Meal Prep for Mental Health Pt II : But How? Meal Planning to the Rescue!
Ok. Now that you know WHY Meal Prepping is beneficial for your Mental Health. The next question is probably something like… “Ok, Terri that’s all well and nice but HOW?”
Here are my tips for HOW to not over-complicate your meal prep because its not helpful if its not simple, right?
First things first, you have to Meal Plan.
Seriously this is another thing that we like to make more complicated than it has to be.
Start thinking about your meal plan at least three days before you want to give it ago so you have a few days to go through the full process of making a shopping list, shopping, and then prepping.
Here's how I recommend you pick your recipes.
Decide how many meals to plan for and what they need to do.
Have a look at your calendar for the coming week and decide the number of nights you want to make dinner at home. Five nights is the most common denominator, but for some people three nights is the sweet spot. Then you've got to hone in even further. On the nights that you're cooking, what do those meals need to do? For example, on the nights that your kid has swim class, a 10-hour slow cooker recipe is a good idea. If it's just you and your partner and she's working late, you might need something that you can also bring as tomorrow's lunch.
What’s your FOOD MOOD?
Things like the weather, a change in seasons and food cravings can impact what sounds good on any given day. Thinking about these things beforehand will make recipe-selection process faster and meal times easier on everyone.
CREATE A MASTER RECIPE LIST.
Having a list of go-to meals is one of the easiest ways to expedite the meal planning process. Consider trying one or two new recipes and use a few old favorites to fill in the gaps. Every time you find a new meal you love, add it to the rotation.
Spend time each week looking for recipes.
This may feel like one of those things you don’t have time for but just let yourself do it. Think of it as practicing good Self care. Browse blogs and websites for recipes that look delicious. But REALLY, don't over-complicate it - if you're creating a master list, you'll only need to look for one new recipe a week to spice things up!
Create a place to save recipes, and keep it SIMPLE.
Do whatever works for you. Don't get caught up in a system, just use whatever works best and most easily. Personally, I like Pinterest because it's easy to visually browse what I've saved.
Ask your partner, family, and roommates what they like to eat.
This might sound obvious, but it's easy to get caught up in our weeks and forget to ask our households what they would like to eat. I get extra inspired, too, when I feel like I'm cooking a meal as a gift — trying to please and delight the palate of someone I love.
Check what's on sale.
Some folks really like to organize their meals around sales. Is organic chicken a dollar off this week? Or canned chickpeas? Check out your grocery store circular and adjust your meal plan or shopping list a bit.
Create your Calendar.
I don’t care if this is the good old fashioned pen and pencil way, whatever fun app you, or the excel sheet you an come up with - good meal planning is like putting together a puzzle. Try to avoid selecting different recipes that don’t fit together or else you’ll be buying a lot of different ingredients. Select one, look at the ingredient list and let that help you select recipe #2, and so on.
Choose a shopping day and make a shopping list.
A lot of the readers who seemed to have success in meal planning shopped very purposefully. They looked at their recipes and made a shopping list. Some of the meal planning and recipe-saving services let you do this easily, extracting ingredients from the recipes you have saved. Take stock of what’s already in your kitchen and go from there! Some weeks you may want to really use up whatever is in your pantry and freezer and other weeks you may find a good deal on chicken and want to revamp your plan and go from there!
A NOTE ON PLANNING WITH PURPOSE:
You don’t want to go in all willy nilly. Otherwise you WILL end up spending more time and money than you needed.
Overlap your ingredients in your recipes so it will minimize how many different things you’ll have to purchase.
Don’t forget about nutrition facts. I KNOW its easy to get caught down the pinterest rabbit hole of what LOOKS good but choose recipes that will help you meet your goals.
And look at the serving information. Take into consideration how much a recipe yields if you’re planning to cook for a family or to use the leftovers as your lunch the next few days. You may need to double or triple up!
**** If you have leftovers at the end of the week you know you won't eat, put individual portions into freezer safe containers and make your own healthy frozen dinners for later!
Meal Planning Is Not...
It is NOT the end all, be all! While it does solve so many problems, you've got to tailor it to fit your needs (which means you've got to be clear on what those are) and give yourself lots of grace to experiment and find a system that works for you. You've also got to make room for pizza night — we feel very strongly about pizza night!
It is NOT a big tabbed binder with a full month of meals: Write it in your planner, on a paper you stick to the front of the fridge, in a Google doc, or on a whiteboard you hang in the kitchen. Just put it somewhere you're going to see it.
It is NOT entirely home cooked: I am known to big up a pre-cooked delicious rotisserie chicken along with whatever veggies the deli area already has cooked and call it a day. I’m also a big fan of planning for healthy takeout, pizza night, and well, aren’t leftovers sort of the point of meal prep?
It is NOT Just for families of four: Meal planning is for everyone. But there are different strategies to employ depending on the number of people you're planning for.
It is NOT expensive: When done well, this practice will save you money. I swear it.
It is NOT a lot of work: Well - that depends and could be not true. You do a bit of concentrated work up front (on Meal Prep Day), but it's smooth sailing once you begin to work your plan.
It is NOT inflexible: There's so much room for experimentation, quick revisions, and customization in meal planning. It's not set in stone.
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