In honor of my Sunday ritual, I wanted to take a minute to talk a little more about meal planning. I still get a lot of questions about this process, and “how I stay motivated” to do it every week. I’m definitely not perfect, and we don’t always stick to our plan 100%, but simply having one in place makes it way more likely that we will have healthy meals for the week.
A lot of people are intimidated by the process of meal planning and simply don’t know where to start, so I wanted to provide some quick, simple tips that I try to keep in mind when I am making my meal plans every week. Hopefully this helps give you the courage to get started! If nothing else, copy the sample meal plans that I have included in this post for the next couple of weeks just to get in the habit of having a plan and going to the grocery store to get all of the ingredients so you can follow through with it. Once you realize how much stress it takes out of your life, you will never be able to look back!
The menu below is a good example of what a typical week might look like for us.
Here are some of the things that I take into consideration when creating meal plans:
- We almost always have my veggie flatbreads on Mondays, so one meal is automatically figured out for us, which makes things a little easier. 🍕 If you have a family favorite similar to this that you never get tired of, don’t be afraid to throw it on the meal plan every week! There’s nothing wrong with a little repetition if you’re always satisfied. Once you get bored of it, then switch to a new favorite!
2. I like to choose 1-2 recipes each week that will make a large enough quantity for us to have leftovers for healthy work lunches. For example, a crockpot meal on Sundays to eat for the first few days, and another bigger meal early to mid-week that will get us (especially Ethan) through the rest of the week. This post is mainly focusing on healthy dinners, but lunches are equally important!
3. I try to mix up cuisines and incorporate a few different sources of protein, rather than just chicken, chicken, and more chicken. I personally love chicken and know that there are so many different ways to prepare it and make it delicious, but I know a lot of people get tired of it. It is not the only healthy protein option, so keep that in mind! Try to include some seafood in your meal plans as well, like shrimp, scallops, tilapia, salmon, cod – whatever you like! Frozen fish thaws quickly and it’s very easy to prepare, so I love having it on hand as a quick and healthy dinner option. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You might be pleasantly surprised! Some of our go-to protein options are lean ground chicken or turkey, chicken breasts, turkey burgers (I love the frozen ones from Aldi), salmon, tilapia, shrimp and Morning Star meatless crumbles!
4. I try to include at least one meatless meal per week. Why? Because diets that are lower in meat are typically healthier overall and lead to a lower risk of heart disease — they tend to be higher in fiber, lower in saturated fat, and higher in vitamins and minerals, as long as you remember to include plenty of fruits and veggies, legumes and whole grains! Usually our Monday flatbreads are the meatless meal of the week, but some of my other meatless favorites include:
- Mexi-Veggie Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili
- Butternut Squash & Black Bean Enchilada Skillet from Ambitious Kitchen that we recently tried and fell in love with!
5. It doesn’t say it on the specific meal plan listed above, but we typically have leftovers or just whatever sounds good on Thursday nights. That might mean breakfast for dinner, a smoothie, grilled cheese & tomato soup, salad, etc. For example, last Thursday Ethan decided he wanted to make a “mac & cheese burger” using a Trader Joe’s chili lime chicken burger that we had in the freezer, and I wanted to finish off all the leftovers we had in the fridge, but I also had a small serving of the macaroni because it’s one of my favorite things. The small serving was enough to satisfy me, and overall, my meal was still super healthy! Don’t beat yourself up every time you eat something that doesn’t seem perfectly “healthy”. Try to look at the big picture vs. that one food choice. It will likely not make a difference in your progress toward your goals, and in a way it may actually help by preventing you from binging the next time you come across that food.
6. On Friday nights, we usually eat out. After a full week of cooking & eating healthy meals, I like to think we deserve it! It’s nice to get out of the kitchen and relax, and it’s possible to make healthy-ish choices when you go out to eat. For example, this past Friday we went out to eat and both got pizza. I got a smaller size, all veggies and just had a couple slices. Could I have gotten a salad and steamed veggies instead? Absolutely. But it’s truly all about balance. It is more than okay to include the foods that you love without completely undoing your hard work to eat well all week long. Deprivation will usually come back to hurt you in the end. Allowing yourself to eat the things you truly want will prevent you from binging and losing control around those foods. Don’t get me wrong – it has taken me a long time to get to this point where I can eat more intuitively and control myself around certain foods without going overboard, but I’m extremely happy with the balance I have now. Here are a few sample meal plans that I have made over the past few weeks / months to help you get started! I hope this post gave you a better idea of how I go about this process. After you make your meal plan, make your grocery list so you can go to the store and get everything you need for the week to be successful in following through with your plan.
Head to my post “How to Avoid The Sunday Scaries” for even more on this topic.
Sample Meal Plan #2:
Sample Meal Plan #3:
If you haven’t already, head to my Aldi post to see some of my go-to dietitian-approved grocery picks.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments on meal planning; I always love hearing from you!
Lastly, I am taking over the Further Food Instagram story this week, so make sure to go follow them at @furtherfood so you can follow along with my day and see what I’m up to! : )
As always, thank you for reading and have a great week!