Many people want to lose weight and/or follow a healthy diet, but work a full-time job, care for young children, work odd hours, and just aren’t sure how to incorporate a healthy diet with little to no time for cooking.
A great strategy for those who are highly motivated to stick to a healthy diet is the once a week ritual of meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation. If you have a few hours once a week to invest into this ritual, you can be successful in changing your habits and developing a healthy lifestyle, even with a busy schedule.
Every week, sit down and write out what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I keep a list of recipes on hand that are simple, require little cooking (slow cooker meals are the best), and taste good enough that I’ll enjoy it. To save time and money, eat the same thing every day as often as possible (I change only my dinners on a daily basis). Here is what that might look like:
- Breakfast: 1 hard-boiled egg, ¼ lb. turkey sausage, bell pepper slices
- Morning Snack: almonds, apple
- Lunch: Grilled chicken salad with spinach, pumpkin seeds, cherry tomatoes, and red wine vinegar/olive oil dressing
- Afternoon snack: edamame
M – Baked salmon, asparagus, roasted cauliflower
T – Grass fed beef burgers in a lettuce wrap, zucchini chips, baked sweet potatoes
W – Pulled chicken tacos in the slow cooker in a lettuce wrap, steamed broccoli
Th – Leftover chicken tacos
Fri – Seared tuna over swiss chard, cucumber salad
Grocery List and Shop
Now that you have a plan, make your list. Be specific about the exact amounts you need of each item so that there is no guesswork once you are at the store and under pressure.
You should know ahead of time what portion sizes are needed per meal, and multiply that times the number of days you are eating it. So, for example, here is a sample list based on the meal plan above:
- 7 eggs
- 1.75 lbs turkey sausage
- 4 bell peppers
- 7 apples
- 1.75 lbs chicken breast
- spinach – 7 cups
- 7 T pumpkin seeds
Once you have your list, head to the store, go directly to the perimeter of the grocery store, and pile everything you need into your cart. If this is your first time to grocery shop and prepare meals ahead of time, make sure you pick up some Tupperware, glass containers, or disposable storage containers. You can skip the majority of the rest of the store where the processed items sit, which will save you both time and money.
Prepare Your Meals
After your shopping trip, take your groceries home, but don’t put them up yet. It’s time to prepare them, so that for the rest of the week, all you have to do is pull them out of your fridge and either throw them together, or reheat and eat.
So for example, based on your above meal plan, you will need to do the following:
- Hardboil the eggs – store in Ziploc bags with a sprinkle of sea salt, put in fridge
- Cook turkey sausage in the skillet – store in a container in the fridge.
- Slice the bell peppers – store in container in fridge
- Season and grill the chicken (or I marinate mine overnight), slice it up, put in a container in the fridge
- Wash and chop the spinach (or I buy the pre-washed container of baby spinach – worth the money for the time saved)
- Make salad dressing for the week by mixing oil and vinegar in a shaker jar with any seasonings you like
- Freeze your edamame – when you’re ready for a snack, you can season it with sea salt, garlic powder, etc and throw it in the microwave for a couple of minutes – it will steam itself.
You can also prepare any veggies and meats for your dinners at this time if you like, or take steps to prepare these meals by chopping everything up and placing it all together in a freezer bag, ready to cook.
Do What Works For You
There are a million ways to customize this strategy for your lifestyle. Maybe it is easier for you to wake up and cook a day’s worth of meals while your kids are still sleeping.
Maybe you prefer to prepare large dinners and save the leftovers to incorporate into your next day’s menu. Or maybe you prefer to cook at every meal. Everyone is different, but there is always a strategy that will work for every lifestyle.