Diets ask you to stop eating certain things, or eat less of them. Planning your meals gives you similar results, but in a more sustainable manner. It sounds so boring but it’s so brilliant.
All the international meal planning content talks about pre-prepping stuff putting it in boxes and then freezing it. I can't do all that! But what I love about this concept is the fact that my own behaviour towards eating has changed since I started using this.
Why it Works
Here’s three reasons why meal planning works so well, especially if you’re a busy professional with a family to look after.
1. You make better choices
If you write down what you’re going to eat, you tend to make healthier choices. You will visually see the problem if you write ‘pizza’ 4 nights out of 7. So you’ll consciously make better choices, at least on the planner, which is a great start.
Over time, make some healthy swaps on the meal plan in a realistic fashion, and you’ll see that you’ll be able to eat healthier without feeling like it’s a compromise. The most effective way to do this is to make one swap for 15 days, before you make the next one. So for example I swapped white rice for brown rice and kept everything else the same. I didn’t compromise on eating rice (I love it too much), but I made it a healthier kind of rice.
2. Easy grocery shopping
If you shop your groceries for the whole week and it’s written on a chart, you can plan how much time you need to either cook or have those meals prepared. Sunday is the best day to do the grocery shopping – you’re not rushed for time, and you can scout around for options. It also gives you the chance to think through making meals tastier. For example, you can plan to make kebab rolls with wholegrain parantha one night, instead of ordering in rolls, and make sure you buy and freeze those kebabs instead of rushing to find them during the week. Shopping in a frenzy is the biggest reason for buying junk too.
3. Cravings and stress don’t rule your choices
This one is actually the reason I started planning my meals. I hate the question ‘aaj khane mein kya khayein’ because it leaves you open to giving into your cravings. Usually we ask this question around 6pm, when we’re famished and still at work or on our way home. The fastest, easiest answer is ‘let’s order in’. That’s a slippery slope and I’ve been there. If you have a meal planner, you can see what your day of eating is going to look like and you don’t have to stress about tonight’s khana.
How to Start Meal Planning
So how do you start meal planning? Here’s a few steps I followed and it’s been a big reason for my own healthy eating recently. These are supported by a photo below of my personal meal plan for inspiration and a reality check – it doesn’t look anything like the fancy pictures of meal plans you see on Pinterest but it works.
1. Buy a meal planner
Mine’s from Amazon, not pricey and not pretty. It’s a simple white magnetic writing surface which I filled in with a table. Drop a comment below and I'll share the link with you. It’s stuck on my fridge so I see it every morning and it’s convenient in case I want to change anything on it. You can change meals every week or month, depending on how comfortable you are with repeating what you eat.
I prefer to buy an official planner rather than scribble on any notepad because this step makes your commitment official. And that matters in your head. It’s also a great guide for everyone in the house to refer to. If you have someone else cooking for you, they can refer to the meal planner and that makes their job easier too.
2. Plan 4 realistic meals a day
The trick here is to note down every meal you’ll eat. My meal plan has breakfast, lunch, a 4pm snack, dinner and dessert. I plan for Monday to Saturday, and Sunday is usually spent either eating out or ordering in what we feel like so I don’t plan that day.
Realistic meals are an important part of the plan. Don’t try to include boiled vegetables and soups or salads if you’re not used to those foods. They will end up causing you to drop off the plan and eventually you’ll start ignoring the meal planner altogether. Write down your daal, sabzi, roti or rice and anything else you want to eat for the week.
You can change your plans as often as you feel the need to – every week or after a month. If your family tires of dishes frequently, then you can change the plan every Sunday. But plan for the whole week at once, and try not to swap things out during the week, or it’ll get harder to stick to point 3.
3. Shop for groceries weekly
Sunday is a good day to choose if you have it off from work. You can take time to shop around for ingredients, even exotic vegetables or spreads. Shopping during the week usually adds stress to an already busy day.
Try to buy all your veggies, sauces, spreads and grains for the whole week and keep them stocked. Sticking to your plan is more convenient that way because you’re not running out of things, or discovering you don’t have them last minute. It’ll make it easier to stick to the plan, because you won’t have an excuse not to eat the planned meal.
You’re ready! You know what you’re eating all week, and you have everything you need to make those meals a reality.
An Example Meal Plan
If you tend to cook most meals yourself and you want to save meal-prep time during the week, then you could also buy containers in which to stock your ingredients in pre-prepped form. For example, chop your vegetables and freeze them or put them in the chiller in the fridge. That shaves 10-15 minutes off any meal.
I don’t recommend pre-cooking and storing meals because something you make on Sunday will lose nutrition by the time you eat it on Thursday, unless you have a big enough freezer that you can store these in.
As promised, here’s a picture of my meal planner at home. You can see I have the Afters dessert bites planned for dessert on every day other than a Saturday where we often order in something more indulgent. I also have peanut butter and almond butter slotted into my breakfast times. The Chilli Chutney Peanut Butter is a personal favourite because we eat Indian breakfasts quite a few times a week.
Don’t worry about getting this perfect on day 1. Start with a plan, and commit to trying. You’ll get better over the weeks to come. If there’s anything you want help with, you can leave us a comment below, or Whatsapp us via the chat button on the website.
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