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by Christina Wilson

Meal planning is defined as whatever way you organize yourself to cook.   Some people plan a month in advance, freezing neatly labeled packets of soup and stew. Others wing it, shopping for that evening’s meal at the farmers’ market and picking up whatever looks good to them. Some people love perusing Pinterest and magazines for recipes or inspiration.  Some people have no interest in cooking but realize it’s gotta happen, one way or another.  Meal planning is a personal thing. The goal is to find a process that is both enjoyable and effective.


Types of meal prep include:

  • Full make-ahead meals: You cook an entire meal and store it in your fridge or freezer.
  • Batch cooking or freezing: Make multiple meals, then portion and store them. This approach is useful for recipes you can easily cook in large amounts (like big pots of soup, rice, or mashed sweet potatoes).
  • Meals for one: Prepare food and portion it in single-serving containers. (Usually enough to last a few days.)
  • Ingredient prep: For people who like to cook and serve food all at once, just prep parts of recipes. Chop veggies, mix spices, or marinade meat in advance to save time when you’re ready to cook

What Makes a Good Meal?

You don’t need to cook an elaborate meal to satisfy your nutritional needs and appetite. Uncomplicated meals should be a staple in your weekly meal plans. Unless complicated cooking is your jam! For example, a high-quality protein source, steamed or roasted veggies with salt, pepper, and some healthy fat, and a some quinoa can make for a wholly satisfying and effortless meal.

Try to create meals that contain a balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Eating well-balanced meals promotes satiety, modulates your body’s blood sugar response, and enhances nutrient uptake from food. For example, eating protein and fat with carbohydrates moderates the spike in insulin caused by dietary glucose, and consuming fat with vegetables enhances the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as carotenoids. 

Don't let meal planning become overwhelming. 

Think of your plate visually. 1/2 full of nonstarchy veggies, 1/4 protein source, 1/4 starchy carb (whole grain, sweet potato, fruit), and 1-2 Tbps good quality fat. Boom! Simple.

Look at your plate/bowl and quickly ask, do I have these 4 things:

A protein source (for blood sugar stability, helping neurotransmitters, muscle mass, and keeping you full),

A produce source for fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals,

Some high quality carbohydrate (for energy, mood, hormone support)

Some fat (for helps absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K , immune system help, regulating body temperature, and weight loss!

Don't overthink it too much. Think of your food as enjoyable but also serving a purpose. Do I have protein? Do I have veggies? Is this a quality fat? Not every meal will be perfect, but those 3 things will keep you in a favorable range. Keep it simple. Ask yourself if you are full. 

After the first few weeks of planning meals regularly, I realize it can be easy to fall into a rut, using the same few recipes repeatedly. But dietary diversity is crucial for meeting our nutrient needs, and for feeding our gut microbes, so I recommend introducing new foods and recipes regularly. Start by adding one new vegetable per week and work your way up from there.

Set Aside Time for Grocery Shopping and Meal Prepping. For many people, Sundays work best. You may also want to consider doing your shopping and main meal prep session on a Sunday and a second, smaller meal prep session mid-week to keep your fridge stocked with fresh options. Use a list when grocery shopping and check off items as you add them to your cart.

Plan Your Meals Start by planning your meals on a weekly schedule. Figure out how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you will need for the upcoming week. Factor in things like date nights, meals with clients, and travel. Once you know how many meals you’ll need for the week, decide what to eat for those meals. Make a grocery list based on your notes.

Organizing the recipes you intend to use in meal prepping will save you time in the kitchen. Find 15 to 20 recipes that you really enjoy and rotate them throughout the weeks 

Batch cooking, including doubling and tripling your favorite recipes, is a critical component of food prepping and can be applied toward many types of foods. For instance, bake several batches of egg muffins at a time to have around for breakfasts or roast a bunch of sweet potatoes to use as sides throughout the week.

Purchase High-quality food storage containers. Glass or stainless storage containers with lids that fit are your friends.

