IS HEALTHY MEAL PLANNING FOR YOU?
My husband and I are busy, and we have plenty of kids at home. Between work, soccer practice, lacrosse, ice skating and what not, we’re all spread thin and it’s sometimes hard (nightmarish, even!) to put food on the table on time. Let alone healthy food.
In other words, healthy meal planning is an issue.
It would be much simpler if dinner was made easy.
My husband being a chef, it definitely help. However, when we’re busy (which is most of the time), we need help cooking. Basically, we need help planning, shopping, and cooking so that we can prep a family meal in less than 30 minutes.
At some point we had considered meal planning. We had heard of “meal planning”.
The premise is that you’ll get a menu for the entire week, customized to your own preferences and health goals, sent right to your inbox. It’s then up to you to purchase the food. And cook. Honestly, it didn’t help much at the time, because it was more work than we needed.
But that was back then. Things have changed now and I’m going to reveal a few secrets.
THE BENEFITS OF HEALTHY MEAL PLANNING
Meal planning does make a big difference when it comes to sticking to a dietary change. If you’re starting a paleo diet, for instance. Or if you need to cut down on carbs. Of if you have suddenly become lactose intolerant.
When we’re busy, it’s just too easy to cook a quick convenience food or head to a restaurant when everyone is hungry and nothing is defrosted. A little planning can prevent this.
Meal planning is a vital part of eating a healthy diet and there are many benefits to batch cooking. Even if you’re a healthy eating veteran, I’d highly encourage you to take half an hour a week to meal plan healthy meals for your family that week.
There are many benefits of healthy meal planning, including:
1. It saves you money
Meal planning is efficient. It saves you time, and money because it allows for budgeting.
2. You eat real food
You know me by now; I encourage everyone to eat a proper diet of very real food. If it looks like it doesn’t come from Mother Nature, just don’t eat it.
Consuming a nutrient-dense real food diet is vital for so many aspects of health, but it also takes some advance planning. With healthy meal planning, you can decide before you ever go to the grocery store what healthy meals your family is going to eat during a given week so that you can only purchase healthy foods and know that you will use them. If you’re switching to a healthier diet, meal planning is especially important to help you stick to it while you learn the ropes.
3. You don’t waste food as much
With meal planning, I know how we are going to use all of the food for a specific week before we even go to the store to buy it. I have a weekly game plan that even takes leftovers in to account so that food is rarely wasted.
4. Less stress
We talked about it many times: Stress is bad. Very bad. Remember what I said about cortisol? I realized that a major source of stress for me was realizing at 5 p.m. that the kids would be hungry soon and that nothing was planned or defrosted for dinner. Just the general “what’s for dinner tonight” was always in the back of my mind.
Having a written plan takes the uncertainty and stress out of the situation and I was surprised how much it reduced my stress just to have a plan and know what and when I would be cooking.
5. It saves time
Another great benefit of healthy meal planning is the time it saves. Planning ahead allows me to cook things in bulk and freeze for a future meal or make extra of a protein to use in a quick meal later in the week. In the winter, I cook a lot of slow cooker meals or Instant Pot meals and pre-make many of these to keep in the freezer so that I can just stick one in the crockpot and go in the morning on busy days.
6. It adds variety
Healthy meal planning sounds rigid and boring, but statistically, families are more likely to eat the same meals over and over if they don’t meal plan. Meal planning allows you to ensure variety and avoid falling in to the trap of eating the same five meals over and over. A varied diet is good for our digestive health and exposes us to a wider range of nutrients.
HEALTHY MEAL PLANNING vs BATCH COOKING
Dont’ confuse healthy meal planning and batch cooking. Not quite the same thing.
What Is Batch Cooking?
The idea of batch cooking is as simple as the name suggests: it’s just doing a week’s worth of meal prep in one go, so that serving individual meals does not take as long to prepare.
We prefer to do a big batch of meal prep on Sundays, when the kids are happily playing in the back yard with friends and we have a few hours to spare.
In addition to saving time, we’ve found that batch cooking really increases the chances of sticking to a meal plan. You definitely won’t want to waste those healthy meals you spent time preparing!
THE PROBLEM WITH HEALTHY MEAL PLANNING
Unless you’re using a meal planning service, this is a lot of work.
