Meal Planning 101

So I’ve had several people ask me how I meal plan. I’ve had people ask me why I meal plan. I get the question, “Why would you want to take something that’s just normal and plan it out?!”

Well, first of all, I like to be organized. And some people would call this a flaw, while other people would appreciate it. I’ve always roughly planned out my meals for the week because I feel that it makes grocery shopping easier. There’s nothing that drives me more nuts than going to go cook dinner, and realizing that I’m missing one ingredient! And it’s not usually a large thing – it’s usually smaller ingredient that makes a key difference in the recipe. Talk about frustrating!

I will admit that on more than one occasion when this has occurred, I’ve tried to improvise. I wish I could say that I’ve also made a successful substation, but I would be lying. There are times that you just cannot find a good substitute using what you already have on hand. And so then you are faced with the wonderful decision – do I start completely from scratch and come up with another idea for dinner? Or do I run through drive through and forget this whole cooking thing? You know you’re shaking your head and saying, “Uh, McDonald’s is like less than 5 minutes away.”

Well, my dear friends, this is why I meal plan. Meal planning helps you to avoid this agony.

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I usually start my meal planning as I look at the weekly ads that come in the mail. Where I live, they typically arrive in my mailbox on Wednesdays, so I have plenty of time to peruse before I actually go shopping. I’ll take a Sharpie and circle things that I see in the ad that I like. For example if pork butt roast is on sale, I may consider having pulled pork at some point during the next week. This not only helps me to plan my meals, but it also helps me to save money. Can you say Win-Win?! I very rarely will buy meat or seafood unless it’s on sale. That’s just how I operate and since I’m only cooking for two people, I like to cut costs where I can.

Another place I’ll look for inspiration is my own freezer. I often buy meat or seafood in bulk (gotta love BOGO turkey or pork tenderloin) and freeze it for later. This way when it’s not on sale and I’m really craving something, I don’t have to suffer or go out to eat. I’ll also check my pantry to see if I find any side dishes or veggies on hand. Believe it or not, things like quinoa and couscous have been known to spark some meal inspiration! I usually have the stable such as rice, quinoa, and some potatoes in my pantry. These will round out my meals along with canned or frozen veggies.

Now that I have my proteins chosen, I go looking for recipes of how to cook them. I’m sadly one of those people that get bored very easily with meals. Ok, well I wouldn’t say I get BORED necessarily, but more that I like to experiment with new recipes. So, as you can imagine, I’ve gotten a pretty extensive Pinterest account. I also have several cookbooks, which I need to get better about using. If I have a particular protein in mind I’m going to buy, I find it easier to searching Pinterest for recipes rather than digging through a recipe book’s index/table of contents. Once I find a recipe that I like, that fits my dietary nutritional needs, and that I can follow the recipe for, I’ll make a list of the ingredients that I missing. I’ll also throw on any items that I would need for my breakfast or lunch is. This usually includes fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, and Greek yogurt.

Once I have a good idea of what it is that I’m going to be eating for dinner, I start looking at my breakfast and lunch. I’m not very adventurous when it comes to lunch 0 what the heck, right? You gotta draw the line somewhere – you can’t ALWAYS be experimenting! Honestly, I’m a salad or soup kind of girl. Ever since I discovered mason jar salads, I’ve been making those every day of the week. I’m sure once it gets a little bit cooler, I’ll start to mix in some soups. But for right now, being in Florida, I’m going to stick to salads!

For breakfast, I will often have oatmeal or eggs. I only use half a cup of oatmeal and I’ll typically sweeten it with cinnamon, nutmeg, and various other spices. I’m not really a big fan of overnight oats, but that’s more of a hangup I have because it requires either milk or Greek yogurt, both which I would rather use in other meals during the day. If I decide to have eggs, are usually fry two eggs and mix in some sort of vegetables – kale, spinach, or mushrooms.

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Now that I have an idea of what I want, it’s time to actually PLAN. I have a nifty weekly calendar that I started using when I went on Beachbody’s 21 Day Fix plan. I know it may sound crazy, but I like being able to visualize all my meals. Not only can I see everything laid out, but it also helps me to track my containers (more on that later). As I mentioned, I use templates I found for 21 day fix, but you could easily make your own on Excel. Mine is just seven columns with 3 to 6 rows in each column. I say 3 to 6 because some people like to eat three big meals, while others eat 4 to 6 smaller meals throughout the day. I personally fall in the latter category, so I have 6 boxes per day.

I always start with my dinner because that’s my largest meal. It’s also the meal that requires the most ingredients, and I sometimes like to use the same side dishes a few times during the week. For example, if I make pork and tacos, I’ll probably have rice or quinoa as a side dish both days. Next I map out my lunches,  my breakfast, and finally my snacks. Now if you’re like me and you’re following the 21 Day Fix, you’re going to be marking off the containers that are you were using for each of these meals. I mention this because this is a driving factor in how I then plan my smaller snacks. For example, if I have eggs in the morning, I probably won’t have a protein to go with my salad at lunch. This is because eggs count as a protein. I have my Shakeology every day as my second meal/mid-morning snack, and this is considered a protein. If I had eggs for breakfast and my shake that’s two proteins-I only get 4 for the day. My afternoon snack is almost always some sort of fruit and another protein (either Greek yogurt or cottage cheese). I always have a protein for dinner, so you can see if I had some protein for lunch I would then be over a container. I also heavily consider how I build my salads based on my breakfast. If I have oatmeal for breakfast, I may or may not have some sort of starch to go with my salad. This also depends on my dinner. I am only allowed to have three starches during the day, so I try to space them out.

Now do you see why I like my visual calendar so much?

Once I have my core meals planned out on my weekly planner and I’ve marked off the associated containers, I review what food groups I’m missing each day. If I see that there’s a day where I have a lot of starches and fruits but not a lot of vegetables, I’ll go in and either tweak my plan or I’ll just add vegetables. This helps to make sure that I hit all of the main food groups in the right proportions throughout the day and don’t overeat in one particular area.

As you can see, this isn’t something that can be done in 15 minutes. I typically set aside at least an hour to meal plan. Recently, I’ve started to break it out between a few nights during the week so that by the time Friday night rolls around, I have my meal plan completely finished. I go grocery shopping on Saturday mornings (it’s less crowded then), and I don’t have time to sit around meal planning then. I was doing this when I first started meal planning and found myself spending upwards of 2 hours! That’s a waste of precious daylight WEEKEND hours in my opinion. I find I can be just as productive on a week night while watching television. By breaking it out between a few days, I also don’t get so overwhelmed.

So I know this is a lot, and I hope that I was able to break it down just a little bit see you can see really how I do this. Stay tuned later this week for tips on how I meal-prep. ❤️

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