Planning meals in advance is one of the keys to a healthful lifestyle. However, it is a habit that is most often met with dread. For some reason the idea of sitting down and planning what we are going to eat for the next week, let alone the next month, seems like absolute torture. I get it – I used to feel that way too until I realized the significant benefits it had on my wallet, waistline and sanity.
Benefits of Planning Meals Ahead of Time
If you’re not currently planning meals in advance, planning an entire month of meals may seem like quite an undertaking. While it seems difficult at first, there are many benefits of creating a month meal plan at the start of each month.
Monthly Meal Planning Saves Money
Buying food in bulk can save you a lot of money. A meal plan allows you to take advantage of these savings because you’ll end up buying larger quantities of typically expensive items such as meat, chicken and dairy. Having a meal plan also prevents eating out by default, which will save you even more money. It’s one thing to enjoy a delicious meal out with your friends, but another to find yourself in the drive-through just because you didn’t have anything else planned. These impulse meals are typically where we spend the majority of our money on our food.
Monthly Meal Planning is More Nutritious
When meals are planned out we tend to choose more balanced and wholesome dishes. Even if you make the same meals as you normally order when dining out, most likely you would still be cutting down on the sodium, fat and calories of the restaurant dishes.
Monthly Meal Planning Saves Time
You may not realize it, but most people spend up to an hour a day simply debating what to eat: either thinking about where to go, staring at the pantry, bickering with family members about what they feel like or starting to prepare something only to realize that they don’t have all the ingredients. Although the act of sitting down and thinking about a monthly meal plan seems time consuming at first, I promise that it is well worth the hours you will save when you don’t have to stress about what to eat!
Now that you know the benefits of setting a monthly meal plan, let’s discuss some specific steps and strategies to make sure your meal plan is a success!
- Look at a calendar and block off all of your previous engagements or times when eating at home isn’t realistic. Just because you are creating a monthly meal plan does not mean that you need to lock yourself inside your house! If you eat out as a family on Saturdays, enjoy going to lunch with co-workers on Fridays or have a breakfast meeting on Tuesdays, simply don’t buy food for those days. Eating out can be an important part of a healthful meal plan.
- Plan for one large grocery trip and then just stock up on produce each week.You can make the most out of financial savings when you buy items that are either non-perishable or freezable in bulk. Then make a quick trip to the store each week to pick up produce. Consider planning your produce trips on a Tuesday or during the week when the grocery stores aren’t as packed and you can get in and out of there quickly.
- Invest in freezer bags or sturdy glass containers. This will make sure that your perishables last the full month and cut down on the number of times you have to cook.
- Cook in bulk and freeze the leftovers. No one likes to eat the same thing for dinner each night. However, if you cook in bulk and freeze the leftovers you may actually look forward to having it the following week.
- Don’t over-complicate it. Although variety at dinner can be exciting, a routine during the day is much more realistic. Consider having the same thing for breakfast, lunch and snacks for a few days and then switch it up week to week. I don’t want you to get bored, but I also don’t want you to get overwhelmed with food prep. Remember, meal planning only works if you follow it!
- Allow treats. Sometimes when we plan meals we can start to feel stifled or crave something new. Make sure to incorporate things that you enjoy such as tasty snacks or going out for frozen yogurt from time to time. The idea of meal planning is to give you more time and freedom in your life not to make you feel trapped!
Next month we’ll be back with more on meal planning and we’ll provide an example meal calendar for October. In the meantime, go ahead and give meal planning a try. I’d love to hear what works for you (or even what doesn’t!) so please do share your comments below!
Article first appeared on www.totalgymdirect.com.