You can start by creating a rotating list of meals that use seasonal produce and corresponding shopping lists that are organised by the part of the store the food is in.
To simplify the process, you can write your recipes on 3×5 index cards with the ingredients on the back. For each ingredient, write the amount needed per person for that single recipe.
This allows to easy adjust the recipe up or down if you are having company or if some of the kids won’t be home for a certain meal.
Now, here is the problem… We’ve never been good at meal planning.
Not organized enough maybe? I don’t know.
When my husband and I tried meal planning a few years go, it worked like this:
You’d sign up for the subscription service. Once a month, you’d get an email with that month’s meal plans. It’d be sent as a printable PDF.
Sure, you’d get recipe ideas and shopping lists. But what if you didn’t want a particular recipe? What if you wanted to add in your own? What if you wanted to change the ingredients so it didn’t have onions (because your son loathes onions)?
You couldn’t do it. At least not easily.
You had to print it up, then write in all the changes by hand to customise it. Then you’d have to print up the shopping list and cross off all the things that didn’t apply.
After a few months, we’d gotten a lot of tasty new recipes to try. But for the amount of re-working you had to do, the subscription was no longer worth it, so we cancelled it.
THERE IS AN EASIER WAY TO HEALTHY MEAL PLANNING
We recently got acquainted with Real Plans, and we realized that we were missing out a ton. This is not your grandma’s meal planner. This is a cutting edge, modern, intuitive, and HELPFUL healthy meal planning app.
Here’s how it works now.
A NEW, MODERN HEALTHY MEAL PLANNING SOLUTION THAT WORKS
Let’s take a look inside: Real Plans automatically generates a meal plan for you each week. You can choose in the settings to have them email it to you or just login and check it… This also works on their free mobile app so you can plan, shop and cook from your phone! Oh yeah, and if you’re going on vacation but plan to cook while there, it’s super easy to plan all your meals for the trip!
Let me show you exactly what it looks like.
You login to your Real Plans dashboard, and you see this at setup:
You immediately get to pick how many people you’re serving — and all the recipes inside are adjusted accordingly!
You can select whether or not we have special restrictions — like dairy-free, gluten-free, etc.
Then, once you click “Update,” you’re logged in and taken to the week’s menu:
Now, the really cool stuff happens!
You can permanently customize any recipe to remove or add ingredients & instructions, just by opening the recipe and selecting ‘modify’.
And those changes?
Immediately get saved to your shopping list. A shopping list which lets you check off ingredients you already have, and which easily switches over to a mobile view so you can take it with you to the grocery store!
And when I’m sending my hubby to the grocery store? I can actually snap photos of the exact brands I want him to buy, and they’ll be right there in the Shopping List details for the item.
And if you go to multiple stores — like Costco, HEB, and our local farm-to-market store, you can organize the item list by store.
To top it all off, you can add recipes that aren’t in the meal plan service — like your own family favorites. And they’ll automatically be parsed and added to the shopping list, too.
You just have to copy & paste your favorite recipes from your own files, or from your favorite food blogs.
Real Plans is versatile and user-friendly.
It’s a lifesaving app, supported by an online computer program that creates new menus and recipes for you each week, depending on your exact diet.
It is a subscription service and needless to say, I think it’s worth it. I paid just $6/mo for a year long subscription. That includes all the dietary restrictions you might have. Paleo, Keto, Vegetarian, Vegan… whatever you want.
More Reasons I Love (and Use) Real Plans Each Week
- The easiest way to plan healthy meals for my family
- Mobile app for easy use, especially when shopping
- I easily save more per week than Real Plans costs per month!
- It takes under five minutes to plan our meals for the entire week
- Reduces my grocery shopping time and budget by simplifying the process
- Makes it effortless to stick to meal planning
- My children love using it and my 9-year-old can plan meals for our whole week by himself
- Meal Plans Each Week Include
- A pre-made meal plan based on your food preferences
- Ability to completely change and customize the meal plan each week
- Easy to add your own recipes or recipes from your favorite website(s)
- All of my recipes (500+), plus over 1,000 new recipes and more added each week
- Simple way to sort by ingredient, remove recipes with allergens and modify any recipe
- So much more!