I’m not exaggerating when I say that sometimes the simple things work best when it comes to health.
And this definitely more apparent then ever when talking about the food that we eat. As humans, we have a tendency to over-complicate things. One needs only to look at the seemingly endless array of different diets and supplements that are out there.
But, in more than a decade of working with nutrition, there’s a simple thing that I notice most people COULD do that has the potential to make a bigger difference to their health than almost any diet or supplement available.
And that is simply taking more of a proactive approach to our meals!
Mindset Over Matter
Yes, I’m talking about the concept of meal planning.
And while your mind may immediately jump to an image of a dedicated individual packing 16 pre-made meals into their freezer (I don't know where such people get their motivation), I’m not talking about making meal planning an obsession. Rather, thinking of it as a helpful (yet still flexible) way of boosting your health – giving you maximum health benefits for minimal time investment.
I often find that when I query meal planning habits with my clients, many tell me that they ‘don’t have time’ or that they ‘prefer to just do things on the fly’. They may think it is time-consuming, boring, tedious or that they will be stuck for ideas. Sometimes, they just aren't sure where to start.
The good news is that I’m going to show you why planning meals is one of the best uses of your time – and how it can be super-simple once you have the basics down pat.
It’s one of the things I actually wish I’d gotten into the habit of doing a lot sooner!
Who Should Meal Plan (At Least A Little Bit…)?
- Busy people. Actually, who isn’t busy these days? Being busy means that you really do need to take extra care to make sure you have healthy food options available, as it is all-to-easy to fall into the habit of grabbing a takeaway or processed food in a hurry. When in fact, having at least a few meals planned means that when you ARE short of time, you aren’t scrabbling around for something (anything!) to eat – you can relax, knowing that you have something in mind. Chances are, you can have something ready and on the table in less time than it takes for your UberEats to arrive!
- Families with children. As a mum of twins, I know how busy mealtimes can be – and how tempting it is to just pull some nuggets out of the freezer to get the kids fed! By staying ahead with a meal plan, you’ll alleviate a lot of stress. There’s also a far greater chance you’ll sit down to a meal as a family, instead of eating in front of the TV or a device. Wouldn’t that be nice for a change?
- Anyone wanting to eat well, but still stick to a budget. As we are in the midst of a costs of living crisis at the moment, it REALLY pays to be aware of ways you can still eat well - without missing out on your favourite foods, or sacrificing your health by eating cheap junk. If this is something you'd like to know more about, you can find heaps of handy tips (as well as some interesting cost comparisons!) in this article.
- Anyone looking to lose weight. Without a doubt, this is a key strategy with a massive payoff in terms of success for our Metabolic Balance program participants! Planning your meals means that you are far more likely to keep hunger signals balanced and minimise your chances of experiencing sugar cravings or boredom eating.
- Those catering to multiple food requirements – for instance, family members with different food preferences, fussy kids, food intolerances etc. In many cases, with a bit of forethought, it is possible to create a ‘base meal’ that can be adapted to suit everyone (eg add meat, a side or extra ingredients to individual portions).
- People who suffer from gut issues. It goes without saying that digestive discomfort of any sort can really be a downer on your day. If you are staying ahead with your food options, it is far easier to be able to avoid foods that are likely to upset your system – such as gluten, processed foods, alcohol, sugar or FODMAPs (a type of carbohydrate that can trigger upsets in some people). You may also find it helpful to be able to adjust meal timings to relieve symptoms (for instance, many of our clients find that simply stopping snacking and eating 3 meals per day helps relieve bloating).
- Anyone looking to manage a health condition naturally – for instance, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome (also known as ‘pre-diabetes), fatty liver and high cholesterol are all known as ‘lifestyle diseases’. Which means that they are largely driven by what we eat, and our daily habits. Whilst medications may be effective at reducing the signs and symptoms of these conditions, they are not doing a lot to actually address the underlying cause. Paying attention to your food is one of the best things you can do to help improve your health (both now and for the future) if you happen to suffer from any of these.
How To Meal Plan (It’s Easier Than You Think!)
Ok now that we’ve covered off the ‘who’ and ‘why’ we should meal plan…how do you actually go about it? Without feeling overwhelmed, or spending all of your free time getting organised?
The thing to keep in mind is that it does become simpler over time. Once you find your rhythm with meal planning, you’ll notice that it can be done quite quickly. Plus, if you keep each plan you make, you can recycle them so you don’t have to make a fresh plan each week!
Here’s a few ways to get started…
- Remember that you don’t necessarily need to plan every meal. Depending on your schedule, commitments, and what you prefer to eat - this may be flexible for you. Personally, I find that on the whole I don’t need to plan breakfast or lunches as I keep these pretty basic (particularly during the week). Dinners however are another story. We don’t have a microwave, so I need to stay one step ahead when it comes to defrosting frozen meat for the next evening’s meal.
- Perhaps start with just a few meals if you find the thought of doing a full week’s worth of planning overwhelming. Even just having a few meals in mind can be helpful, and make a difference. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and remember that you can always fine-tune things as you go!
- Start collecting a ‘recipe pool’. For instance, when you come across a simple tip or idea, take a photo on your phone, or keep a notepad handy where you can write things down. You can refer back to these for inspiration and ideas when putting your plan together.
- Find what works for YOU. This may be an app such as 'Paprika', or you might like to create a pretty, re-usable design in Canva that you can print off. Over the years I’ve used tear-off pads that can be stuck to the fridge, from places like K-Mart or Kikki.K. I recently purchased a magnetic whiteboard that I’m really liking, as I can just wipe it off at the end of the week and start again. I also find it handy to use when I have leftovers – I can write them on the planner and that way I remember to use them, rather than forgetting they are in the fridge and inevitably throwing them out later!
- Set aside a bit of time each week, where you can get your planning sorted. Put on some music if you like, or grab a cuppa and a nice spot in the garden. Remember that this is a time investment – not an extra chore – and that this will save you time, effort and money in the long run, as well as making your health a priority. In this way, you can view meal planning as being a way that you practice self-care.
- Keep meals simple, but versatile. For instance, can you plan to roast a whole chicken, or pop a beef brisket/leg of lamb in the slow cooker? Making a meal like this is quite easy (particularly if you use your slow-cooker – forget about it until dinnertime!). But this way you’ll have extra meat left over that you can plan to use for lunches, in a curry, stir-fry etc over the next few days. Can you make a meal in bulk – such as a casserole or savoury mince? Extras can be frozen for a quick meal on those crazy days that inevitably occur, or additional flavours added to create a quite different taste for each portion.
Do you have a tip or idea I haven’t mentioned here?
We'd love to hear about it – pop your comment below, or get in touch.