Happy New Year! This time of year, I usually write a blog geared towards helping people set meaningful and lasting goals and intentions. I do this to combat all the many “new year, new you!” messages we receive this time of year pushing short-term restrictive diets and extreme exercise programs.
If you are in need of some non-diet sanity amidst the diet madness and frenzy of the New Year, please check these out.
- 2022: Food for Thought for the New Year
- 2021 Some Things to Consider as We Go Through “International Diet Month”
- 2020 4 Reasons Diets Don’t Work and How to Challenge Our Beliefs About Health
To kick off this new year, I thought I would focus on one habit that so many people struggle with, meal planning. Meal planning, or lack of meal planning, is something I hear over and over from clients that gets in their way. Many of the clients I talk with go from one meal to the next without any sort of plan.
Without a plan, we don’t have healthy choices – or any choices – on hand and we often end up scrambling at the last minute. Our blood sugar drops and as a result, we get into hangry territory, making us more inclined to eat whatever we can get our hands on the fastest. Meal planning can allow us to have the fixings for a balanced meal at our fingertips keeping us from throwing something together that may not be very satisfying or going out/getting take-out.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with going out or getting take-out from time to time (I include those nights into our family plan), relying on it all the time can create chaos and contribute to decisions around meals that might not serve us best.
Benefits of Meal Planning and Cooking at Home More:
There are so many benefits to forming the habit of planning meals and cooking more often at home. Here are a few…
- Eat more nutritiously
- Reduce stress
- Make eating easier
- Eat a wider variety of foods
- Save time
- Save money
- Have leftovers on hand for lunch
- Express creativity in the kitchen
- Feel a sense of accomplishment for creating a nourishing meal for yourself and/or your family
How to Get Started
The idea of meal planning or cooking at home more may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are three keys to success:
- Start a master list of meals
- Come up with a system that works for you
- Stay flexible
1. Start a Master List of Meals
I have a master list of meals in the note section of my phone so that when I go to make a plan for dinners for the week I am not hemming and hawing about what’s for dinner. All I have to do is pull up the list and pull the meals from there. If I try a new recipe and we like it I add it to the list so that I don’t forget it. For me, this is one thing that has made meal planning worlds easier.
2. Come Up with a System That Works for You
When I first started planning meals I started by planning just a few days at a time. I would plan for say Sunday through Wednesday and then regroup and plan for the next few days. That system wasn’t great because when it got to be Wednesday or Thursday it was hard to muster the energy to plan for Thursday and the weekend, so often we would end up without a plan.
So, I had to adjust my system and started planning for the whole week and including the weekend. It wasn’t perfect (and still isn’t) but it worked better, and we became more consistent with it. Once I got used to that and saw how beneficial it was, I then started planning for the whole month!
I find free blank printable calendars online for my template. You can find them for the week or month. I don’t buy all of my groceries for the month or even for the week all at once. I may get the ingredients for meals from Sunday through Thursday or Friday and then restock. Everyone is different and has different schedules, so play around with it and find a system that works best for you.
3. Stay flexible
A huge part of finding a meal planning strategy that works is that you stay flexible! Flexibility allows plenty of wiggle room to adjust as we need. The plan is not set in stone, but instead penciled in. Sometimes we decide we would rather have, say, Thursday’s meal on Monday, so we do. Or we might, after an exhausting week, decide that we would rather go out on a Friday rather than cook at home. All of this is expected and ok and works because we approach the process with the idea of flexibility in mind.
A Month of Meals
For inspiration I thought I would include for you my January 2023 meal plan. I shared it with a client recently and she said with surprise, “You eat so normally!” Yes, this dietitian and her family eat normal, balanced family meals! 🙂
I am working on updating my recipe section of my website, but you will find many of the recipes on this month of meals there. If you are interested in a recipe that isn’t in my recipe section, reach out and I will send it your way. A few others that are included in the plan but aren’t yet in my recipe section are my…
- One Pan Roasted Veggies and Sausage
- The lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs can be found here.
Start slow and in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming and is doable long term. Planning out for a month may be way too much for you if you haven’t consistently been planning at all. That is completely fine.
If you aren’t a cook or feel you need to up your skills in the kitchen and feel like you aren’t quite ready for meal planning yet, stay tuned. I am planning a future blog soon with some tips and info for help for beginner cooks on how to get more comfortable in the kitchen.
Starting the year off well does NOT have to mean going on some restrictive diet and feeling deprived. Having a plan and preparing meals at home more often can help you feel better in your body and improve your health. I hope you give some of these tips and recipes a try. If you do, I would love to hear what you think.