Here are some things I used to make for my weekly private clients (and make for myself).


ROASTED VEGETABLES: Roast three or four veggies of your choice on separate sheet pans. Store in separate airtight containers in the fridge, then mix and match at every meal for up to four days.


WHOLE CHICKEN: Season a whole chicken with salt and pepper, add lemon wedges and whole garlic cloves to the cavity, and roast. Eat a piece or two for dinner the night you cook it, then store the rest in airtight containers to use in other dishes for up to four days. There are so many ways to use it. Or buy a rotisserie chicken or 2 to have on hand. No shame in that game!


SALMON: A big piece of salmon will quickly bake, roast, or grill. Make a quick no sugar Teriyaki marinade or dry rub (I use Turmeric and Cinnamon).


BOILED EGGS: Keep a dozen of these in the fridge as a quick salad topper, as a grab-and-go breakfast, or to enjoy as a post-workout dinner (along with some of those roasted veggies in the fridge).


DRESSINGS AND SAUCES: Make a big batch of one sauce you can flavor a few different ways. A quick make-ahead vinaigrette will make midweek salads lightning-fast. Prefer a creamy dressing? Make it on the thicker side to double as a dip, then whisk with olive oil when you want a thinner salad dressing.

Bake some sweet potatoes to have on hand or cook a couple of cups of quinoa to have on hand as your starchy veg.

Have a nice big supply of cut-up veggies and washed lettuce. 

Have something going in your instant pot or crockpot, such as lentil soup or vegetarian chili. 

Have avocados, lemons, seeds, and olives handy. 

Use a Meal-Prepping App

Want more help? Fortunately, there are plenty of apps out there that focus on the organizational aspect of meal planning. The best apps store recipes, offer suggestions, maintain grocery store lists, and more. Embrace technology!

Here are a few I curated: 

AnyList App

AnyList collects and organizes recipes and adds them to a meal plan calendar. It then generates a grocery shopping list that you can easily edit and share with friends and family.

Cook Smarts

In addition to creating weekly meal plans, Cook Smarts also offers helpful cooking guides, infographics, and online cooking sessions.

Mealime

Mealime produces weekly meal plans with over 200 personalization options. (People love Mealime)

Nom Nom Paleo App

The Nom Nom Paleo app has nearly 150 recipes, 2,000 step-by-step photos, and a Whole30-friendly month long meal plan and generates customizable shopping lists, all for a low cost.

Plan to Eat

Plan to Eat allows you to add your own recipes from anywhere on the internet into a recipe book. You can then drag and drop recipes into a calendar to plan out your meals for the week. The app also generates a grocery list for you based on your planned recipes.


RealPlans

RealPlans creates and organizes recipes, develops a weekly menu, and generates grocery lists so that you can get healthy, delicious food on the table. If you need to track your macros, Real Plans has you covered. A subscription will give you access to all the app’s meal plans (Classic, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Paleo, Keto, autoimmune protocol, and more) and over 1,500 recipes. You can add on recipes from well-known food bloggers for an additional fee.


Yummly Recipes and Recipe Box

Yummly takes a cue from Instagram, allowing you to browse through a photo gallery of recipes and save them to your own digital cookbook. Yummly also uses a proprietary program called Food Genome and a patent-pending technology called Food Intelligence to recommend recipes to users based on their allergies, tastes, and more.

Best for Plant-Based Eaters: Forks Over Knives

Healthy grocery shopping can be done online. The following online grocery stores offer organic, healthy options and deliver right to your door:


Meal kits

Sunbasket allows you to select three two- or four-person meal kits per week without gluten, grains, soy, corn, added sugar, or dairy. The ingredients and recipes are delivered fresh so you can cook great meals without any planning or shopping.


Some more articles from the experts!


https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/healthy-tips/2019/10/meal-prep-tips-hacks-experts



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Christina Wilson
Christina Wilson

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