We get it. Your life is busy and the last thing you need to be doing is spending hours meal planning, making a grocery list, and meal prepping. The good news? This doesn’t have to take up your whole Sunday. You can hit the gym, go for a hike, spend time with your dog, and even catch up on your favorite TV without stressing about what you’re going to eat this week. So how do you do that? Here are our 5 biggest recommendations for how to meal plan.
First off, let’s chat about why meal planning is important and helpful to you. As someone who likes to stay active, you likely have a busier schedule and higher daily nutrition needs. Meal planning ahead of time and learning how to meal plan for a busy lifestyle can help you stay healthy, boost your athletic performance, and decrease stress day to day. When working with clients, one of the biggest things that we go over in our first month together is how to create a weekly meal plan. Our goal as non-diet dietitians is to make meal planning, cooking, and balanced eating as easy as possible for you, and easy steps to meal planning is one way that we can help you with that. So, let’s get started!
#1 Do a little detective work and find out what you already have on hand. Do a quick search (this should take you no more than 5 minutes) and double check your fridge, freezer, and pantry for any easy ingredients that you may have on hand.
#2 Next, get intuitive about your choices. Now that you’ve identified what you already have, ask yourself what you’re actually in the mood for this week. Feeling like something cheesy? Looking for more vegetarian options? Been craving a bolognese sauce? Find out what you’re in the mood for so that meal planning, cooking, and eating doesn’t feel like a total drag.
#3 Do a quick calendar check… What do you have going on this week? Plans with friends or family? A crazy week at work? Block out any SET plans that you have for the week and will not need to plan a meal for. For instance, dinner with family on Monday night and happy hour + dinner with friends on Friday may be easy things you can add to your calendar off the bat..
#4 Use the rule of 3’s… Choose at least 3 options (this can include recipes and food combos) for each breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Depending on your plans and your likeness of leftovers, you may want to choose a fourth dinner option too. This is up to you! Do any of these options use a fresh ingredient that you may have leftovers of, like herbs or sauces? If so, don’t be afraid to reuse it in other meals! That pesto from your pesto shrimp linguine could go great on a turkey sandwich or that salad dressing could be great as a marinade for those chicken/veggie skewers.
#5 Plan it out… Once you have a solid list of options down, take your calendar and plan out your week. To start, put every choice down once and then fill in the leftover days with SOME choices that you’re most looking forward to. Determining which choices you’ll have just once and which you’ll do over will help you plan out how much to get at the store. And, don’t be afraid to recycle dinner options for lunch and vice versa. Lastly, fill in the final 1-2 meal (or snack) slots with takeout to give yourself a break from the kitchen and more time to take it easy.
BONUS! Save time in the kitchen and during the week by doing a few steps ahead. We’re not big fans of meal prepping as we believe your Sundays should be spent doing things that are more fun! However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a little out of the way before heading into the week. Take a quick look at your meal plan and figure out what small, easy steps you can do in advance on Sunday or Monday evening. Easy choices can include marinating and/or cutting raw meat, cooking grains or pastas, cutting fruit or veggies, putting together casseroles or sheet pan meals to be put right into the oven, or pre-portion snacks or fruit for the office. Plan out 30-60 minutes early in your week to do a few selected tasks in the kitchen and don’t be afraid to make meal prep more enjoyable. Put on your favorite playlist, light some candles, and/or stream your favorite show in the kitchen (just make sure to keep your eyes on the cutting board!). ANY small steps can make a big difference during the week.
Keep in mind, this plan is not set in stone. Your week will get busy, days will change, plans will come up, you’ll be in the mood for something else… and that’s okay! The goal of this meal plan is not to lock you into an option that you’re not in the mood for or don’t have time to make… it’s to take all that meal planning jumble out of your head and have a go to plan (or selection of choices) in place for when you’re ready to eat.
This simple meal planning strategy can be used to create meal plans for active women, meal plans for college athletes, healthy meal plans for athletes, meal plans for teenage athletes, and meal plans for vegetarian athletes.