Do you plan your meals, or do you just decide what you’ll be eating based upon what you toss in the cart as you’re strolling through the grocery store? Did you know that meal planning can help you eat better, reach your health and fitness goals, and reduce that bill once you get to the checkout? You’ll also eliminate those last-minute “what can I eat?” issues that often result in poor food choices.
But how can you plan your meals? The first step is to realize you’re planning for success. Think of a time when you felt in control of your life—you knew what you wanted and where you were going, and you took all the required steps to make it happen. Approach meal planning from that same mindset.
Next, you need to learn what to put on your plate. Generally, you want to plan for 4 or 5 nutritionally well-rounded meals per day—it takes some forethought to create these each day.
Download the template and create your own meal plan using the following steps. Start on the last page and work your way forward to create your plan. When your plan is complete you will be able to focus on one day at a time going forward.
Four Steps to Meal Planning
Before we can get into actually planning your meals, first we have to talk about portions sizes of the macros we need for a healthy balanced meal.
Let’s talk portion sizes for each complete meal:
- Healthy Fat = 1 thumb’s worth (plus your fish oil—that’s your Omegas—whenever and however you normally take it)
- Lean Protein = 1 palm-sized portion
- Colourful Vegetables = 1 fist
- Fruits = 1/2 fist or knuckles only
- High-fibre, slow-digesting carbs = 1 cupped handful (if you’re looking to lose fat, consume this after your workout)
Double that if you are male. These are starting guidelines, adjust as required. And, don’t forget to eat slowly, and only until you feel 80% full if weight loss is your goal. If you aren’t sure why that’s important you can learn more about it in my post Stop Eating Until You’re Full, Seriously.
You’ll want to keep things simple in the beginning and become more creative once you get the hang of it. You can start by thinking about the breakfasts, snacks, and lunches/dinners you enjoy, make a list under each meal category and place them on a calendar. Follow the above portion criteria. Are you missing a protein or vegetable source? How do you think you can add it in to balance the meal?
Here are some meal ideas to get you started:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs or omelettes with spinach and mushrooms (and/or other veggies); hard-boiled eggs with sliced veggies or fruit; egg salad served in a bell pepper, or muffin cup omelettes (my personal favourite!).
Lunch and Dinners: Soups, stews, chilli, stir-fries or curries; barbecued meats with grilled vegetables; salads; spaghetti sauce over spiralized vegetables or squash (veggie spaghetti).
Snacks: Protein smoothies or protein pudding (Greek yogurt mixed with protein powder); veggies and hummus; unsalted mixed nuts with apple slices; Greek yogurt and fruit.
Next, decide how many servings you’ll need; then create your grocery list before you go shopping so you won’t forget anything (and are less likely to buy on impulse!).
Once you’ve planned your menu and have purchased your groceries, you can even prepare some items ahead of time to make things easier during the week. Meal prep is a whole other topic that I go into detail in Using the 1-2-3 Approach to Meal Prep.
- Wash and cut your vegetables so you can quickly grab them to use in meals and salads, or for on-the-go snacks.
- Cook complex starchy carbs (like quinoa or brown rice)—they take a while to cook, but when made in advance, they can make a quick and simple hearty meal.
- Cook your protein in advance. Select one or two types each week for variety and cook extra; if you’re grilling some chicken breasts, for example, throw on a couple extra that you can use in a stir-fry later in the week, or toss on top of a salad for a protein punch.
- Hearty soups, stews or chili can be made in large batches to be eaten throughout the week; or you can freeze them in individual-serving containers for use later on for lunches, or for a quick meal when you don’t feel like cooking.
With the bulk of the preparation done, you’ll be less stressed about cooking and you’ll have lots of options on hand to put different combinations together.
Here’s a typical day from my own meal plan:
8:00am: Muffin cup omelettes for breakfast
11:30am: Chili for lunch
3:00pm: Smoothie for a mid-afternoon snack
6:30pm: Homemade chunky soup or a stir-fry (my two favourite dinners!)
9:00pm: Greek yogurt mixed with cottage cheese and some in-season fruit
I can change the variety by changing the fruit in my yogurt, the ingredients in my smoothie, the type of stir-fry I make, or the fillings I put in the omelettes. Instead of chili for lunch, maybe I’ll make some beef stew or grab some that I had in the freezer. All are hearty items that will keep me feeling full while knowing I’m eating nutritious foods.
Meal planning can be as simple or as complex as you like. If you are just starting out, think about the meal that will save you the most time and thought if you have it planned ahead of time and start there. As you get familiar with the process and practice you can dial it up or dial it down.
Want more direction? I can help. If you want to level up your training and nutrition? Want to start loving your reflection you see in the mirror? Check out my Feel Better Fast Kickstarter program.