I have some great news. You can actually improve your diet, energy levels, and decrease the “foodie chatter” in your brain by creating and following a meal plan. A meal plan typically includes writing down your breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks for seven days. As daunting as that may seem, the following tips are going to help get you started:
1. Print out a weekly calendar or create a word document for your meal planning template. I suggesting saving a blank copy so you can reuse this for multiple weeks. Click here for templates from Hilton Head Health.
2. Write down WHEN you plan on eating your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Too many people back-load their calories/energy intake. This is eating most of our food late afternoon and throughout the evening. Avoid going more than 5 hours without eating something—our food choices may not be as healthy if we are extremely hungry given a certain time of day.
3. Plug in your breakfast ideas. Avoid going too low in energy during the morning. We need energy to wake our bodies up versus waiting until 10:00 am to eat something. I suggest a source of protein (e.g., eggs, Greek yogurt, yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu, nuts/seeds, etc.), fruit and/or vegetable, and a healthy source of carbohydrate coming from either a whole grain (e.g., oats), fruit or starchy vegetable (e.g., breakfast sweet potatoes).
4. Have one day that involves meal preparation. This is crucial. I find preparing a few things on a Sunday helps me for the rest of the week. For example, one can make a vegetable based soup, roast vegetables, prepare a quinoa pilaf, and grill chicken that can be tossed into a chicken salad or whole wheat wrap for lunch. I keep these items around all week or I put them in the freezer if possible. When making your dishes think about number 5 on this list.
5. Cross–utilize ingredients whenever possible. If salmon is the dinner protein of choice, prepare an extra filet for lunch the next day—throw it on top of a nice spinach strawberry salad. Use spinach in another way by making a spinach, onion, and cheese scramble the next day for breakfast.
6. If going out to eat, write in your intended meal and stick to it. Most people are going out to eat at least two or three times per week. If this is you, then write down what you intend to order. Commit and don’t look back.
7. Trial and learn. Everyone’s meal plan is going to look a little different. Communicate with those affected by your meal plan and make sure to adjust the meals that didn’t satisfy you. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. Once you get more comfortable with meal planning, the more diversified your diet becomes—new recipes, new foods, new outlook on healthy eating.