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Introduction to meal planning

I strongly believe that making healthy eating a priority in your life requires quite a bit of planning. Everyone knows how difficult it is to resist devouring anything in front of you when you are tired and starving after a big day at work. Thats why I like to plan almost everything I eat in my week, from breakfast to snacks to dinners, or at least have a lot of healthy options I can easily choose from. I finally found a good routine that keeps me and my family on the right track and I could not wait to share it with you, so here we go:

1- Plan recipes, meals, breakfasts, snacks, don’t think about the ingredients just yet. This first step is the most important. Try to visualize yourself in your day and write down ideas of what you might like to eat: easy lunches for on the go, frozen breakfast for quick busy morning, sweet healthy dessert, home made dressings, etc. I typically choose few recipes I’m used to make that I keep for the days I’m more busy, like simple soups, pizza (I like whole wheat pizza crust by Engine 2 that I find in the frozen section at whole food), hummus and vegetables sandwiches, but I also make sure to have enough new recipes or ideas every week to keep things refreshing. Having something new frequently also helps our kids to explore the different cuisine style and give a good workout to their fresh new little taste buds. Writing your meal planning down is also important to have a good visual of your week. I constantly come back to my list and even cross off meals we already ate. Bring your cookbooks around you and enjoy all those amazing healthy blogs, there are so many ideas out there. This requires that you sit down, alone, limiting distractions to the minimum and plan on needing at least an hour. I see this first step as self care: care for my family and my health. Give your self enough time to plan your meal just like you would give yourself time to exercise. The trick is to make it a fun time that feels rewarding.

2- Built your grocery list by going over each of the recipes you just wrote down. Don’t forget to plan lots of fun healthy snacks to help deal with your cravings and hungry kids. It’s all about being organized and plan ahead. There are staples that always come back on my list even though they might not be part of my meal planning, like leafy green, whole grain, frozen fruits, condiments, etc. For the rest of my list, I try to be really detailed and meticulous. There is nothing more frustrating for me then forgetting a key ingredient for a recipe I was excited to try!

3- Grocery shop and organize your fridge. This usually means a big grocery, but don’t forget, if you planned well, you won’t need to do an other shop for days and you will avoid spending extra money eating out. Planning is saving time and money, you can do it! Also, I noticed that keeping our fridge nice and neat helps me stay organized.

Why I recommend to grocery shop on line if available:
Save yourself lots of precious time! Just not having to physically go to the grocery store is a big time saver, but also you avoid hunting every single ingredients around the store, waiting in line to pay at the cashier, carrying all the bags, etc, I’m exhausted just writing this list!
Save yourself some money! I find online shopping so much easier to compare prices. If you write oranges in the search area, then you get a comparison of all the oranges in the store without distraction. Also, my shop is much more concise this way since I don’t see everything around and avoid compulsive buys.
Make your grocery shopping in multiple sessions! I often start my grocery shopping with putting my regular ingredients first, then I might take a break, then come back adding the ingredients for one or 2 recipes, then attend our children, etc. While I do prefer to sit down alone and quiet to plan the meals for the week, usually after our kids are in bed, I will often break down writing down the grocery list in multiple session just because I’m busy with our kids around and I don’t have much time to myself in a day. Grocery shopping on line makes this easy since you can come back to your cart later on.
– It’s less exhausting! Well, this one is an easy one for me. Ever tried to grocery shop for 4-5 days worth of food with a 18 month and 3 year old? Let me tell you, this is energy draining at its best. Although I still go grocery shopping for very small shop with them so they can see the food in the store, choose fun exotic ingredients and learn the paying process at the cashier, I avoid going shopping with them. Mama needs to save her precious energy!

Tips to include more plant based items in your meals:

– Plan some time to prepare batches of food like brown rice, potatoes, greens, etc. You then can easily add them to your bowls or sandwiches. If it’s already cooked, you will eat it. Stay tuned for my upcoming posts about the way I get ready for the week.

– Don’t underestimate hummus. I could write a whole post about hummus. As a dipping for pre-cut veggies, spread for sandwiches wraps, base for salad dressings, etc. Hummus is regularly a saver for our lunches particularly when we are on the go. I also like to keep more than one type to keep things interesting.

– Make rices, starchy vegetables (ex: sweet potatoes) and beans the center of your plate. It will give you enough energy for your day and you will stay full longer.

– Ditch the dairy but be prepared to feed your strong cheese cravings, especially at first. Batch cooking vegan cheese sauce and freezing small portions can help (Angela Liddon from Oh she glows has a great recipe). Also, although not whole food, I will sometimes use a bit of vegan cheese (sparingly) to keep me on the non dairy path.

– Plant based meat is not a staple in our house, but it sometimes saves the day. We keep some in the freezer that we use only for emergencies (and to satisfy my husband’s cravings).  It can be a good tool as you transition towards eating less meat, but keep in mind to limit its use to a minimum.

– Clean lettuce and veggies and pre-cut everything you can so it’s ready to go. I always end up eating more vegetables when it’s already ready in the fridge especially when our two children are screaming hungry at me.

– Make ahead few dressings for salads and sauces to drizzle on rice bowls. Combined this to your cleaned and cut veggie and your batch cooked rice and you can wrap up an healthy filling lunch in no time.

It took me a little while to get that routine down, but now it works almost everytime. I will usually plan 3-4 dinners at a time, knowing that I will have left overs sometimes covering 2 dinners. I usually run out of fresh produces before we ate all the planned meals, like lettuce and fruits, so I usually have to do a smaller shop later in that week. This allows me to adjust my meal planning if I need one more meal to make us last until the next big grocery. If you are just starting to get more organized with your meal planning, you could maybe start with planning 2 meals at the time.

Taking an appointment with yourself to write down that list can sound a bit exaggerate, but might be the secret to make it last long term. Write it down in your calendar and keep the lists of the meal in an clear spot like on your fridge.

I hope this is helpful. This post is to show the big picture of how I make it happen and I’m so excited to keep sharing more examples and details about how I do it. 

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