How to Meal Plan - Part 2 of 2
In How to Meal Plan Part 1, we talked about the aspects of meal planning from an outside look. This includes the things you need to ask yourself about how to make things work for you long term, as well as having systems and processes in place.
This article, the second installment, is written to explain the specifics and details of how to really set yourself up for success. This will prepare you to do the actual prepping in the best way possible for you and anyone else that you meal prep for.
In earlier articles, we defined meal planning as the time spent deciding what you want to prep and eat for a given amount of time.
For some people it is the upcoming week. For others, it’s split into 3-day sections due to shift work, scheduling issues, or the food prep they have available to them. This time is very important and requires some serious planning as your family or people you cook for gets bigger.
When we break down planning there are a few key questions to answer:
Who are you making food for?
Making sure you know how much food you’ll be responsible for making. This is one of the major determining factors in your grocery shopping, style of meal prep you’ll do, and how to budget. This includes planning for times when you are hosting family or friends.
When hosting or cooking for others, it’s important to consider their food allergies, preferences, and aversions. Knowing how to make honor these is important, and is often the most difficult part of food prep, specifically food preferences. Anytime you are cooking for people who are somewhat limited in their food options, it is important to have options and ideas.
One way we have helped clients and athletes in the past is to meal plan parts of the menu that serve everyone and then multiple options for other parts. Here is an example of meal planning & prepping for a family of a Gluten Free athlete we have:
- Gluten free carb source – You would choose from any of our Glute Free Carb sources list, this includes things like potatoes, corn, quinoa, millet and rice.
- Protein source – this can be cooked in the crock pot or in a 1 Skillet Meal, with the carb source for easy meals or it can be made separately on the stove, grill or in the oven.
- Vegetable source – this can be the same for everyone and again made with the gluten free carb or in a steamer, pot, grilled, or baked in the oven
- Fat source – It’s very easy to add oil on top of your veggies, cook your protein source in it, or add it to the carb source to help with cooking.
Another common issue to plan around is the lifestyle choices such as pescatarian or vegetarian diets. For the Pescatarian athlete, it becomes more about figuring out easy ways to have fish ready to be cooked for dinners and other meals OR other protein sources that are not animal sourced. This means we can use some of the same vegan & vegetarian protein sources to help for meals where fish is not easily available.
Some easy fish sources include things as easy as canned fish, tuna, etc. Other options include purchasing flash frozen fish of choice that can easily thaw overnight or during a day while away at work or school to be cooked in a pan upon getting home.
The other easy option is to have high protein foods that require short cook times for that person as well. Things like eggs, smoked salmon slices, sardines in olive oil, nuts and seeds are all great to have on hand and ready to go in case time does not permit the ability to prep full fish entrees. Remember also, that more vegan and vegetarian friendly fare works well too, things like tempeh, tofu, soy and beans/lentils are all great protein sources that other family members can eat too.
Different goals – Gaining weight, losing weight, etc.
What if you live with an athlete or person who wants to gain weight, but you want to lose weight?
The good news is this can easily be solved with portion control. While we don’t have many of our clients weigh and measure their foods, we do teach them to use their hands, read this article, Should I Track My Macros? In order to make sure they are eating appropriately for their goals.
This allows for quick accountability and easy adjustments for multiple people that you may be cooking for. The people eating to gain weight will have larger portions and potentially eat more frequently than those trying to lose weight.
Types of food and quality of food, surprisingly to most people, will not change much. We may look to increase the amount of carbohydrates or protein for an athlete looking to gain weight, but this can easily be accounted for by changing the portion sizes on their plate.
How many days ahead are you making food and how much/where can you store your prepped food?
Being aware of your current situation and knowing how and where you can store your prepped food is important. If you don’t have this planned out to include whether you have a fridge and/or freezer, ability to create dried goods and places to store canned food, it could lead to losing a lot of money and wasted time.
Important things to consider also are how long each food you make can be stored before it goes bad. Then you need to plan out how often you will be shopping so you purchase the correct portions and amounts to create foods to last only until the next time you go shopping. This will take some practice and you will get better over time, but it should definitely be considered while going through the meal planning process.
Finally, a very important questions is, what is my budget?
Knowing what you can spend on food is important. We all have parameters we need to stay within for our food budget. This can seem like a problem for eating healthy, but if done correctly, even a small budget can lead to huge improvements in eating habits. The important things to do are to follow some basic principles to maximize how far your money goes.
Shop sales – take advantage of foods on sale, during BOGO’s and other cheaper priced times. This is a great time to stock up on foods that you know you’ll eat a lot of, and you can also make sure that those snacks are on hand.
Potentially use a meatless meal – This doesn’t mean low or no protein, this means that you just need to plan better with beans, lentils, quinoa, etc. and then have your veggies and good fat sources too. This will allow for cutting out what is often the most expensive part of a meal, while still hitting all 4 Major Components of a Perfect Meal. This will also allow you and your family to try new recipes and foods you may never have had before.
Avoid special ingredients – When people start meal prepping and planning, they often start looking at lots of recipes and foods they’ve never had before. On a positive note, this can be a great way to expand both your cooking and taste pallet. On a negative note, this often means that you will need to buy food you have never had before and may not like OR you may buy food that is more expensive due to a special ingredient or need for a recipe. That is a quick way to blow a budget, so just be cognizant of that when picking any new meal prep ideas and recipes.
Money for Conveniences - If you have enough money and are financially stable, but constantly on the go, it may be time to ask if you can spend more money to increase convenience. Things like meal prep services are often not cheap, but if you are unable or unwilling to find the time to meal prep your own food, this is a great way to utilize a resource you may have more of (money) than one you don’t (time).
As people get older, they often have a hard time adjusting to (myself included) because they were taught the value of money and feel almost guilty about not doing the work themselves. This is not something to feel guilty about, and if it will allow you to spend more time with your family, friends or doing what you love instead of cooking, it will help long term.
Who is in charge of what?
If your meal planning and prepping involves more than one person, you need to figure out who has roles, & what they are.
For me, I know that I will be manning the grill and that my wife will be making her world famous sides. This was never discussed, we just naturally fell into our rhythm when we meal prep and she does a fantastic job while I nerd out on the grill.
Sometimes the roles and responsibilities will change…
When COVID hit and my wife was pregnant, suddenly all of the grocery shopping also fell on my shoulders. Personally, I love it because I get a cup of coffee and I am in and out of there before it even gets cold because I prep and have my list ready to go. It is also a great time, now that conditions have improved some, to take my 3-year old, get her a cookie from the Publix bakery, and spend some good time teaching her about vegetables and other foods in the grocery store. Just remember that no matter what, delegation and division of work leads to family success for meal planning and prepping.
We believe that a family should work together to prep the food, sons and daughter should help with parts and those duties should expand over time for them to do more. Without this, you are doing your children a disservice, as these are valuable, applicable skills that will carry over VERY well for the rest of their life.
Meal prepping can truly improve your life and allow you to have more freedom if done correctly. Do you want to learn more about how to meal plan, build better daily habits and have a staff of dietitians, coaches and counselors to help be your allies? Click here to speak with our staff and get more help on your journey today!