Saturday, August 11, 2012

Meal Planning Time!

Food/diet issues used to be one my biggest struggles. But now just a few hours a week of planning helps me work toward healthy eating without obsessing because I do the planning a head of time instead of in front of the fridge when I'm hungry. Now, one of my favorite times of the week is when I hunker down and plan my meals. I don't really need to reiterate that I am perfectionist in many respects, but meal planning is one of the things that I've tried to perfect. Food, diet, and how one chooses to view food are all, as I've learned, very different from person to person. For me, I've struggled with having too much food around ("bad" foods) that ruin my dieting goals and not knowing what to eat. The biggest problem in my diet before I made an effective meal planning system was not knowing what I was eating. If I just assumed there would be something for me to eat for lunch and I only planned dinners, I would open my fridge and start sampling things. Hmm, should I have this for lunch? *takes a few bites* Nah. Oh, how about this... *takes a few bites* And this would continue until I realized I had basically eaten a whole meal of snacks but was not even satisfied. As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I truly believe in those words. Planning is everything!

However, even planning wasn't always a picnic. I feel that I have just recently found a system that works for me, and I'm so thankful. It makes my life a lot easier, less stressful, my diet is better, and my grocery trips are lighter (not necessarily cheaper, though!). My basic plan is to plot out each meal I will eat for the day - breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack - for an entire week (or 7 day period as my schedule spans two different weeks). I made a simple Word document template that I fill in each week the night before my shopping day. As I fill it in, I make my grocery list and try to include new meals. I also save all my old menus so that I can see what I have been eating or what hasn't worked well in the past.

Room for Error 

My meal planner template
Okay, so you might be reading this thinking, great - you're a perfectionist with your diet. It may seem a little crazy-organized, but this organization actually frees me of being perfectionistic. Before I meal planned like this, in my head, I was thinking I would be successful. At the end of the day when I ate much differently than I wanted, I wondered why things went the way they did and beat myself up for it. The next day, I would follow suit, and continue to be frustrated with my lack of good eating habits and self control. Now, I have a perfectly planned meal menu on the top of my fridge where I can always see what meal is next. There's no guessing involved. There's no room for error - if I follow my plan. But this is just that, merely a plan. I do have to accept that my plan, although on paper, is not set in stone. I have to make changes according to the fact that life is not static. Some days, I go out for dinner improptu, so my meal plan changes. Some days I realize that I'm not the mood for veggies and hummus (again! I need to find some new snacks) so I opt for something else, but just as healthy. And yes, sometimes I just stray from it altogether because I am human and I make mistakes. But most of the time, this menu system is very effective for me. I print my menu in nice fonts and bright colors so I enjoy looking at it. I have it posted on my fridge hanging from a little clip, so I always see it. And after I eat a meal, I check off the box that the meal is typed in. If I ate all my meals accordingly that day, I put a check mark on the day's box to know that I stayed on track. Overall, my planning makes for a much more successful week and successful grocery shopping.

Some Changes 

As with every plan, changes are needed as new obstacles are approaching. Some things I'm finding that need to change are:

Variety: I need more variety. I've relied on the same few snacks for the past few weeks and I am so bored!

Dessert: I need to plan for what days I eat dessert. If I don't, it turns into eating dessert every day!

Special Treats: Along with that, I want to plan for at least one really good dessert every other week (hello, Pinterest dessert board!)

Proof reading: I need to thoroughly read through my plan before printing it. Too often I have found that one day, I will plan to have peanut butter twice in a row or Greek yogurt for every meal. Whoops!

Tips for Using this System
  • Plan meals you will actually eat. If you don't eat raw fish for breakfast or eat salad seven days a week, why put it on your menu planner? Obviously, incorporating new foods into your menu gradually is a good thing, but if you plans are unrealistic, you're more likely to fail. 
  • Give yourself room for error. Something will come up in your schedule or some day you just won't feel like having what you planned. No big deal. Switch out a meal with something else, and then get back on track for the next meal or next day. Don't beat yourself up about the ways that life may be different from your plan. 
  • I personally think that not listing calories on the menu is more effective. I usually know the calorie counts of all the meals I plan, but I don't list them so my mind is not focused on calories, but real food. 
  • Post the menu on your fridge. It will force you to recognize your plan every time you open your fridge or go in the kitchen. It will also make your plan known to anyone else who you may live with. 
  • As I mentioned before, save your old menus to look back on for that long lost meal that you loved. 
  • Don't over-plan or over-scrutinize your plan. Having a general guideline for what you are eating is good, but planning things down to the tablespoon of creamer you're having in your coffee may be a little overkill. 
Food is a topic that differs for everyone. What works for me may be horribly wrong for you. This is the way that my diet makes sense to me. It's not perfect all the time, or ever for that matter. 

What do you do to plan your meals? What works for you? 


  1. Melissa, I am really enjoying your blog so far. Meal planning is a life saver! I don't know how I would undertake grocery shopping otherwise. I'm guessing I would just buy random things and or go to the grocery store every day. I know a lot of people suggest cooking a week's meal in one day but I just can't bring myself to do that. While I enjoy cooking, a weekly cooking marathon would drain me. I appreciate you encouraging flexibility in meal planning, because I too have trouble accepting that it is not set in stone.

    1. Hey Chelsea! Glad to know you are enjoying my crazy blog adventure so far. I've heard of cooking all your meals for the week in one day too, and I just think that sounds so not fun. I can barely get myself to cook a decent dinner for one day sometimes! Some weekly prep is nice, such as chopping all your veggies or washing all your fruit when you get home from the store, but "cooking marathon" is for Martha Stewart, not me! Good luck meal planning :)


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