When I was at my absolute lowest point with adrenal fatigue, the very thought of cooking food made me cringe. I lived off tomato soup, Alfaghetti, Kraft Dinner and cereal for years. But what finally helped turn around my health was learning that healthier foods helped boost my energy and improve my mood. What was missing from this breakthrough, though, was how to consistently eat healthy. Because, hey, when you’re so exhausted that you can’t leave the couch, the last thing you want to do is chop, sauté and do dishes, right? That’s why meal planning is such an important part of your overall healthy lifestyle!
Does the thought of sitting down and planning out your meals for the week scare you? Does it make you feel a bit overwhelmed?
It’s kind of a big chore, when you think about it. You have to focus on what plan your household has in the coming days and figure out where everyone might be. You have to account for the time you’ll have to cook, and consider all the different tastes of your family.
So, yeah, it can be overwhelming.
But, on the other hand, if left to your own devices, can you honestly say you’d be able to make the healthiest choice when you’re exhausted and stressed as you try to feed your family before running out the door to hockey practice?
I certainly don’t make the best food choices when I’m feeling that way.
And that’s why meal planning has saved my sanity and my waistline so many times over the years.
Why Meal Planning Matters
Besides the obvious reason of avoiding the take-out menus, meal planning has some huge health benefits.
Meal planning can actually make meal time so much easier and faster. When you know ahead of time what you’re going to eat, you don’t have to spend time pondering over leftovers or items in your pantry. This helps reduce stress.
Plus, meal planning allows you to figure out what foods you could make ahead of time, so that you can easily just reheat a meal when time is scarce. And, reduces stress!
You can cut back on your grocery bill because you’ll have a list of only the foods you need. You’ll have less waste and fewer extra cans of food taking up space in your cupboards. Less stress, less anxiety.
It can become an exciting family moment! Get your kids involved to help brainstorm new meal ideas to keep things fresh and fun. To make it easier on you, place a chalkboard or whiteboard in the kitchen where your family members can jot down ideas for the upcoming menu.
And, you’ll build a small repository of favorite recipes to choose from that can make future meal planning sessions so much easier.
Where Do I Start?
It is easy to start menu planning!
Begin by setting aside 1 hour a few days before you usually go grocery shopping. (I like to do this Wednesday or Thursday evening so that I can shop on Friday or Saturday and spend 1-2 hours doing some meal prep on Sundays.)
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and make a grid with all the upcoming days’ meals and snacks. You’ll use this grid to fill in your menu for the week.
If you already have a favorite food or recipe that you want to make, go ahead and fill that in on the day that works best for you. Maybe, like me, you eat the same thing for breakfast all week – jot that meal down in all your breakfast slots.
See how quickly you start to fill in your menu?
For remaining empty spots, brainstorm a few ideas, ask your family for input, or pull out that recipe you’ve always wanted to try. And schedule it into your meal plan.
Now make your grocery list!
Those One-Off Nights
There will always be those nights that just don’t go as planned. For me, I can have the healthiest meal plan prepared and all my groceries bought, but come Thursday evening, I am just too tired to cook or care.
For these nights, when you just KNOW your motivation to cook and clean up is at its lowest, you can either prepare ahead by cooking casseroles or chili and freezing portions, or you can simply schedule into your meal plan that pizza that’s calling your name.
Don’t overwhelm yourself if you can’t stick to the meal plan 100% of the time. Don’t feel guilty for calling for take-out when you just don’t have the energy to cook. I get it – I’ve been there quite often.
When you have time, learn about healthier take-out or delivery options in your area. In my house, pizza is our go-to plan when we’re exhausted. However, we’ve started to use Skip the Dishes to search for healthier delivery, like large salads or salmon dinners. Or, try a meal delivery company when stuck for time.
Another option on those busy and tiring nights is to stop at your local grocery store on your way home to pick up a pre-cooked chicken, some pre-cut veggies, maybe some spiralized veggie noodles, and a can of coconut milk. You can then make yourself a very simple stir-fry, adding in curry sauces, spices, or other flavors that suit your needs.
Sometimes the motivation to cook is so much higher when the chopping is done for you!
Bonus Tip for Healthy Meal Planning
Planning out your weekly meals and buying the food is a major step towards healthier eating and consistency.
There is one thing that really enhances your intentions and makes it so much easier to stick to the meal plan. That is to do meal prep.
Pick 1-2 hours every week (I like Sunday mornings) and go through your weekly meal plan. Pick out any recipes that can be made ahead of time and cook those. Chop vegetables for other meals now so that’s done when you get home from work. Pre-cook your proteins and your grains, too, to cut down on cooking time later.
Place all your food into different containers so that you can easily grab it when you need it.
Alright, now tell me, what meal planning tips work wonders for you?