Meal planning and meal prep may seem like buzzword phrases if you're just getting started in the areas of, well, meal planning and meal prep. However, these two things can make an enormous impact on your ability to eat well and feel well during your busiest weeks.
How many times have you started off on a Monday with good intentions to select nutritious food when you're on the go, stick to a desk salad at lunch and then make a delicious and satisfying dinner when you get home from work? Or maybe you're already past this and know it's likely not going to happen because meetings pile up, kids have to be picked up from practice, your pet destroyed the furniture while you were out, creating a huge mess to clean up...you get the picture.
What comes to mind when you see this image? It might be silly, but to me (lover of a good cake doughnut), this is a perfect example of what can happen if you don't create a menu in advance. It's not often that you'll find anything too nutritious hanging from a rack at a convenient store, but often, that might be the quickest or closest thing to provide sustenance as you go, go, go from one event to the next.
If you're tired of the ups and downs of being motivated to eat right one minute and caving into the next tasty thing you see at the corner store the next, then meal planning and meal prep are going to be your new best friends! Not to overload you in one post, here are three super basic tips to keep in mind as you try your hand at meal planning and preparation:
Start with meal planning. While both planning and prep are important, you can't prepare something if you don't have a recipe, proper ingredients and the time to actually do it. By skipping this step, you're setting yourself up to skip meals, become hangry and reach for the nearest doughnut or other processed food you can get.
Pick a day and put it on the calendar. Consistency is key, as is carving out the time. The best way to do this is decide what day you will have a little bit of time to sit down, evaluate the upcoming week, browse a few recipes or brainstorm things you already know how to make, and then create a shopping list. Note: you do not need to plan and shop on the same day! I personally like planning on Friday and grocery shopping Saturday so I can do a bit of prep on Sunday (but more on that in a future post). This will depend entirely your schedule and personal preference.
Keep it simple. As with anything, it might be tempting to go all in and start adding new recipes to your calendar back to back. But if they are new to you, they may take longer than expected (don't trust the stated prep and cook times on most recipes), you may have more or less leftovers than planned, etc. Start small and see how it goes. Remember, you don't even need to use recipes if you have a few go-to items you can rely on already. Things like tuna / chicken / egg salad sandwiches, roasted vegetables, and pasta with some added protein are quick to make and don't require much prep time.
As you start building your weekly meal planning habit, then you can begin to experiment with more complex recipes, cooking more throughout the week and even things like batch cooking ahead of time. But until then, reflect on what worked for you and what didn't each week to create a customized routine that compliments your busy lifestyle.