People frequently ask me how I find time to prepare and cook meals throughout the week. I know very few people who suffer from an overabundance of free time, myself included, and it's so challenging for people to come home from work or school, wanting nothing more than to sit down and relax, to cook a full meal for themselves and their family.
This where meal planning comes in. Whether your following a diet for a specific health-related issue, trying to lose weight, eat healthier, or simply save money on eating out, meal planning is a great way to organize your diet and your week. The approaching new year is a great opportunity to get a jump-start on your meal planning. Here are four tricks that I use to be effective in my meal planning.
1. Ritualize It
Having a routine is great, but making that routine into a ritual gives it more depth, texture, and resonance with your life. Every Saturday I sit down at my recently cleaned kitchen table, put on some music, take some deep breaths, and write out my meal plan for the week. I simply draw a table for each day of the week with three rows for each meal. In the margins I make notes, flesh out my to-do list, and sketch out my shopping list. Taking the time to do this also allows me to reflect on how in incorporate seasonal foods and how to add greater variety to my diet.
2. Streamline Grocery Runs
After I create my meal plan and construct my shopping list, I head to the grocery store. Personally, I try to get everything at the same time so that I’m not trapped in the rat race of endless grocery store runs. If I know I’m going to be purchasing some meat or perishable products that I’ll be using later in the week and don’t want to spoil, I’ll make a note to set aside time to pick up those items closer to my cooking date.
3. Batch Cook
The trap that I have fallen into in the past is falling behind on my cooking schedule, which leaves me without a prepared meal. This becomes a justification to ‘pick up something quick’ at a local store which is usually less healthy. One way to avoid this is to do a ‘batch cooking’ day, where you prep several meals or components at once. This is a great opportunity for me to prep bone broth, ghee, and any other essentials that I'll need to use in the week in addition to any meals that I'm preparing that day. I try to also take this time to prepare some sort of high quality, protein and fat-dense snack that I can keep on hand as an ‘emergency meal’, in case of the (let’s be honest – fairly likely) event that my busy schedule derails my best laid plans. Batch cooking helps to ensure that it’s less likely that I’ll be without a meal I prepared myself, and gives me a safety net of a quick snack just in case.
4. Be Flexible
No matter how well you lay out your meal plans, organize your grocery runs, and prepare your food in advance, there will be days or weeks when life happens and you get sidetracked. When this happens, don’t berate yourself. Instead, step back and reflect on why it occurred and how you can avoid it in the future. Maybe you felt pressured to eat out with friends or family, or it came out of an emotional response, or maybe you just needed to give yourself a treat. Whatever the reason, acknowledge it and use it as a tool to find a way to stick to or modify your plan better in the future.
Andrea Lane is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and certified Pilates instructor in Portland, Oregon. Her practice particularly focuses on treating autoimmune disease and women's health. She is passionate about maintaining good health through a whole-food diet, mindful movement, and meditation. When she is not practicing, she loves to cook, listen to podcasts, read her way out from under the small mountain of books she's accumulated, and cater to her cats' every whim.