“What should we eat for dinner?”
“I don’t know, what do we have in the fridge?”
“Um, orange juice, two apples, milk that looks to be expired, a few eggs, and something green that is growing in the vegetable tray…. should we just go out?”
“Yeah, I guess, but just tonight.”
This discussion used to happen all too often in our house. We had the best intentions to eat healthy, but when the time came to do it, we found that we were often unprepared and that it was quicker to choose the easy route (i.e. get take-out). In turn, our health and fitness goals suffered tremendously. We learned that the secret to making good nutrition choices starts with proper menu planning ahead of time. While menu planning seems to be simple enough, there are right and wrong ways to go about it, and, ultimately, how you go about it will determine your level of success.
Therefore, we wanted to share with you 6 easy-to-follow, but really helpful, tips that we use now that will get you started on menu planning the right way. Because as everyone knows – abs are made in the kitchen!
Tip #1: Plan recipes you know you are going to eat!
This is the most important tip in this post. Full disclosure, we are picky eaters. If we don’t like the taste of something, we will not eat it, even if you pay us! Therefore, we do not choose recipes that we know we are not going to like. For example, if you hate kale for some reason, don’t pick the Toasted Kale with Honey Mustard Salad recipe for lunch on Tuesday. While healthy, yes, you are not going to eat it when the time comes on Tuesday… and here comes Taco Bell.
The purpose of menu planning is not to force you to eat healthy food you hate, it is to help you eat healthy with food that you like. If you would like to see a list of great healthy recipe options we have, sign up or log in for free access to our Recipe Box.
Tip #2: Don’t let certain ingredients scare you away
Jennifer is severely allergic to the nut family – coconuts, peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc. All of these lead to a trip to the emergency room. You will find that a ton of healthy recipes out there like to use nuts in the place of other less healthy protein and fat sources. So, stay away from these recipes, right? Wrong! If a recipe calls for cashews, we just substitute it for a similar, but safe, alternative such as sunflower seeds (Jennifer is not allergic to those). If you are lactose intolerant, try substituting lactose free soy or rice milk if a recipe calls for milk.
The key takeaway is that all recipes can be modified to suit your personal dietary needs while also still remaining totally delicious.
Tip #3: Create an extended plan to reduce grocery store trips
Nobody really likes going to the grocery store all that much (or if you do, too much of anything can be a bad thing). It takes time to plan, time to shop, time to put the groceries away – time, time, time! We are all short on that precious resource so it is best to make a menu plan for at least a week’s period of time to be efficient. Even if you buy everything fresh, it usually will keep for at least a week if properly stored (we love re-sealable containers and bags!). This will ensure that you are only having to do this task a maximum of 4 times per month instead of every other day or so.
If you would like help in creating an extended plan, sign up or log in for free access to our drag-and-drop Menu Planner. It allows you to create an entire menu plan using the recipes in our Recipe Box – complete with daily nutritional value calculations, printable/digital shopping list, etc.!
Tip #4: Prepare ingredients ahead of time based on if you are a “prepper” or a “fresher”
Even if you have a proper menu plan, it can be hard to find time to create 3-5 meals per day completely from scratch. This poses a significant barrier to consistently eat healthy. Therefore, a way to circumvent this barrier is to prepare as many of the ingredients for your meals as possible ahead of time.
If you are a prepper (i.e. you don’t mind cooking/preparing ingredients and refrigerating them until needed), choose a day of the week and allot some time to cook all of your meats for the week, cut up and store all of your needed vegetables/fruits, cook any needed pasta, prepare dressings, etc. Then, as you approach each meal throughout the week, all you have to do is pull the prepped ingredients out of the fridge and put them together into your meal. Huge time saver!
If you are a fresher (i.e. you only like to eat ingredients that have just been freshly cooked/prepped – this is us), “pre-prepare” your ingredients as much as possible to save time. For example, if you need chicken for 3 meals that week, separate your raw chicken (based on how many ounces is needed for each recipe) from the grocery store
Tip #5: Be honest in your opinion about leftovers
For many households, leftovers are either a cherished asset or a dreadful curse. If you like leftovers, they can help out your menu planning efforts significantly. Just plan on cooking a little extra of one night’s dinner and you can have a quick and easy lunch later in the week. If you are like us though and don’t like leftovers, this isn’t going to work for you. While that meal might have been good for dinner, when the time comes to eat it again for lunch later in the week, you are going to be looking for other options (most of the time unhealthy ones). Therefore, don’t plan for leftovers at all, just cook what you need and know you will be cooking a new meal each time you eat.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your opinion about leftovers, just make sure you are being honest. This will not only help your menu planning efforts, but it will save you money in the end as you will be buying and/or wasting less food.
Tip #6: Acknowledge your weaknesses but being willing to step out of your comfort zone
One of our weaknesses is that we are on-demand eaters. When we get hungry, we want to cook the food, eat it right then and be done. We love to cook but we hate having to think about it way ahead of time. In turn, recipes that require a lengthy prep time (i.e. needing to marinate meat overnight) pose a problem for us. Instead of trying to force the issue, we simply plan meals that we know can be prepped and cooked fairly quickly (at least same day).
However, it must be noted that acknowledging your weaknesses does not mean being unwilling to try something new. If you never try something, how will you know you won’t like it? Right? If you see a recipe calling for a vegetable that you have never even heard of, try it! If you end up hating it, great. Don’t eat it again. However, you might be surprised and really fall in love with it – opening up a whole new world of eating. For us, this was quinoa. For whatever reason, we just knew that quinoa was not for us (funny, right?). One day we finally broke down and included it as a side dish in one of our meals….absolutely fell in love with it! Now it is one of our staples and unlocked a whole new genre of recipes that are available for us.
Bottom line: be who you are but don’t be scared to step outside of your normal nutrition choices.
~ ~ ~
We hope that these 6 tips will help you in your menu planning as much as they have helped us. Give them a try and let us know what you think! If you have any questions, feel free to include them in the comments section below.
Also, to stay up-to-date on more posts and material like this, subscribe to our blog in the column on the left of the page. Thanks for reading and have a #sweatastic day!