Meal planning is something that can help streamline the process of shopping and prepping your food for the week. If you know what you’re going to eat and how much of it, you can better prepare and save yourself a lot of stress with last minute food preparations and scrounging in the fridge.
In this post, I’d like to tell you how I plan my meals. I’ve been on a kick of it lately as I’m beginning to work towards updating my own health after having our second child. Breastfeeding with the goals I have will make it a bit difficult to accomplish them, so by tracking what I’m eating with as much accuracy as possible, I can tweak my diet appropriately and rule it out as a factor in why things might be moving slowly.
I use a spreadsheet and track both calories and macros for the food I eat, but you can easily just use a chart or regular lined paper. The key is to be sure you’re getting as much nutritious, whole-food as possible, while also pinpointing problem areas that you can work on. Be honest about what you’re eating and what you’re willing to eat.
So with that quick run-down, here is my fast and easy way to meal-plan!
1. Choose your protein.
Proteins can be the most expensive part of your grocery bill, but they’re very important to have in the diet, whether they be plant-based or flexitarian. I recommend picking three proteins for the week and cooking them in large batches to last a few days at a time. Use a chosen protein for dinner one night and lunch the next!
Aim for about a palm-sized portion at every meal, or about 100g.
2. Choose your Carbs.
If you’re not afraid of carbs (and you shouldn’t be—we need them!), then this is the next piece to choose for your meals. Think of whole-grains, root vegetables, and which ones will go well with your chosen proteins. Rice is an easy one as it will go with almost everything, as will potatoes. Beans and Legumes are a great carb choice as well, as they also contribute protein and may even be your chosen protein source for the week.
Try to get a cupped handful at each meal, or about 50g or so. If you eat a plant-based diet, you can certainly eat a bit more as it will also be your protein source.
3. Choose your fat
Fat is essential for our bodies, but we can easily have too much of it and have it eat up (literally) our caloric intake for the day. This is why its recommended to get maybe a thumb-sized portion or two at each meal (about a tablespoon). Options include dressings, olive oil, butter, and fatty foods like avocado or fatty fish (A double-whammy of healthy fats AND protein!). Remember to keep in mind any fats you used in the cooking process, as these do count!
4. Fill out the rest with Vegetables
Half of your plate, or two good fistfuls of leafy greens or other lower-carb vegetables should be present at as many meals as possible. Snacking on a salad may not be your cup of tea, but putting everything you’ve chosen so far on a bed of spinach can easily help you feel full while boosting the nutritional value of your meal. Wilting spinach into pasta sauce, or braising cabbage or kale as a main accompaniment can help you get the recommended servings per day of vegetables, and helps make the size of your meal larger: If it looks bigger to your eyes, it looks bigger to your stomach too!
If you’re like me and want to use a spreadsheet, I put everything into one in the same order above, and I use a scale to ensure accuracy. After a while, you won’t need a scale as you’ll be more familiar with what 50g of rice looks like, but check in once in a while to make sure your servings haven’t gotten bigger or smaller.
Above is my own meal plan for one day of the week. You’ll see I’ve colour-coded foods that I have saved in another file to drag and drop in as I please. I also type in any changes throughout the day, like the raisin bread in my morning snack. Honesty is the best way to track progress and setbacks, and you can see at the bottom that I’ll be over my caloric goal by 47 calories unless I change something else later on.
I find printing out my plan and having it on the counter really helpful. For one, it helps remind me what I’m eating that day and I can prep in advance. But it also helps for when I get the “munchies” and find myself wanting a little something extra to eat. In those instance I just write down what I ate and tweak the next days plan with those changes in mind.
And this leads to me to my bonus point:
5. Be Honest!
If you find yourself snacking a lot, plan for your snacks! Be honest and track what you’re eating for snacks, and plan them into your daily schedule. Don’t try to stop yourself from doing what you normally do, at least not all at once. By planning around your snacks, you can see what’s left for “real meals” calorically and in terms of macros. You may find that you’re never really hungry enough for dinner and the stats of your snacks will tell you why.
Alternatively, you may see that your snacking could use some cleaning up to allow more room for meals, and to convert them to more whole-foods. For instance, instead of munching on three slices of raisin bread all morning, you could swap once slice for an apple, or two slices, or replace them entirely with fruit.
Or you may just not be willing to give up your daily chocolate. In this case, meal planning can help you keep your favourite indulgence while cleaning up the rest of your diet. Keep your chunk of chocolate, eat it when you’re most craving it, and work the rest of your meal-plan around it!
Some tips I’d like to share for when you find yourself eating through your day quicker than you first planned…
- Postpone your next planned meal for an hour or so. You may find once you’ve offset your meals that you don’t need as much at dinner time, thus naturally making up for the day’s earlier meals.
- Drink! Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger, so grab a glass of water or make yourself a tea or coffee. This can delay your craving to eat for just long enough to make your next meal!
- Plan for more protein. Protein satiates us and keeps us full for longer, slowing the digestion process and helping stabilize blood sugar levels. Double check that you’re meeting your protein goals and consider increasing it a bit!
- Add more fat. Fat is also satiating, and full of calories. Adding an extra serving of fat to a meal that doesn’t seem to keep you full long enough may help you make it to the next meal.
- Give it time. Eating at specific times can help curb mindless snacking, but it will take your body a few days or so to get used to timed meals! Let your body adjust before trying to make significant changes to your mealplan
- Get Help! A certified Nutrition Coach can help you wade through your diet and fitness concerns and make things a little easier on you!