When you are surrounded by seemingly never-ending health fads (keto, detox, intermittent fasting — just to name a few), it can be hard to figure out what your body needs to stay fueled and properly nourished.
Following an extremely limiting diet — looking at you, keto — can oftentimes lead to late-night binge sessions as your body and mind struggle to adapt to the diet. But eating whatever junk food you want, whenever you want, isn’t doing you any favors either.
Instead, many experts suggest that the key is to find balance in your diet, so we’re here to give you the 411 on menu planning and how it can help you make smarter food choices for a healthier plate, and ultimately a more balanced lifestyle.
But First, What Is Menu Planning?
Let’s start with what it’s not. Picture this: As the clock strikes 5 p.m., you start worrying about what’s for dinner. After a long day at work, you settle on takeout from the local Mediterranean spot around the corner. Then, picture this pattern continuing every single night. When you’re tired and hungry, it’s easy to rely on unhealthy takeout and instant meals that don’t always provide the nutrition your body needs.
Menu planning, on the other hand, is a great way to ensure you’re having a balanced diet and all your nutritional needs are being met. You do this by planning every meal in advance, shopping for what the recipe requires and, finally, preparing it.
This will allow you to know what ingredients you’re consuming, instead of guessing at the nutritional content of the mystery hummus from your favorite Mediterranean place.
SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF WORK — IS IT WORTH IT?
There are so many benefits that come with menu planning. It can have a big impact on your health, your lifestyle and even your budget. Plus, if the whole process seems overwhelming, you can tailor the concept to meet your needs. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a little leeway to find a plan that works for you.
1. Choose Your Recipes
Before looking for recipes, ask yourself why you’re interested in cooking and what your goals are. Do you want to eat better? Save money? Both?
Once you know your goals, you can start putting those targets into motion. Research different recipes and ingredients that align with your goals. You don’t want to pick a bunch of different options and ultimately hope for the best. Instead, try planning everything in advance.
As you plan ahead, pick recipes that include steps and ingredients you are familiar with. This will make it easier to motivate yourself to cook on busy days. It also helps to incorporate recipes that yield good leftovers. That way, you only have to cook a few times each week, instead of every day.
Find meals that share common ingredients. This will limit grocery store runs and help lower the bill. You should also try to find recipes that you’re excited about. Mindful eating doesn’t have to equal a bland salad for dinner every night. Add in avocado, sweet potato, dried cranberries and other nutrient-dense foods that make for a drool-worthy meal.
2. Go the Grocery Store
Make your list and check it twice!
First, take inventory of what you already have. Go through each recipe’s ingredient list and make sure each item is not already in your kitchen. That way you’ll know exactly what you need when compiling the grocery list.
Having an already prepared list will make for a much more efficient trip to the store. Try to organize the list by grouping items together by their location. For example, list out all frozen section ingredients, vegetables and fruits, etc.
And there’s one more bonus of using a grocery list — you won’t mindlessly spend on things you don’t need.
3. Prep the Meals
Here’s where it all comes together. The final step is to spend a few hours prepping each recipe. We recommend taking some time out of your Sunday to make the meals for your upcoming week. This will set the mood and intention, helping you to stay on track.
Feel free to turn on some music and pour yourself a glass of wine while chopping the vegetables, dicing the garlic and roasting the chicken. Enjoy the process and allow yourself to feel a sense of pride in what you are accomplishing.