How to Meal Plan When You are Just Starting Out
Meal planning is one thing that, as a Registered Dietitian, I think is essential. Personally, I don’t always love doing it but (and this is a big BUT) it makes my life so much easier. It makes the often hectic weeknights more manageable. It makes me waste less food. And it encourages me to try new recipes (by ensuring I have all ingredients on hand when I need them).
Maybe you have been thinking about meal planning but are a little intimidated about the whole process. Perhaps, you just don’t know where to start and the thought of meal planning just seems overwhelming. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to feel this way but meal planning doesn’t need to be hard and it doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor. Here are some things you need to know if you are starting out:
Meal planning looks different for different people.
There is no one right way to meal plan. What works for one person may not work for the next. Factors such as time constraints, cooking skills, budget, activities and whether or not you are cooking for yourself or a family need to be considered when meal planning. Some people like to plan a week (or weeks) at a time, while other feel more comfortable planning the week in smaller 2-3 day chunks. Some people plan all their upcoming meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), while others plan only dinner. Meal planning strategies are just as unique as you are – and sometimes it takes a little time to find out what strategy works best for you and with your lifestyle. The key is to keep trying to find ways to make it work because once it does, it makes your life so much easier.
Meal planning doesn’t have to involve meal prep.
If you’ve ever perused meal planning blogs or pictures on social media, you might get the idea that meal planning needs to involve meal prepping. Meal prepping, as frequently depicted on social media, involves cooking and portioning a week’s worth of meals in neat little containers (often times it is the same meal eaten the whole week). Many clients have the false idea that this is a required part of meal planning but they couldn’t be more wrong. While you are more than welcome to pre-cook and portion out your week’s worth of meals, this is not necessary if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Meal planning can simply be writing out meal ideas for the week (or however many days works for you) and making sure you have all the ingredients on hand when you need them. It could mean pre-washing and chopping veggies so they are ready for use later. It could also mean cooking a meal ahead of time so all you have to do it heat it up at a later time.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be rigid (and shouldn’t be).
Let’s be realistic. Plans change all the time and you shouldn’t be a slave to your meal plan. Just because you have written down a set of meals for the week, doesn’t mean you can’t change it up on the fly. I like to make sure that I have planned 1-2 meals that use less perishable ingredients that can be saved for another day, or popped into the freezer and cooked up later. That way, if my plans change, food doesn’t go to waste and I can still enjoy a little spontaneity.
If you get off track, try again the following week.
If you somehow get off track with meal planning…try, try again. Seriously. It’s bound to happen, you get busy or sick and you forget to meal plan. And you know what? It’s okay. It happens to most meal planners, even the super keen meal planning pros. The thing to remember is that you can always get back up on that (meal planning) horse. Now, if you keep getting off track with meal planning, it could be a sign that your meal planning strategy is off. Perhaps some aspect of what you are doing just isn’t working for you. It so, it may be time to tweak how you meal plan, to make it more efficient and individualized to your needs.
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As Registered Dietitians that specialize in meal planning, weight concerns, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health, heart health, diabetes, pediatric nutrition and sports nutrition we can see you in our local Calgary nutritionist office or as an Online Dietitian by phone or video conferencing for virtual nutrition counseling. Find out more about our Dietitian Nutrition Counseling Programs here.
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