On the road to leading a healthier lifestyle it is likely that you have heard these two words – meal planning. For some, the idea of routine and organization and cute little matching containers for all the days of the week is the picture of sheer and utter bliss. For others (this is the camp I fit into), the thought of having to be that organized and Pinterest-perfect about food is…well… exhausting, overwhelming, and slightly suffocating. And I’m a dietitian! Food is literally my job. So I can only imagine how these two words make other people feel who are being stretched by one hundred other priorities, on top of figuring out how to nourish themselves (and potentially their loved ones) day in and day out.
So let’s talk about some meal planning strategies that can make this weekly practice a little easier, no matter how you feel about it.
Step 1) A Simple Formula to Build Your Meals
Especially during the weeknight, the less complicated, the better, right? Use this formula to make healthy, simple, and delicious meals:
- Think about produce FIRST. Make this the priority. And make enough so that you can fill HALF your plate with it. Remember, have fun with your veggies! Roasted, steamed, sauteed, spiralized, thinly sliced…the possibilities are endless. When you have fun with your veggies and prioritize them, it is much easier to get them on your plate and enjoy them! Doing this step alone, will help to make sure your meals are more balanced and nutrient dense.
- Make sure there is a source of quality protein. When having beef, pork, chicken, turkey, or fish, keep in mind that a single serving is three ounces, roughly the size of a deck of cards. If having a vegetarian source such as tofu, beans, or legumes, keep your portions to ½ cup.
- Make sure there is a source of quality fat. Nuts and seeds, avocado, and oils like olive, avocado, coconut, and walnut are all great sources of healthy fat.
- Add in high-fiber carbohydrates as needed, preferably coming from veggies (like squash, potatoes, corn, peas, etc.) or fruit. We have a tendency to overdo it on the whole-grains and legumes so I recommend keeping these to 0-1 servings per day, with a serving size being ⅓-½ cup, cooked.
Step 2) Create a Top 10 List
I have established that if I keep 10 specific ingredients on hand, I can whip up a plethora of quick and easy options. I make sure that whenever I go to the grocery store, I always have these on hand. This is my list, in no particular order:
- Organic chicken
- Wild caught cod
- Bell peppers
- Quinoa or sweet potatoes
- Olives or feta cheese
Come up with you top 10 list, make sure your fridge and pantry are always stocked with these key items, and rest assured that a simple meal is never far away!
Step 3) From Your Top 10 List, Write Out Your Go-to Meals List
After a long day or when you are feeling crunched for time, it can be challenging to come up with meal ideas, even when your fridge/freezer/pantry is stocked. Take a look at your top 10 list and get creative. Come up with 5-10 meal ideas that can be made pretty quickly and simply. You can rotate these meals on a week-to-week basis and add new recipes into the rotation as you are feeling creative! To get those brainstorming vibes going, check out my list below:
- Baked egg muffins
- Roasted veggies, chicken, and quinoa salad
- Fajita salads with avocado dressing
- Baked cod and roasted veggies
- Scrambled eggs with avocado slices
- Broccoli and feta stuffed sweet potatoes with grilled chicken
- Baked chicken and roasted veggies
- Crockpot chicken & veggie soup or stew
The good news is, like anything, once you feel comfortable with these steps, they will start to feel like habit. See what strategies resonate with you and truly help to make your life easier!
— Andrea Harrill, dietitianandrea.com