On Planning Meals to Eat Healthier
So far 2015 has been pretty unproductive and a total “fail” as far as new healthy beginnings go. This isn’t surprising because I didn’t really hammer out my goals before the year started. I have a long list of things I want to achieve but I didn’t make a real “game plan” and I’m someone who really needs a plan to succeed. I’m not beating myself up, though. It’s nice to start new habits at the very beginning of the year but if I start a few weeks late with a plan for success, then it’s better late than never. I’ve heard the quote “Focus on progress, not perfection” several places recently, and I am trying to remind myself of it often.
The biggest thing I definitely need/want to work on before anything else is cooking meals for myself, both for health and money reasons. I had gotten on a roll with this in mid-November but then Thanksgiving, new house changes, weddings, and holidays came and blew me out of the water. I’m baby stepping my way towards plans for goals and this is my current step. I was really inspired to start cooking again and get healthy when I saw this article The Anti-Detox Diet posted by my friend Kelly. My plans for how to keep up with cooking and eating healthy are below.
I have a bad habit of getting over zealous and buying too many groceries/ingredients and then letting food go bad. It’s horribly wasteful, not to mention frustrating (for me and people I live with). I’m trying to consume more fresh food, so when I was doing well in November I would only allow myself to get groceries with ingredients for one or two meals. Sometimes I’d buy in bulk for things like daily morning smoothies, etc, but I’ve even fallen behind and let that stuff go to crap, so I really try to minimize the amount of food I buy and bring home at one time. Shopping daily or every other day may be annoying for some people, but I pass a Whole Foods on my way home from work, and I’m always trying to walk more so I don’t mind a side trip to Trader Joe’s on my way home now and then.
Finding meals to make
I started by using the ever handy Pinterest and compiling a bunch of easy/healthy/cheap recipes I know I’d like and can pull off even when I’m tired from work (to add to a small few I already make). I also have a board for mason jar foods because I find these easy to make for lunches/etc and was doing well with them before Thanksgiving. Right now I am primarily focusing on dinners but if I have time to throw together lunches I will do that, too. I tried to pick a variety of things to try, but honestly I am a creature of habit and once I find a handful of recipes I can make quickly and I like I tend to make them all the time, so I am expecting once I get into the swing of this it will be a lot easier. It’s getting into the swing of it that’s the problem. I was cooking a lot two years ago, and the reason I fell into the blackhole of take-out food is that I went grain-free to lose weight and inadvertently discovered I am gluten intolerant. This was problematic because all of my go-to meals were gluten heavy (lasagna being the biggest one). I went gluten-free for a while and tried to cook to do it but found myself eating more pre-packaged foods and then restaurant/take-out foods instead of cooking. I’ve actually been eating a ton of gluten again lately and am paying for it dearly (exhaustion, joint pain, etc), so I am also hoping that cooking will help me eliminate a lot of gluten from my diet again by weaning off.
Planning meals in advance/daily meal calendar
My next step is to have a game plan and plan out meals for each day. I know this is obvious but I have always had a hard time keeping up with this (despite easily pre-printed calendars with groceries lists, etc). I’m currently experimenting with two different ways of keeping up with daily food lists. The first is digital, by using Trello and having a special Food board.
Briefly, Trello is a way of visualizing tasks you need to finish/are working on/etc. It’s an electronic form of Kanban and it can be super helpful for many areas of life. In Trello you can have different boards for different projects or aspects of life (IE Home, Work, Art Projects, etc). On each board you can make customizable lists (typically for Kanban these would be “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done”). Under each list you add “cards” listing the things you need to get done. To these cards you can add detailed notes, reminders, and due dates.
My Food board on Trello has Lists for Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks, Dinner, and Weekly Meal Plan. Right now I am mainly focusing on dinners (and trying to bring leftovers for lunch), so I am only using the Dinner and Weekly Meal Plan lists (see photo below). The idea is to make a list of recipes I find on Pinterest, and then for each meal card I paste the ingredient list and recipe into the notes section. This is helpful because I can use Trello on my phone and can quickly pull up a card while grocery shopping, and I can look at the recipe on my Kindle in the kitchen while cooking. Once I compile a bunch of recipes, I put cards for meals I plan to cook into the Weekly Meal Plan list in order by date I plan to cook them. I edit the date into the beginning of the card, and once it’s done I can edit it back out and put the card back into my general dinner recipe list. I like using Trello because I can also easily change my meal plan to something else if I decide I am not in the mood for what I’ve planned, and I still have the ingredient and recipe list readily available.
The second method is a physical list with recipe names on Post-its that can be easily stored on one main sheet of paper (Lunch, Dinner, etc) and moved to a weekly calendar on my wall. As seen in the photos below, I used colorful sheets for the recipes to make it more visually appealing, and the weekly calendar is one I had already established in my room for my personal kanban (I will talk about this eventually). The Calendar is on the door on the way out of my room and runs from Monday to Sunday. I also use these Post-its for my kanban to-do list, and whenever it’s the actual day something must be done (or if there’s a scheduled class, etc) I move it to the calendar so I am reminded of things whenever I leave my room. This obviously requires some other work, such as planning a grocery list and storing it elsewhere, and being able to quickly pull up a recipe. So unless I make a recipe file card system in the kitchen (or book), this doesn’t work on it’s own.
I don’t know if I’ll end up using one or both of these methods in the long run, but I am going to try them both at once in hopes that with two reminders I will be more successful.
Scheduling appropriate meals for appropriate times
Something I ran into before when I tried to plan meals was that I wasn’t paying enough attention to my daily calendar when making my meal calendar. This time around, I made sure to look at my schedule and figure out when meals would be most appropriate. For example, on Thursdays I have my Aerials class followed immediately by Deep Stretch class, this means I leave my house at 7pm and don’t get home until 10:30pm or so. Depending on when I get home from work, this leaves little time to prepare and cook dinner. Ideally there will be leftovers for these days, but I’ve made sure to put down some really quick (good pre-workout) meals on the list for these days. I also try to plan a post-class snack that has some protein. (Sidenote: Days after my aerials classes I am RAVENOUS, so I may baby step into preparing breakfast on those days first and then move to multiple days).
I am just starting to plan meals and get back to shopping and cooking as of today, so we’ll see how I do. There is something to be said for accountability, though, and blogging about your plans (and subsequently having to keep people up to date on them) is a really strong way of creating accountability and making sure you keep up with something! Here’s hoping it helps.
Do you have any methods you use for planning meals? Any super easy recipes to share? Feel free to comment, I’d love to hear other ideas!
Resources (IE Links mentioned above if you missed them):
- The Anti-Detox Diet
- Kellbot – personal blog of my circus friend Kelly
- My personal pinterest (boards mentioned are “Easy food stuffz” and “Jar jawns”
- What to Eat Before and After a Workout (meal ideas)
- What to Eat Before, During, After Exercise (information)
- The Complete Guide to Workout Nutrition (I found this a few days after writing this post)