Updated: Mar 5, 2021
By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN
March 1, 2021
Don’t think that you have enough time to meal plan? Or maybe you’ve been trying, but it’s not quite working out.
Either way, this blog will teach you how to meal plan for beginners, with tips and strategies to guide your success!
Image: Canva/stock image
What is meal planning?
Firstly, it is not what you may be thinking – it is not a diet plan…and it is not restrictive.
It is planning and organizing your meals in advance to save you time, energy, and food obsession during the week.
Also called meal prepping, meal planning involves cooking, prepping salads and even portioning meals that enables you to grab and go as needed.
Meal planning also helps you to become more aware and motivated to increase the variety of nutrient dense foods in your diet.
Here are some practical and actionable tips to help you get started today.
Ditch the all-or-nothing mentality.
First thing’s first: you don’t need to “always” have a salad or “never” have chocolate to be healthy - it is this all-or-nothing mindset that sets you up for failure later on.
Instead, be gentle and understand that ‘healthy’ is not black or white and it varies – your needs and interests change over time and does not have to look like someone else’s.
Eating healthy also does not have to be boring…and it can be sustainable and FUN!
Cook foods that you enjoy and will look forward to having, but that also support your health goals.
Oh, and you should meal plan your treats – yes, include them! You’re more likely to feel out of control around foods that you restrict, binge eat and feel guilty.
Eat in moderation - without guilt and food obsession.
Break meal planning and prep into smaller tasks.
No, you don’t have to meal prep for the entire week at once (sigh of relief).
While some persons have mastered this, others struggle to find the time in their schedules and may choose not to do it altogether.
Start with prepping for just two days at a time. Then prep for another two days.
Eventually, once you build your skills and get a rhythm going, you may start prepping for longer periods.
Make a list - Start with what you have.
You may be starting a new habit, but that does not mean that you must start your pantry from scratch - feel new using old stuff!
Already have canned foods? Good, use them. Have frozen vegetables? Great – you don’t need to buy fresh ones to get started.
Don't have portioned bowls? Not a problem! The guidelines below will teach you how to portion any plate or bowl.
Make a list of the foods that you have and a list of the meals you want to make, then determine what you’d need to purchase to prepare these meals.
This way you’d have all of the ingredients on-hand and won’t need to compromise on your plan.
Build a balanced plate
Make ½ your plate fruits and vegetables This increase your intake of dietary fiber, essential nutrients and helps to keep you full for longer.
Make ¼ of your plate protein You may include foods from animals or vegetarian sources of protein. Poultry, fish, meat, peas/beans, tofu, and other high-protein foods fill this slot. These foods also provide nutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.
Make ¼ of your plate whole grains These foods are your primary source of energy (carbohydrates) and provide the body with the B-vitamins and fiber.
Consistency - not perfection - is key.
Explore various ways of meal planning each week until you find the approach that works best for you.
Whether or not you count calories, meal planning is a great way to organize your meals, become deliberate about increasing your intake of nutrient dense foods and reduce the time spent thinking about food throughout the week.
What are your thoughts on meal planning? If you meal plan often, what are some tips you can share?