Suggestion Box: Meal Planning

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On occasion, I get questions from readers and Facebook fans asking what I eat and how I plan my meals. If I had to say what has allowed me to be successful with my weight loss, my number 1 answer has been planning ahead.

Like many others who have battled or continue to battle obesity, I used to have a huge problem with feeling like I was in control. I used to believe that poor eating and inactivity was something that happened to me because I didn’t have much time or I was on the road a lot (which was true about my first full time job), or I didn’t have the money for healthy foods or a gym membership or I didn’t think my partner would want to try healthy foods with me.  Well that was all a load of b.s. and when I began this journey last November, I realized that it was because I had no structure to my eating/cooking and fitness that I was unable to control my weight. I wasn’t making intentional choices about what I consumed therefore, I naturally had no sense of control. But to be on a plan like WW, or Paleo, or calorie counting, etc. you have to plan! Otherwise, it won’t work.

So Casa Unfluff did a massive overhaul of the way we planned meals and did our grocery shopping. At first, I had just joined Weight Watchers and I had access to new recipes, resources and a list of Power Foods. We started picking a few recipes a week to focus on and then filling in with snacks and easy to pack lunch options. This brings me to my first tip:

  • Don’t just plan your grocery list around what you’ll cook at home. Also include the food you will consume outside your home. This includes snacks, lunches and beverages. The idea here is that if you have pre-portioned, ready to go foods that are within your points/calories goals, it is much harder to get derailed by making last minute choices to eat out. Also, healthier snacks that keep you full means less grabbing of the office donuts or running next door for a bagel. Investing in items like travel lunch bags or coolers, water bottles and even plates and utensils you’ll leave at the office should be considered too. Here’s a picture of my drawer at work where I store my food related goodies looks like:

    measuring cups for portion sizes, snacks, tea and coffee, and you can’t see it but there’s even a cheap veggie peeler at the bottom for my bag ‘o carrots in the fridge!
  • When it comes to planning out your meals and snacks, think quality over quantity. aim for high protein, high fiber foods. These will keep you fuller longer! Here are my go-to snacks:
        • Hard-boiled eggs
        • Almonds
        • Non-Fat Greek Yogurt
        • Whole wheat toast with Peanut Butter and Banana slices
        • Oatmeal
        • String Cheese
        • Hummus and veggie sticks

Planning meals doesn’t always come easy, though! It takes a bit of coordination.

  • If you are very busy, have kids, or just need help learning more about cooking healthier recipes, consider trying out a meal planning service. Here are a few I like:

Unfluffers, you know I ADORE The Fresh 20 plan. It is the number one viewed post on this blog! Lately, we’ve been on a F20 hiatus because sometimes the meals take a while to cook and mancakes and I are pooped after work and starving and can’t wait until 7 to eat. But after following a gazillion F20 recipes for close to 5 months straight using wholesome ingredients, little to no fat and added sodium, we have been able to carry that on in our normal, day to day cooking. E-Meals is another great option that also gives you the ability to select meal plans for 1-2 people if you’re single or just live with one other person.

We’ve been using SkinnyTaste for all our meals these days. F20 also taught us to try and coordinate our grocery list so we don’t end up with a ton of extra ingredients we won’t use again that week and that’s what we try to do now with all of our meal planning. ST also has a crockpot recipe section on there which is a lifesaver most days when we are too busy to cook after work. If you want to follow a specific plan based on a certain amount of daily caloric intake, SparkPeople.com lets you choose meal plans too and it’s Free!!! So bottom line:

  • If you don’t know how to plan your meals, invest in a meal plan service that will teach you how.

Finally:

  • Set a grocery budget and stick with it

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the theme of this post is plan, plan, plan! Plan the amount of money you would like to spend because I’ll tell you now it is reeeeally easy to spend a lot of money on groceries! You don’t have to spend a ton of money to eat healthy, but you do need to set a limit so things don’t get out of control. Here are a few ways to save at the register:

  • Plan meals around what’s in season. In-season produce is less expensive! If you can get to a farmer’s market, you’ll save even more money on locally-grown, fresh produce
  • Save money on meats like chicken by buying whole breasts and learn how to de-bone them.
  • When meat goes on sale, stock up, portion servings out and freeze them!
  • Make your own broths and sauces. You’ll know what’s actually in your sauces and broths with less sugar and sodium than the canned/bottled stuff. If you bought the aforementioned bone-in meat, save the bones and scraps to make chicken broth. You can freeze those parts for up to 9 months or until you have enough to make broth. Also, you’ll get way more volume for your buck! A bag of organic carrots at Trader Joe’s is $0.89, an onion $0.50, celery $1.79. Plus water and saved chicken breast parts? You’ll have a gallon of broth for pennies. Here’s a vegetable broth recipe I love: Homemade Vegetable Broth
  • Make recipes in bulk to cover more than one meal throughout the week. I do this with crockpot recipes. One pot of this Santa Fe Chicken will feed a family of 4 at least twice, if not 3 times. I STILL have some in the freezer.
  • That reminds me: freeze your leftovers! Soups, stews, pastas, lasagnas, casseroles. These are all great dishes to freeze. Do this if you know for a fact that you won’t eat all your leftovers. Take them for lunch as needed and they should thaw out in the fridge enough by the time you need to nuke it.

Well, that about covers it for me! What tricks work for you when it comes to meal planning?

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