If you fail to plan, you're planning to fail. One of the best things you can do to help yourself upgrade your food choices is to create a meal plan and stick to it!
As your health coach, I don't do this job for you. Why? Because I'm not you! What might look delectable to me, may not have the same appeal to you. What my kids eat is likely different to what your kids will!
There is no getting out of this job, you've just got to make time and do it (JFDI!). Here is my top tips to menu plan like a boss, without wasting precious time pouring over recipe books/apps/websites or 'forgetting' to pull something out the freezer the night before.
How to Menu Plan Like a Boss
1. Use a template.
Make your own menu template by simply re-creating the same layout as the example table below. Once it is complete stick it to the front of your fridge so through the week you can answer 'What's for Dinner' with 'Look at the Fridge!' Use colour-coding to make things stand out, like I make the last row (prep and freezer) purple, and links are orange.
2. Flag your busiest days and work on those first
If every Tuesday night you're dancing your heart out at @BodyBeatzGroupFitness, then you're hardly going to feel like cooking! So plan Monday nights dinner to be something that you can cook in bulk and reheat after class. If you plan for your busy periods, you will be less likely to 'slip' and find yourself ordering take away.
Furthermore, if you have a crazy morning schedule, start off by planning in something easy you can make at dinnertime the night before. Eg, while dinner is in the oven, use that time to put together a smoothie bag, or prepare your overnight chia pudding or bircher muesli. This way you're not spending any extra time in the kitchen and you can grab and go in the morning. If you are going to prepare something in advance, remind yourself about it in the 4th row of your menu plan (in purple below). Mark it with P for prepare so you can't forget!
3. Plan to cook once and eat twice!
Utilise any recipes that are easily scalable like bolognese, stews, soups, one-pot dinners and stir-frys and make them stretch to cover two meals! Also, as I mentioned in point #2, plan the leftovers to fall on your busiest days so lunch or dinner is a quick reheat.
4. Start with breakfast first, then add lunch and dinner.
Breakfast is usually a day by day meal, so start there. Then, plan a day at a time for lunch and dinner, so that you can note when leftovers are available from the previous day. For example if I'm making up a batch of healthy bolognese, I will always put it in a menu for at least two meals. Which is filling and easily stretches to feed the four of us that way.
5. Plan snacks if you need them.
If you know you're the kind of person that needs a mid-morning and mid-afternoon pick-me up, then make sure you plan for those. Whether you just prepare a trail mix, take some fruit or plan a healthy baked treat, make sure that you know what you are going to have before the hunger pangs strike.
6. REFERENCE your recipe links.
For each menu item that is either new, or you need to follow a recipe, note where you found that recipe, right down to the page # if it is from a book. Just make sure that the note is meaningful to you, so you can find the recipe easily when you need it!
7. RINSE & REPEAT!
I re-use the same few menu plans throughout each season. I have 3-4 weeks' of menus for each season saved on my computer, which get minor tweaks each year as I introduce new recipes and swap out old ones. Doing it this way means you never get bored with your meals because in the 3 or four week period you only eat those foods once, maybe twice! For me, breakfast is the only exception; I eat pretty much the same thing everyday throughout the colder months, and smoothies everyday through the heat.
An Example Healthy Winter Menu Plan
This menu plan is what my family will be eating every day for the next 7 days 🙂 For snacks this week we are sticking to fruit, nuts & seeds (home made trail mix) or hummus and crudités. Which I haven't planned into the menu, these will just fill in gaps if we need them.
You may also notice that there are no sweet treats planned in. That is because for the month of July, we are trying out the Whole30 guidelines (which are accessible for free online here). We already avoid processed foods, so for us this just means taking a break from sugar, legumes, soy and grains for a few weeks.
If you have any questions about menu planning, this example menu please post in the comments below!
|Spinach, avocado & herb omelette||2 rashers bacon, eggs, spinach, capsicum & mushrooms||Warm chia pudding, fruit, nuts & seeds||Warm chia pudding, fruit, nuts & seeds||Warm chia pudding, fruit, nuts & seeds||Warm chia pudding, fruit, nuts & seeds||Warm chia pudding, fruit, nuts & seeds|
|Garlic Hummus & veg sticks (crudités)||Dairy-free zucchini slice & salad||LO Zucchini slice & salad||Kale & citrus salad with poached eggs & home made dukkah||One-tray baked chicken & veg||Paleo beef sliders & salad||LO chicken one-pot|
|Herby chicken breast, steamed veg & mashed sweet potato||Beef Minestrone||Loaded veggie, sesame & cashew nut stir fry||LO minestrone||Lamb chops, steamed vegetables & mash||Chicken & tomato one-pot dinner||Steak, steamed veg & mashed potato|
|F - Beef mince
P - soak almonds & make trail mix
|P - almond milk||LO minestrone
F - lamb chops, chicken
|P - beef patties
F - chicken breast
|F- steak||Food shopping & menu planning!|
P = Prepare in advance
F = Remove from freezer
LO = Leftovers