Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Guest Post: Why You Should Meal Plan

I am so excited to welcome Leslie Auman from to the blog today! Prior to starting her career as virtual assistant for teacher-sellers she had a blog focused on her lifestyle and food choices since going Paleo. She is on the blog today to share her secrets for successful meal planning.

I like to talk about finding balance in life. A lot. For the last several years, my life has been very lopsided in one direction: focusing too much on school and work. I’m only a couple of years out of grad school, so my school days aren’t too far behind me, and as you might expect, they dominated my life much of the time while I was in it. That being said, I know how hard it is to want to take the time to set yourself up for success. When you’re so consumed with one thing, very often any energy you have for doing anything else is quickly zapped. For those of us in the Paleo and AIP lifestyle, and especially for those who are new to it, that loss of energy has a domino effect. We don’t have the energy to meal plan, so we don’t know what to have for dinner. Because we don’t know what to have for dinner, we maybe grab something on the way home from work, go out to eat at a restaurant, or make something at home that’s less than nutritionally desirable. Since we ate something “unhealthy,” we get mad at ourselves and feel bad about how we look, about the regression in our progress, or about letting ourselves down. Then what? The cycle repeats. Where is the balance?

My goal today is to help you understand why you need to meal plan. Does that domino effect above sound familiar to you? I figured as much. Do you enjoy it? I didn’t think so. People who commit to this lifestyle for a long time can often get by without too much effort, or their systems and routines are so instilled that they do them without a second thought. But what if you’re not there yet? How do you get to that point? That’s what I want to talk about today, and it’s something that will most definitely help bring some balance back into your life.

So, what is meal planning? Meal planning is the act of planning out what meals you will eat each day for a period of time, most commonly one week. You find or create a calendar­like template, and you write down everything you plan to eat for each meal. (Pro tip: Use your meal plan to help you create your grocery list so that you make sure you have everything you need.) Here are some FAQ’s that you might have about meal planning:
  •  Do I have to plan different selections for every meal? No! In fact, I suggest you batch prepare and cook whenever possible. I’ll talk more about this later, but essentially, you can plan to make a big batch of one meal and portion it out in glass storage containers to take as your lunch every day of the week, as one example. This not only saves you time, but it also saves you money so that you aren’t buying more ingredients at the store. 
  • Where do I come up with meals to plan? When I first started out in the Paleo lifestyle, I had no Paleo cookbooks, so I relied on the Internet a lot. There are some great Paleo and AIP recipes out there, even more so now. However, I now have a large collection of Paleo and AIP cookbooks. Use what you have, and don’t think you have to come up with meals in your own brain. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel here ­­just hop online and search “Paleo crockpot beef,” for example, and see what comes up. 
  • Do I have to stick to my meal plan? While I strongly recommend sticking to the meal plan, if something comes up that you can’t, then don’t be too hard on yourself. When I end up skipping meals on our meal plans, I often just recycle them onto the next week’s meal plan, which makes it a little easier! Also, I sometimes switch around which nights I decide to cook things. Maybe I planned taco night for Friday night, but I actually want it on Wednesday night, so I just make it then and put off Wednesday’s planned dinner until Friday. 
  • Can I find meal plans that are already created? Yes, you sure can! Once you start buying Paleo cookbooks, many of the authors generously include weekly meal plans (with recipes from the cookbook) in the back. You can also search online. For example, Civilized Caveman Cooking has a few pages of his blog dedicated to weekly meal plans that he creates. Find them here

