond of saying ... How's that working for ya?