Caveat: I don't have a background in nutrition, or any experience with specialized eating needs involving allergies or other food sensitivities. I'm just going to lay out what works for me, and new things I'd like to try. Obviously, we are all different, and what works for one will not work for all! But I think that sharing experiences provides ideas and inspriation in any number of ways, and that that is always a good thing. :-) With that said, let's get started!
Whenever I come to a place wherein I want to increase my overall physical health, the first thing I do is examine the fuel that I'm providing my body. If I'm not feeling as good as I have in the past, it's often because I'm not balancing my eating as well as I used to, and in my case, that *always* comes from a lack of planning.
When I meal plan, I provide structure for balanced family dinners, but also for the lunches I pack to take to work, because I use the leftovers as my lunch 90% of the time. For lunches, here's the key: put the leftovers you plan to use for this purpose into convenient to carry, lunch-sized containers RIGHT AWAY, as you're cleaning up from dinner that night. If you don't, the chances of you using your awesome leftovers become significantly reduced. Ask me how I know this. ;-)
If we don't have leftovers for lunch, I'll pack a salad, or what I call An Assortment, which is usually cheese, crackers, fruit, and whatever else I can scavenge from our fridge and cupboards. Having this Plan A and B for lunches helps me to feel organized, and to be better about planning dinners. And planning dinners is ever so important to our physical health goals. Here's how I do it:
|Magnetic dry erase menu
Yep, I am a nerd, and I use a dry erase board. You can see that Anne has penned her very own meal ideas in the Groceries section of the board. ;-) I am a huge fan of this system, and have been doing it for years. When I slack off, things go bad quickly. This particular type of menu requires liquid chalk markers, not traditional dry erase, and I get those easily on Amazon:
|Liquid chalk markers available from Amazon
I meal plan using a variety of sources. I have a cookbook collection that I love, and I'll select things out of there. When I pick something, I add it to the menu, and I also added needed groceries to our grocery list. This cuts down on the Missing Key Ingredients, although it isn't 100% fullproof. ;-) One of my favorite series of cookbooks is 100 Days of Real Food:
|I highly recommend the 100 Days of Real Food blog and cookbook series!
I also use recipes from a service that I subscribe to called Prep Dish. Prep Dish is an awesome company, owned and operated by a professional chef, that provides you with weekly meal plans, shopping list, and a plan for prepping the food for the entire week, so that each weekday your work to prepare the meals is minimal. The meal plans focus on a gluten free situation, or a Paleo eating philosophy, neither of which totally apply to me, *however* the meal plans are based on using whole, fresh produce, meat and fish (if you're a vegetarian, could easily eliminate these), and are just generally very healthy and flavorful. I use the Paleo recipes, and am always finding new ideas, seasonings, cooking methods, and general inspiration from them to try new things. I personally do not do all of the advance prep, but this is obviously another fantastic idea that you might want to try! I also don't use every meal idea on the weekly plan, but each week will simply select a few to try. Even though I'm not using all of the capabilities that this service provides, I still consider it VERY worth it to have built-in seasonal, healthy ideas every single week! I am an annual premium subscriber, and consider this an essential renewal every year.
Another recipe source for me is our local CSA (community support agriculture, a farm share of local fruits and vegetables, essentially), and this gets into an important point about meal planning: having fresh and healthy food in the house means that you are much more likely to use it in your meals, or snack on it when you feel hungry between meals. We have an awesome CSA that provides recipes for the produce that is included in that week's box, and they deliver it right to our door. They also have a webstore wherein you can add in a slew of other locally made goods such as dairy products, meat and fish, pasta, bread, jams and jellies, pickles, etc. I'm often adding yogurt and granola to my order, and sometimes chocolate milk that my children devour like they've never seen liquid before. I find having fresh fruit and veggies essential to my lunch options too, so if I'm out of leftovers, I'll cut up carrots, toss whatever fruit we have in there, etc.
I LOVE belonging to a CSA. I spend a little more than if I purchased the items at the grocery store, but the convenience, and the fact that we're supporting local farmers, makes it so worth it to me. Ours even runs all winter with root vegetables and hydroponic lettuce and tomatoes!
So for meal planning, that's all I got. :-0 I don't track what I eat, even if I'm trying to lose a few pounds, I just try to focus on balancing my meals with lots of healthy, whole food, and to not snack between meals aside from fruit or vegetables, and a protein, if needed. I know that a lot of people swear by tracking their food, so this might be something that works for you! I know there are tons of great apps for that out there now.
To me, it is SO, so essential that we enjoy our food, and have a healthy relationship with food. We shouldn't deny ourselves less healthy food that we enjoy, we can just try to control our portions of it and balance it out with healthier options. And sometimes if that doesn't happen, it's ok. We should treat ourselves sometimes, and be kind to ourselves. The fruits and veggies will be waiting for us Monday morning. ;-)
What are your meal planning ideas and/or system? Do you have tips that have worked for you in terms of healthy eating? I'd love to accrue some new ideas!