Over the last few weeks, I’ve been organizing and running a help group on Facebook about meal planning. It wasn’t until I was trying to walk people through this process that I realized how much there is to learn!
I’ll draw a more familiar comparison for some of you…imagine you are helping two friends find new workout routines. One friend has never even seen the inside of a gym, doesn’t own any proper workout shoes, and needs to lose 100 pounds. The other friend has been athletic her whole life and wants to go from 20% body fat to 18% body fat and lose the last 10 pounds she has after having had a baby. She also has a set of weights at home that she can use. You are going to have a hard time asking these people to do the same program because of the difference in knowledge, experience, and equipment. The same is true for meal planning.
So instead of recommending the same thing to everyone in terms of meal planning, you have to individualize the process a bit. Here are three ways to personalize your plan and be successful with your meal planning.
#1. Be honest with yourself about where you are starting
There is a huge range of skills needed to have a perfectly clean, well-balanced diet. You should be honest with yourself about where you are on that scale. Are you currently eating processed food whenever you want, drinking soda like it was water, and have no idea what clean eating and meal planning is all about ? Or maybe you are generally pretty healthy with your meals, you know how many calories you are targeting and you are within shot of that goal on a fairly regular basis, struggling with cleaning up 25% of your diet? You can see that these people would be at very different places.
The factors that come into a healthy meal plan include
1. What foods you are eating?
2. What liquids are your drinking?
3. How many calories are you getting?
4. How many times per day are you eating?
5. What is the balance of the protein, carbs, and fats?
If you are at the beginning, don’t tackle all 5 of these at once. It will get really overwhelming and most likely lead to failure. Start with #1. Get that processed food out of your diet and make your meals from fresh ingredients. The rest can come later. Calorie intake is not your biggest problem…it is the fact that you aren’t in control of any part of healthy eating so instead of bogging yourself down with calories and balance, just work on cleaning out what shouldn’t be there in the first place. Maybe you want to start with #2. Kick that soda habit and then concentrate on the food side. Whatever it is, you won’t have to be perfect to notice the difference. If you are further along in the clean eating, then kick yourself in the butt and start tightening up on the details!
#2 Be honest with yourself and your schedule
Many of us are balancing a million different things so our schedules are not consistent at all. That’s totally fine and normal. When you are sitting down to meal plan, start with your calendar.
What are the events and challenges that are coming up this week that you need to work around when creating your plan? For example…maybe you have a late meeting at work…that night you want to have something quick and easy to put together. Maybe you have an early school morning with the kids and will need to plan a grab and go breakfast. Maybe you have lunch plans with a colleague and will be eating out that day so you don’t need to worry about the groceries for one of the lunches. Write all of these notes/events in on your paper in the appropriate space.
The most frustrating thing will be if you spend all this time writing a plan and the next day you have a dinner date that you had forgotten about. You are off plan before you even started so this is why I encourage writing your meal plan using your calendar first.
#3 Find a meal plan online that works for you and your personality.
There is no sense in recreating the wheel so get yourself a starting point.
If you are like me, I don’t really like to cook that much so I typically will repeat my dinner for lunch the next day and I’m not afraid to have the same breakfast and lunch everyday. I also don’t have that many ingredients in my recipes. Maybe you love to cook and want to find new recipes.The point is, you and I will probably have different meal plans.
One issue that came from a friend was that she typically wants to grade papers while eating lunch. Maybe a sandwich rather than a salad for lunch would be best so she could eat it with one hand. (yes we could go into the bad idea of multitasking while eating but I’ll let that one go for now) These practical things will likely come up as you go so just be aware of them as they do.
I encourage beginners, to use the great resources online for basic things like: “How do I bake a sweet potato?“ or “How do I hard boil eggs?”. Don’t be afraid to ask Google the basics. It totally helps.
No matter where you are on your meal planning journey, write down a plan and follow it. Find a plan online that you love and follow it. The key is writing it down AND following it.
I hope these three tips help you get started no matter where you are on your journey. Remember that meal planning is something that takes practice. The hard part after the planning is over is the execution. Feel free to reach out for help on any of this. I’m here for you!