3 Meal Planning Tips for Beginners

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As a wellness coach, meal planning is something that comes up quite often with my coaching clients. Most people want to make healthier choices and figure out how to set themselves up for success. Planning and its big sister prepping are intended to be strategies to help streamline the decision making process and cut down on time spent on meals during busier days. 

That being said, there is an incredible amount of information on this topic out there and as with anything else, too much information, or strategies that are too complicated can lead to an effect known as "analysis paralysis"- there is so much information that you don't know where to begin...so you don't.

Meal planning has many benefits and for me, the most important one is saving time in the evenings. If I have a busy day, I don't like having to decide what to have for dinner at the last minute. Chris, my husband, is really talented at throwing ingredients together, but I don't have as much practice. (Did I mention how lucky I am to have a partner who cooks amazing vegan food?!) It makes it much easier to have a plan and be prepared with all of the ingredients I'll need. In addition to saving time, I believe that meal planning saves money. Cooking at home is usually much less expensive than eating out. If I have a meal plan and the ingredients, I am much less likely to go out to eat. (And see Tip #2 below if you find yourself running out of time to cook due to a varied schedule)

The three tips I'm sharing with today are extremely basic- and this is the point. To give you a place to start if meal planning is something you're curious about.

Tip #1- Break Up The Week

In my experience, it has always been easier to meal plan for a few days at a time, rather than try to look at the whole entire week all at once. If I'm meal planning on a Sunday, I will usually meal plan through Wednesday evening. Then Wednesday, I will plan through the weekend. Fridays are usually the "takeout" night in our house (with delicious vegan Chinese food as the default) so that helps break up the planning even more. Breaking up the week into 2 sets of "mini-planning" makes the process a lot less overwhelming. It does require a potential second trip to the grocery store, but you aren't buying as many things, so hopefully you're out more quickly.

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Tip #2- Have an Easy Backup Plan on Hand

Sometimes I will plan on these awesome dinners where I am trying a new recipe that might take a bit longer than usual to prepare. I also know that there are days where plans go awry, schedules get changed, and suddenly you don't have the hour you had set aside to make dinner. This is why I always have easy meal ingredients like pasta*, veggie burgers**, and salad fixings on hand. As I mentioned above, this will help to prevent an unplanned trip out to eat.

* I like the Organic Black Bean Spaghetti from Explore Cuisine- 25 grams of protein/serving!

** Another household favorite is the Morningstar Roasted Garlic and Quinoa burgers

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Tip #3- Leftovers are Your Friends

99% of the time I plan on leftovers for lunch. It's so much easier to make a little extra of dinner the night before and pack it up in a container to grab the next day. Whether you work from home, in an office, or out in the field, it's really helpful to not have to worry about cobbling something together for lunch. Sometimes Chris will also take leftover quinoa, rice, and/or veggies from a previous meal to make a nice stir-fry with tofu. Using what you have in your fridge also reduces food waste and saves money.

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Do you have any meal planning tips that have helped you to be successful?

My Favorite Health and Wellness Tracking Tools

They say that knowledge is power and when it comes to wellness, I couldn't agree more. When asked for advice regarding wellness related issues like needing more movement, better nutrition, and more sleep, one of my first questions is usually "Have you ever tracked <insert wellness metric here>?"

Some people track their metrics daily, but if that seems overwhelming, or too much of a commitment to start off with, I encourage people to track for one week. Tracking is  a great way to check in on your progress and goals. I use it as a wake-up call when I am not feeling my best. (Especially when it comes to food...a little bit o' this and a little bit o' that can add up fast!)

If you want to start using trackers to measure your goals, there are lots of different ways to go about it.

For those of you who prefer the good old fashioned pen and paper method, keeping a journal is a great way to track. Journals come in all different shapes and sizes and can be purchased at every price point.

JOURNALS

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1. Luna Journal @ Urban Outfitters

2. R2-D2 Moleskin Notebook @ Amazon

3. Small Lined Notebook @ MochiThings

4. Nikki Strange Narwhal Notebook @ Etsy

As much as I love writing things down, I also love the convenience that my mobile devices provide. Most people usually have their phone with them at all times (for better or for worse). These days, there are so many health related mobile apps (for both iOS and Android) that allow you to track almost anything. 

DIGITAL APPS

 Clockwise from Top

1. MyFitnessPal (available online and as an app)- MyFitness pal is a great way to track your food, nutrients, and exercise. A really great feature is the barcode scanner which uses the camera on your smartphone to "scan" barcodes and instantly search for the item. If someone else has already entered the item into MyFitnessPal, it will add all the appropriate nutrition information automatically. You can also add your own recipes and MFP will provide you with the nutrition content. 

2. Way of Life (app)- This is a simple app where you can set goals for yourself (up to three in the free version) and track your progress each day. 

3. The Five Minute Journal (app)- This is the digital version of the popular hard copy journal. This is a beautiful app which uses positive psychology and cultivating gratitude to make a difference in your day.

4. Habitica (available online and as an app)- This one is for my fellow geeks. Habitica is the app that evolved from HabitRPG and the developers really got it right this time. From their website- "Habitica is a free habit building and productivity app that treats your real life like a game. With in-game rewards and punishments to motivate you and a strong social network to inspire you, Habitica can help you achieve your goals to become healthy, hard-working, and happy." I am a huge fan of gamification (who doesn't like to make things more fun?) and I like the customization options that you get as you make progress on your goals. There is an active forum as well, so you can link up with like-minded users.