Now that we have a better idea of what meal planning is, I want to take some time talking about why you do it. There are actually a few reasons why meal planning is extremely beneficial, even if it seems time­-consuming and tedious.
  1. It saves you time. Wait...what? Didn’t I just say that it’s time­consuming? I sure did, because I usually feel like meal planning takes me longer than it should. However, it saves me time in the long run. Once it’s done, and once I’ve bought all of the groceries I need for the week to make everything on the meal plan, all I have to do is look at it to find out what meal is planned and in which resource I can find it (e.g. which cookbook or website). I don’t have to waste time browsing my fridge and pantry trying to decide what to eat. I don’t have to waste time going back and forth with my boyfriend about “What do you want to eat tonight? Do burgers sound good? No? Okay, what about chicken thighs?” Look. Find. Cook. It’s that easy, and now you have a little more time to spend doing the things you want to do. 
  2. It saves you money. Not having a meal plan often leads to impulse buying. Why? Because you have no idea what you and your family might want to eat, so you buy a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and before you know it, you’ve dropped a couple hundred bucks on groceries. When you meal plan, you’re much more likely to only buy the groceries that you need, based on your meal plan. You’re also much more likely to skip on eating out at a restaurant or grabbing something on your way home from somewhere. Additionally, if you batch cook like I mentioned earlier, you’re buying a little extra of one small group of ingredients to make it last for a few days instead of buying lots of different ingredients to make up something on the fly. 
  3. It’s a stress reliever. I bet that there are a lot of you who feel stressed out by eating. When to eat? What to eat? What if I don’t have the ingredients I need to make what I want to eat? Meal planning takes all of those “what ifs” away. You know exactly what you’re going to eat on which day(s), and you have the ingredients stocked in your fridge or pantry to make that meal.

Do you see where I’m going with this? You should meal plan because it helps to bring some balance back into your life. When I don’t meal plan, I feel a little lost, and I don’t prioritize making sure I eat enough meals per day (i.e. I often skip lunch in that case). Without structure, we fumble, and, ultimately, we might fail. And failing leads to...the domino effect above. It’s not a fun game, and it’s time to take control. I have some tips on how to get started with a meal planning routine.
  • Choose what day of the week you’ll meal plan. I prefer to do mine on Thursdays because we usually go grocery shopping for the following week on Fridays. 
  • Choose what day of the week you’ll go grocery shopping. Do your grocery shopping either the same day that you meal plan or the next day. Stock up for the whole week to avoid extra trips to the grocery store and potentially having to spend unnecessary money (which you’d be doing anyway when you consider gas usage in your vehicle). 
  • Decide whether you’re interested in doing any food prep, and if so, decide what day you want to do it. Food prep can mean two things: 1.) taking the time to prepare your ingredients so you can just grab and cook them whatever day you need them, like chopping all of your veggies for a meal and storing them in a baggie or container until then. 2.) taking the time to batch cook your meals ahead of time and portioning them out into storage containers so that they’re just grab­-and-­go for the week. (Side note: Batch cooking is when you take a few hours one day to cook up all of your meals for several days or to cook up necessities, like bone broth, gummies, or freezer-­ready breakfasts so that they’re ready when you need them. I used to batch cook both my breakfasts and lunches for the entire work week every Sunday.) 
  • Decide how many meals you’re going to plan. I used to only plan out our dinners, but eventually I started planning out all of my meals. Think about your lifestyle and what works best for you. Maybe you’re not big on breakfast, or maybe you have a cafe near your work that serves compliant food that you like to patron for lunch. Only plan the necessary meals. 
  • Gather your resources to help you get meal ideas. This could be sitting down at your computer to surf the Internet or grabbing a pile of cookbooks (or both). 
  • Complete your meal plan. Write it in pencil if you like, so that you can change things around if you need to. The meal plan template I created for myself includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and in each box I can write the cookbook and page number where I can find the recipe later when cooking it up. When I’m batch planning, I often just draw an arrow from the first box down through the next few days. 
  • Put your meal plan in a visible place. I use magnets on our fridge to hang our meal plans right on the freezer door so that they’re in plain sight all the time. 
  • Reuse your meal plans. I personally don’t do this, but I would recommend to anyone starting out with the meal planning process to save all of your old meal plans rather than getting rid of them. Then, you have old meal plans you can reference for inspiration or for meals that you really loved without digging through cookbooks or the sinkhole of the Internet! 

Are you excited to get to meal planning? I’m excited for you! Think of how much more time, money, and happiness you’ll have with this skill under your cap! Thanks so much for reading today, and I hope you find my suggestions useful. Until next time!

1 comment:

  1. Menu Plan Saves Money, Saves Time, Encourages Nutrition,Avoids Unnecessary Waste, Avoids Stress Cooking and preparing dinner for yourself and your family should be enjoyable not a rushed process simply to subdue everyone’s hunger. A creative and thoughtful menu plan takes the pressure off the week and ensures that the whole family is happy.