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How to Successfully Tackle Meal Planning

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

You've probably heard of Keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, and Weight Watchers. If you haven't heard of them all, you've heard of at least one. These diets purport weight loss. Note: There are way more out there. These are the few that were at the top of my head. But, weight loss occurs with a decrease in calories. It is propelled with activity, but it is lasting when you change your eating (and exercise habits) for good in such a way that coordinates with your preferences in food, current schedule, and your lifestyle. The common denominator with these diets is that they are all low calorie. Reducing your caloric intake will result in weight loss, regardless of whether it's a high-carbohydrate, low-carbohydrate, high in protein, or low fat plan. And, it doesn't take expensive frozen meals or eating with tons of restrictions to do it. It takes planning and prepping. Yep, meal planning is so important that it gets its own post.

Determine Your Approach

An approach that works for you and your routine is necessary for your continued success. Think about the foods preferred in your home. This not only includes your food preferences, but it also includes those who depend on you daily for nourishment. Before deciding to change your diet or way of eating assess your food preferences and compare them to the requirements for the plans you're considering for weight loss. Realize you will have to change and remove some of the things you love and include things you may not have ever considered eating. You'll also have to learn to eat the your favorite foods in a healthier way. Think fried chicken or fried okra. There will always be healthier ways to create your favorite meals. You will have to change your way of thinking. Think of it as creating the 2.0 version of you. A better and healthier version of the person that you already are. And in order to do that you will have to move a little different from the original you. The requirements to operate and maintain 2.0 you are no longer the same. There aren't any plans that will allow donuts, cake, chips and cookies daily so lets get rid of the idea now. We'll touch on those treats later.

For now, think about will you be cooking separately for yourself and your family? (If it's just you, like it is me, hold on for one second.) If your plan will be different and theirs will remain the same you'll likely cheat more often and revert. Therefore, consider creating a 2.0 version of your family. Think of everyone's preferences to help determine your plan. In this case it wouldn't be a meal plan for weight loss, but a plan for building healthy eating habits.

Here are a few other questions for you to think about when determining your approach:

  • Do you prefer to eat three, five, or eight meals a day?

  • Will you have time to cook daily?

  • How much time do you want to devote to food preparation?

  • Do you love to dine out?

  • What are your daily caloric needs for weight loss or maintenance? Calculate your daily caloric needs here!

  • How much exercise can you reasonably do? If you plan to become active this will have to be included to calculate your daily caloric intake.

Once you've thought about these questions the next step is to determine the foods you're willing to eat.

Foods That Should be on Your Grocery List Choose filling foods. It is recommended that one-third to half of your plate be filled with non-starchy vegetables. This includes:

  • Broccoli

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Cauliflower

  • Beets

  • Asparagus

  • Leafy greens

  • Celery

  • Green beans

  • Cucumbers

  • Peppers

  • Mushrooms

These foods and plenty other non-starchy vegetables provide volume to your meals without adding excessive calories or carbohydrates. They are packed with vitamins, as well. An adult should eat about 2.5 to 3 cups a day of vegetables (this include starchy vegetables too). If you choose a low-carb plan, these vegetables would fit. Next, choose protein-rich foods. Note: some non-starchy foods are also a good added source of protein. Fill one-fourth to one-third of your plate with protein. Protein reduces appetite, provides energy, and helps with building and repairing body tissues. Protein-rich foods include:

  • Meat

  • Fish

  • Tofu

  • Eggs

  • Legumes

  • Seitan

Women should eat 5 to 5.5 ounces of protein a day. Men, 6 ounces. Knowing this, think about those steaks you like to eat at restaurants. Yes, you're pretty much eating more than the recommendation! The remainder of your plate should include whole grains, fruit, or starchy vegetables. 3 to 4 ounces of whole grains a day. Aim for 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit daily. Whole grains include:

  • Whole wheat flour

  • Oatmeal

  • Brown rice

I'm sure you know whole fruits. Fruit also includes 100% fruit juice, canned, frozen or dried. If its not whole, be careful of the added sugar. Starchy vegetables include:

  • Beans

  • Chickpeas

  • Corn

  • Peas

  • Potatoes (sweet and white)

Limit these foods if you're on a low-carb plan. Remember, you should eat about 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables, starch and non-starch, a day. So, if you're low-carb you would get the bulk of your daily recommended amount from non-starchy vegetables. Add a dash of healthy fats from foods like avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. These are great additions to salads and eaten as snacks. Swap out the treats we talked about earlier for healthier options. To tide hunger over between meals include protein- and fiber-rich snacks. Apple slices with peanut butter was one of my favorites. As well as whole-grain toast and peanut butter. Those carb loaded sweets, like cakes and cookies, provide little nutrition, more than enough calories, and will have you hungry shortly after. Have them infrequently. Don't forget to include 3 cups of dairy daily. This can be added by including a cup of shredded cheese to a salad, having yogurt (watch the added sugar), a cup of milk with cereal (again sugar), or snacking on cheese between meals. Drink mainly water. For more on other drinks read, How to Drink Alcohol and Maintain Fitness as well as, How to Make Sure You're Getting Enough Water Daily.

Designing your Daily Meals and Snacks Make a grocery list before you go shopping. Do inventory of what you have already before you make your list. Design your list so that you are not backtracking through the store, passing tempting foods. Almost everything you'll need is around the perimeter of the store. Processed foods are in the center aisles of the store. Limit processed foods and foods with added sugar. Make sure your list is detailed to save time and help you stick to your plan. Go grocery shopping after you've eaten and, if possible, after you've been active. Don't be afraid to read nutritional labels in the store. I've got a post for that, here. That’s why they are there. The fronts of packaging often have marketing words to lure you in. Be careful of the terms diet, whole wheat, high protein, high in fiber, and fat free. Something could be high in fiber but also has too much sugar. If packaging says 0g of trans fat, check the ingredients for 'partially hydrogenated oil'. If it's there the food still contains trans fats, just less than half of a gram per serving. More than one serving equals more trans fat. Labels that state Certified Organic are subject to strict regulations so they're good to go. Invest in a reliable kitchen scale and measuring cups and spoon to determine portions at home. Batch cook all of your meals over the weekend (or half over the weekend and the other half mid-week), so that you can easily grab individual portions throughout the week. Alternatively, you may prefer to cook daily. In this case, opting to prep all of your ingredients ahead of time might work best for you. I prefer to cook my food on Sunday's and Wednesday's. I then take it all to work for the week so that I wont forget to grab my lunch on the way out of the door. Being prepared keeps me on track. If my food is already at work I won't be tempted to make a poor choice for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I usually have all of my meals while at work and have a snack or two at home. This is my current routine. While working to lose weight it was similar in that all of my meals were at work (usually breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner) but I wouldn't have snacks once I left work. Depending on my plans after work this would adjust. Anywho, make it a routine to plan meals, grocery shop, and cook. Routines become habit, eventually. Take it one step at a time. Pay attention to what you're eating, especially when it's food you didn't prepare. Remember, meals at restaurants are larger in serving size. Limit them. Take the time to research recipes for new ideas to keep your meals from being bland, redundant, and mundane. Don't limit yourself to the foods listed above. There are more options than I've listed. Invest in the time it takes to live a healthy lifestyle. Acknowledge and embrace change in a way that makes you comfortable. Do it your way and work for results.


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