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How to Get Really, Really Good at Meal Planning

Start small and keep it simple. You don't have to go all out and plan every meal to start seeing better results.

The phrase "bodies are made in the kitchen" or "abs are made in the kitchen" is pretty common — and can be very accurate. You may give 100 percent effort in the gym but eat on the fly so you don't see any real results in the mirror. You need to focus on what is going in your body, as much if not more than what you are doing to expend calories. Keep it simple, start small and start seeing improvements in your physique as well as your health.

Plan Ahead

The first step is planning, and the internet can come in handy here. Write down a few options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that you enjoy. Some people don't mind eating the same thing four or five days in a row, while others need variety. If you have options that you like for each meal, you can do either the same meal repeated or use that variety. It will also save you money when you hit the grocery store as you will have limited your choices.

Start With One Meal

Don't try to overhaul your entire diet in one day. Instead, start with just one meal. If you are a regular exerciser, focus on your post-workout meal first. This is often overlooked, but so very important. Ideally, you should consume food within 30 minutes of a workout. It should be a combo of protein and fast absorbing carbohydrates to help repair those muscles. Low-fat chocolate milk, fruit and protein smoothie, yogurt and berries or turkey and apple slices are all examples of quick post-workout meals that don't take a lot of time.

If you only exercise a few days per week, or are a sporadic exerciser, focus on breakfast first. Often people skip breakfast because they are trying to get out the door in the morning for work or school. They grab something only if they remember, and it is usually high in sugar, fat, and carbs. Again, keep it simple. Have individual yogurts in the fridge and fruit that you can grab easily such as a banana or apple. Each day try to consume a healthy, balanced breakfast until it becomes a habit. Then focus on good snack options, lunch, and dinner — one at a time.

Cook in Bulk

It's often easier to grab food from a drive-through rather than cook after a long day. Well, try cooking in bulk on a weekend day. Marinate and prep chicken, pork, or beef for the week. Then cook it all at once. You can also cook rice, or potatoes or even pasta in bulk to heat up throughout the week. Blanch fresh veggies, or buy frozen that can be heated quickly with your protein and carb choices. Plan on sandwiches? Make up two or three at a time for you to grab for lunches.

Adequate Storage

Now you've planned and cooked, if necessary, and you need to easily store your food. You can buy individual containers that will hold a single serving for each meal or larger containers for bulk that you can dish out from each day. These containers should be freezer and/or microwave safe for convenience. Even if you have a family, you can still portion out your breakfast, snack and lunch choices so it's quick and easy during the week. Dinners can be stored in bulk in the freezer or fridge. This will also make it neat and easy to find.

Don't Like Reheating?

Some people do like fresh meals, but don't want to prep and cook all the time. So, do it in advance. Put your raw chicken in marinade and place it in the freezer. Put it in the fridge the night before so it is thawed and ready to cook the next day. Blanch your vegetables, portion them out and freeze them as well. You can also use a slow cooker or Crock Pot. Put everything in the pot in the morning, and it's ready to go by dinner time — hot and fresh.

[Image via iStock/Getty]

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