Why is this the meal planning article of your dreams?
I am going to help you to get organised, make sense of how to prep for the week AND it won’t take up all your time and energy. End result? Gorgeous, easy meals that fill you up but won’t put you over on calories.
If you have a weight loss or fitness goal for the new year, if you’re not organised and you don’t make your own meals, I don’t know how you’ll get results. What you put in your mouth affects up to 80% of your results.
But meal planning doesn’t have to be hard or arduous.
Instead of wasting time and energy chasing yourself around in circles, organisation helps you to deal with the day-to-day, leaving you feeling more relaxed and in control. Plus, this is a biggie. You’ll save money. Lots of it.
My weekly organisation is simple. I look after a chronically ill child full-time, I work and I have specific dietary restrictions to cater for (my son and I) plus a social triathlete’s appetite (my hubby). If it is hard, time-consuming and required lots of my attention, I simply can’t commit to doing it (same as many of you, of course, different demands on your time but same pressures).
This is what I can do without over-stretching myself.
1. I shop for meals twice a week. Sunday and Wednesday or Thursday. If I can’t shop, I arrange to to have fresh food delivered (Woolies delivers free on Wed).
2. I eat simply. And relatively cheaply by reducing packaged foods.
3. I shop and prep on the same day. When I get home from shopping, I organise TWO things before anything gets done- a fridge salad (naked – the salad, not me – and I dress before each meal) and a fruit salad. I eat 1-2 cups of salad or vegetables of some description before each meal.
4. I roast vegetables and meats on prep days. These form the basis for many meals and get added to salads and meals like risottos, pasta dishes or sandwiches.
5. I grate, puree and chop things up – some vegetables get bagged for the freezer (think bags of spinach, pumpkin, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, etc). Others get stored in the fridge ready to snack on, to create a salad or add to a meal.
6. I check on my frozen smoothie packs – and I make up more of those too as need be. This way I ALWAYS have things on hand, ready to go.
Does this sound like a bit of work? Yes, it is. And no, it’s not. I lead a busy life (don’t we all?) so the aim for me was to perfect a process that minimised my kitchen time and reduced stress around what we would eat.
I work from home which is both a blessing and a curse. The curse is that I work in the room next to my fridge all day, every day. If I’ve pulled an all-nighter with my boy, I am tired and will crave carbs. Over time, I’ve learnt to have healthy prepared food ready to go that is fruit and veg based – so that’s what I eat (because I’m lazy, I’ll admit it). To eat anything else is a hassle because I’d have to prepare it from scratch.
And because I usually go from feeling fine to starving in approximately 2 minutes, I just want something filling and fast. So preparing salad bases in advance almost forces me to stay healthy and eat well (see mum, there are benefits to laziness). It also means there’s always something healthy on hand for everyone to eat.
My number one priority each week is to ensure that my all my salads and vegetables are all done ahead of time. Then I just steam some rice or cook wholemeal pasta and grill fish, chicken or meat. And eggs. I love a good egg. I have it down pat now – my meals all take 10 minutes to assemble, cook and plate.
When I cook, I make sure I have leftovers to portion up at the end of the meal – and I try to put at least one additional meal in the freezer each time I cook so we have lunches done (I’m not making lunches as well – leftovers are fine).
Make it a priority and try and do this for yourself – I promise you, it’s so easy. It does take a bit practice to get this lazy with what you eat but tweak my plan to make it work for you and your family. I add variety by season – what’s plentiful, delicious and cheap. My favourite Pinterest board is my vegetarian one because it keeps me inspired… And no, I’m not vegetarian but I want fun, simple and vegetable based ideas.
Some other tips?
Stay inspired or you end up eating the same stuff over and over. Boring. Use seasonal produce, eat dishes from around the world – all these ideas serve to keep you engaged and interested in looking after your nutrition. I highly recommend browsing blogs and websites and then saving as many recipes as you can. Hang out on Pinterest. Pile up some cookbooks and reach for the sticky notes. Get inspired!
Create a place to save recipes, and keep it SIMPLE.
Do whatever works for you and don’t get caught up in a system that’s rigid. Personally, I like Pinterest because it’s easy to browse visually what I’ve saved, it has an awesome search function, and a lot of my favourite chefs are on there. It also serves as a visual reminder of the recipes I have made and loved too so I can always come back to recipes I have made in the past if I feel like something specific. I have also just started using Plan to Eat because I can save recipes by clipping from a website I visit (so easy) and I can create meal plans that print out and shopping lists too. You can also link it to your calendar so you know what to buy at the shops and what’s on the menu (and you can share with the hubby too – I don’t want you to have all the fun of being responsible for feeding the family).
3.Go with theme nights (soup night, meatless Mondays, roast, slow cooked, pizza, etc.).
Some clients find it helpful to have a theme night for each day of the week. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it may be especially helpful for those of you with kids. See if they want to get involved with planning their favourite burritos or homemade pizzas (with cauliflower or zucchini crusts) once or twice a week, or suggesting soups for the next week.
Keeping the focus narrow will help you and your household make quick recipe decisions.
4. Cook components of your meals.
Going beyond prep, cook components of the meals. For instance, start a batch of tomato sauce for pasta while you wash greens or prepare roast vegetables. The sauce can go on pizza one night and in lasagna the next. Or roast a chicken that you can eat that night and use for lunches the rest of the week. Use carcases to make stock – I make mine in the pressure cooker in around an hour. All my vegetable scraps go in here too – peels, tops, everything.
5. The freezer is your friend.
It’s the friend of future prepared ‘you’. Make a double batch of sauce and freeze half for later. Make a double batch of soup, stew, chicken cacciatore, cooked beans — throw it in the freezer. Let a month go by, and those leftovers will look fresh and tasty! Even just a small container of something like a stock or sauce or cooked rice could mean you have the basics of a meal for one. Label everything – no, you won’t remember what it was in 3 months time.
6. Don’t overfill the fridge.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when your fridge is stuffed. Things get hidden in the back, lost behind the new shopping. Don’t let things go bad – if your spinach is a few days old, freeze it for smoothies or sauces. Blitz tomatoes and freeze. Keep your fridge airy and light, with a sensible, realistic amount of food in it. Label and date everything that goes into the fridge, especially leftovers, as a visual reminder of what remains to be eaten.
7. Stock a healthy pantry
Meals are easier and quicker to prepare if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Don’t run out of olive oil at inconvenient moments. Have spices ready to dress up chicken and beans quickly. Keep a lemon and a sheaf of fresh herbs in the fridge at all times. A tin of tomatoes, some coconut milk and a can of beans have saved my household from starvation at times.
Also published on Medium.