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A huge component to a healthy lifestyle is effective planning. When I learned how to meal plan and prep effectively, everything clicked for me! With pre-portioned options waiting for me, I’m much less likely to make poor decisions. It also helps me spend less at the grocery store, because I’m not impulse buying or just throwing things in the cart willy nilly.
It took me quite some time to figure out how to meal plan. It started to get easier when I joined the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan. I suddenly had all of these amazing healthy recipes at my finger tips, along with a guide to what I should eat and when. Another fantastic feature of the TIU Plan is that I get lifetime updates for free. It is initially a large chunk of change, but in the long run, a fantastic value. I highly recommend it if you are feeling lost when it comes to your nutrition.
All right, let’s get to the fun part. This is a method I have tweaked throughout the years to fit our lifestyle. We are currently in a supremely busy and stressful season of life. Because of that, meal planning is basic and simple. However, it’s still very important to me, so I always take the time to do it.
1 // Get Organized
Each week, I sit down with my nutrition and fitness notebook (I’m using this one from Erin Condren right now), a list pad (I think mine is from Michaels), and my Tone It Up Nutrition Plan (and other resources). My nutrition and fitness notebook is literally just a spiral in which I write down my meals and workouts for the week. I break it down by listing M (which stands for MEAL) and the number or code out next to it. I eat three meals and two snacks a day, so I write M1, M2, M3, M4, and M5. It is so much easier for me to eat the same breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day, so I do! I cook dinner for my husband and myself about three times a week, so I list M5 three times.
I like to divide my list based on the sections of my store. I highly recommend doing this based on your store! This saves me time by keeping from running back and forth across the store because I wrote things down out of order, or scanning up and down my list when I’m on aisle and then forgetting something because I overlooked it. I haven’t found a printable grocery list that fits my needs, so I make my own by dividing my sections up into 1. Produce, 2. Meat/Dairy (this includes eggs), 3. Canned/Aisle (basically anything not on an outside aisle), and 4. Other (slow cooker liners, foil, paper plates, etc.).
2 // Plan It Out
Many of the Tone It Up editions include 6-8 week meal plans in which every meal is laid out for you. I loosely follow these guidelines for Meals 1-4. My sweet husband, as much as I love him, is not on the lean, clean, and green bandwagon most of the time. 🙂 He eats dairy, and lots of it, and likes 85/15 beef. I like 93/7, so we compromise by buying 90/10. :p He does not eat unhealthy, I just think his dietary requirements are different than mine. That said, my M5 selections are planned with him in mind. I eat dairy, pork, beef, and yes, sometimes starch at dinner!
I select our meals for the week based on a few things. 1. What we already have in our freezer/pantry, 2. What’s on sale at my store, and 3. What sounds good at the moment! As I’m deciding on meals, I write down every necessary ingredient in its category on my grocery list. When I’m finished, I’ll take stock of any staples we may be running low on and add those to the list as well.
BONUS HACK: I already told you I cook dinner about three times a week. Each of those nights has a “theme” to it to help make my life easier based on the week ahead. Mondays always suck and Wednesdays are my long days, so whatever is planned for those days will always be coded M5 Easy (a sheet pan or one pan dinner) or M5 CP (something I can quickly throw in the crock pot on my way out in the morning). The worst feeling in the world is coming home from a long day and having to stand in front of the stove for an hour, or resorting to ordering pizza because you just don’t want to!
I also like to plan for at least one super quick, no prep snack! For example, I might add larabars (our fave) to the list, or elect to have a hard boiled egg with a piece of fruit. And yes, I will buy pre-boiled eggs.
3 // Shop
I plan on Wednesdays and usually head to the store on Thursday or Friday and try my darnedest to stick to my list! Substitutions are made when necessary and I throw in new products I think we might like, but for the most part I only buy what’s on my list. Sometimes this drives my husband crazy because he thinks we don’t have any snacks in the house. 😉
That’s it. That’s how I meal plan! It’s simple, it’s mundane, but it gets the job done. Taking just a few minutes each week to put in the effort up front makes a huge difference in how my following week will go. At this point you may be asking yourself, “Ok, now what do you do with all that food?!” Well, come back next week for part two: How to Meal Prep Effectively, and I will gladly tell you how I get from plan to prep each week.
Other resources I use when meal planning include Lauren Gleisberg’s Eat Your Way Lean Plan, Tone It Up: 28 Days to Fit, Fierce, and Fabulous, Fixate, Mix-and-Match Meal Planner, Mix and Match Mama’s website, anything by Pioneer Woman, and of course, Pinterest!