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Thursday
Jan142016

10 Winning Strategies for Meal Planning and Preparation

“What am I going to eat?”

It’s one of the most common questions people have when they commit to a weight loss goal. With regard to meal planning and preparation, you might feel at a loss for skills or inspiration. Maybe you’ve never enjoyed cooking and frequently eat out. Perhaps you love to cook but feel like all your favorites are suddenly off the menu.

Regardless of your kitchen talents, if weight loss and optimal health are your goals, it’s time to incorporate better ideas and behaviors into your food routine.

Not sure where to start? Below you'll find my top ten, client-approved strategies for meal planning and preparation.

Start with the foods you know you like first.

I’d consider this Meal Planning 101. Although I do think we should all expand our horizons and try new foods, when you’re just getting started it’s better to plan healthy meals around foods you know that you enjoy or find healthier versions of them. If you’ve never tried salmon or if you dislike fish, don’t plan for it in your meals just because you know it’s healthy. Keep it simple and appealing. 

Build a plan from foods that you “can” eat versus what you shouldn’t.  

It’s another beginner’s mistake. I’ve always coached my clients in such a way to present all of the awesome, healthy food choices they can and should eat versus “red pen-ing” their food journals and crossing out foods they need to give up. This helps create a positive approach to food and meal planning. Remember, positivity makes your process feel more doable.  

Buy foods that you can use over and again throughout the week.  

If you plan for meals and snacks that use similar ingredients, you’ll be more likely to stick to the plan but also keep your grocery bill on budget. Avocados are great on a cooked chicken breast or alongside your eggs, while nuts/seeds can complement your salad for lunch or just serve as a great snack.  

Designate a day and time to plan and prep.   

My day is every Sunday. I spend some time in the morning collecting inventory and making a grocery list, then hit the store for all of my staples and meal-specific food items. Planning beforehand allows me to shop with purpose and stick to my list. As a result, I avoid over-purchasing, which can lead to poor food choices and food waste. Your first go-around will take some extra time, but the more you do it, the more efficient you will become.  

Prep food as soon as you get home from the store.  

Wash and cut up vegetables. Hard boil your eggs. Fry your bacon and/or grass-fed beef. Anything you can do now to minimize prepping, packing or cooking meals later in the week will help. One of the biggest complaints I hear about vegetables is that they always go bad or aren’t convenient to grab on the go. If you wash them and cut them up (maybe even pack several plastic “sandwich” bags or small tupperware containers) as soon as you get home, you’ll be more likely to grab them or eat them for convenience when you are in a time crunch!  

Start small and work your way up. 

Everyone starts his/her weight loss journey with a different take on meals. Maybe you eat out for every meal every single day! It’s important to start with a goal you’re comfortable with and that you know you can commit to. Maybe week one is all about getting up fifteen minutes earlier each morning to allow you time to prepare breakfast. Once you get the hang of that new habit, maybe you pack your snacks for work each day before you start bringing lunch on a regular basis.  

Batch prep and cook.  

Invest in a case or two of mason jars or glass containers to use for your lunches. This can be as easy as crock-potting chili on Sunday and filling five mason jars for your lunches at work for the upcoming week. I try to practice this every Sunday. It makes packing my lunch easy and doable each morning, and I don’t run out of lunches during the work week. You could batch prep salads while you cook a bunch of chicken breasts to accompany them for lunches or even do mason jar lasagna (grass fed beef layered with organic tomato sauce and full fat ricotta) – one of my all time favorites!

Keep your eyes peeled for healthy inspiration.  

I hear this all of the time from my clients: “There is this woman at work who always eats healthily. So, I’m trying to be like her and mimic her meals.” I think that’s great. I get asked daily what I’m eating or reheating in the break room. I might have a simple salad filled mason jar, which is a regular go-to meal for me! To a coworker, however, it might be the best idea he or she has ever seen. Keep your eyes open and ask your friends and family what they do for meals to get practical and enticing ideas.

Keep a meal journal.  

Incorporate this into your daily food journal, or keep a separate record. As you try new recipes and meals, make a note of which ones tasted the best, were easiest to create, were budget-friendly, froze/reheated well, etc. This is also a great way to take notes if you tweak or even create your own recipes that end up tasting fabulous enough to repeat later! 

Use your refrigerator and freezer wisely.  

In my refrigerator makeover article, I talked about how strategically organizing your refrigerator could help you eat healthily and limit food waste. When we overstuff our refrigerators, food gets lost, and it actually becomes harder to choose something to eat. I also believe the freezer is underutilized. It can be great for storing leftovers (think batch cooking or doubling your dinner recipes!) and storing anything you have in bulk. Next time my favorite grass-fed beef is on sale, for example, you know I’m stocking up and freezing packages for meals in the next month or two!

Thanks for reading. Are you interested in more winning strategies for meal prep and planning? Talk to one of our dietitians today! 

Written by Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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