Today is ALL about prepping and planning! In “The Plan” we talked about the BASICS of clean eating, the grocery list covered the foods (this post is coming!), and today we are going to put it all together in a functional easy to use plan. Creating a successful meal plan that works for you, your family, and your schedule is initially going to be a process of trial and error.
It’s easy to over-complicate this process so we are going to start with the BASICS. After you have mastered this you will be well on your way to planning and prepping like a PRO! My handy meal planner(s) helps you plan a whole week of meals or a single day, making cooking and shopping easier than ever. If you fail to plan you plan to fail! Sit down and list all your meals for the week. What are your breakfasts, lunches, Dinners, and Snacks?! Start filling in your days on the weekly meal planner OR take it one day at t time with the daily planner… Just don’t complicate it. You don’t have to be a five star chef… Some of the most successful fitness people eat the same things day in and day out rarely deviating… It’s a great way to start forming that health habit! Start simple and once you get the hang of it test out a new recipe on the weekend. Pick out a few health staples and build your recipe list from there. Remember this is all about finding what works for you!
Menu planning doesn’t have be complicated! Planning meals ahead requires a small investment of time, but can reap great rewards:
- A menu plan saves money. Reducing trips to the supermarket, a menu plan reduces impulse spending. Using leftovers efficiently cuts food waste, while planned buying in bulk makes it easy to stockpile freezer meals at reduced prices.
- A menu plan saves time. No dash to the neighbors for a missing ingredient, no frantic searches through the freezer for something, anything to thaw for dinner.
- A menu plan improves nutrition. Without the daily dash to the supermarket, there’s time to prepare side dishes and salads to complement the main dish, increasing the family’s consumption of fruits and vegetables. Knowing what to serve each day–and having the ingredients already on hand–cuts back on the drive-through habit.
Ready to get started?
- Pull out your planner
- Establish a goal for daily calorie intake
- Gather your favorite cookbooks, healthy recipes, or things you have wanted to try (CHECK OUT PINTEREST
- Fill out each day of breakfast
- Fill out each day of Lunch
- Fill out each day of Dinner
- Fill out 2-3 snacks per day
- Remember to balance your daily plan (i.e. not too many carbs or too few veggies refer to portion control and serving sizes in section 3)
- Make sure you do not go below 1200 calories
- Make Grocery List, plan shopping trip!
- Start SIMPLE (Check out some of my sample plans HERE) <—print these off and start creating your MEAL planning binder! 7 daily plans to choose from!
Now that you have planned out your meals for the week it’s time to take an inventory of what you have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer… if you can’t eat it responsibly GET rid of it! I’m not saying you have to trash everything… donate what you can, or give it away to family and friends! Keeping a running inventory of your panty, fridge, and freezer will help you see what you have on hand when you are planning your grocery list. It also helps you save money (and reduce waste!) by helping you plan your menu plan based upon what you already have in your refrigerator and freezer. Here are things you will need to replace:
- Replace refined sugar and brown sugar with Sucanat, which is different from sugar and brown sugar, because it retains its molasses. It is basically just dried sugar cane juice. You can also use Agave nectar. Unlike fad diets, artificial sweeteners are not endorsed with this way of eating, because those sweeteners are unnatural. The body cannot properly break down those foreign chemicals. When this occurs free radicals are created in the body and free radicals have been linked to cancer. This is not a “patch” up diet, but a way of living.
- Swap out corn oil for olive oil and canola oil.
- Swap out white rice for brown rice. Cook a huge batch of brown and use it throughout the week, because it takes longer to cook than white rice.
- Swap out white flour for oat flour. Oat flour works really well for breading and baking. Of course you’re also free to use other flours, but oat flour is closest in consistency.
- GET RID of all processed FOOD!
Don’t Eat Foods with Ingredients You Can’t Pronounce. If you can’t state the name of a particular ingredient in the food you’re about to dine on, then consider passing. In bread products make sure you avoid any flours that are “enriched” or bleached these grains have been stripped and are filled will additives to replace nutrients lost in the manufacturing process. If you are looking at food labels with a real food magnifying glass, you won’t be looking for what the FDA directs you to, such as the calories, fat grams, etc. And you certainly won’t be using the recommendations of their food pyramid, but, instead, you’ll be looking at the ingredients.
What ingredients should we avoid? Here are some foods that should be avoided at all costs when you are reading food labels with a real food magnifying glass:
- Diet foods or diet soda
- All artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, Nutrasweet, Equal sucralose (Splenda), sorbitol, acesulfame-k (potassium), and others
- HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)
- Flavor enhancers or preservatives, including maltodextrin, nitrites/nitrates (frequently found in processed meats), or MSG; also avoid anything with hydrolyzed or autolyzed-yeast extracts & soy proteins
- All artificial flavorings
- Added colors
- Bad oils, like hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils, such as vegetable or canola oil, margarine, etc.
|Download your List|
Grocery LIST & SHOPPING
Now that you have your meal plan, and your inventory is done it’s time to start making your list! What do you need for your week of clean eating? Get out the grocery list and start writing down what you need because it’s time to GO shopping but REMEMBER…
- Shop the Perimeter of the Grocery Store: Every store is different, but as a general rule, the outside edge is the natural habitat of the fresh vegetable, meat market, whole-grain baked goods, and the nuts and dried fruits in the bulk bin. Get comfortable here; it is now your territory. You’ll probably have to venture into the interior for some staples like olive oil, but keep your blinders on. You’re entering a museum of extravagant packaging and manipulative slogans. Few of the items you see in the store’s interior promote good health; it’s a stretch to call most of it “food.” The perimeter is also usually the home of the dairy case and the beer and wine display, so stay strong. Remember if you can’t eat it responsibly DON’T’BUY it!
- One of the greatest misconceptions people have about making healthy food choices is that it somehow “costs too much” to eat right. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, people often forget to factor in the sick days, prescriptions, doctor visits, and the price of a reduced quality of life that comes from eating an unhealthy diet. Eating for optimal nutrition health can actually a sound economic decision and valuable investment in your quality of life.
- Buy Carbs In Bulk. Buy oatmeal, brown rice, potatoes, and beans in bulk. Always buy the larger economy sized containers when they are on sale.
- Never pay FULL price for MEAT. Meat can be frozen for several months so you should only buy it when it is on sale. Watch newspaper circulars for “teaser” sales of meats designed to bring customers in the store. Tuna, chicken breast, and lean beef cuts are ALWAYS on sale at least twice a month. Look for “reduced for quick sale” or other daily specials and stock up when the price is right.
- Get your PROCUCE. Always purchase produce in season. When you start buying off-season produce, the price is MUCH higher and generally you will get the best prices from a farmers/produce market. Frozen fruits and veggies are a great price effective alternative if you can’t get your hands on fresh!
- Shop Using A Grocery List. Don’t impulse buy. Every item you buy that you don’t need adds to your perceived cost of eating healthier! Sticking to a list will help ensure you do not misappropriate the grocery funds.
- Buy Generic. Let go of your brand & store loyalties. Shop by best value, not brand name.
- Beans, BEANS the magical FRUIT. Beans come in many flavors and sizes. They add volume to and stretch soups, stews, side dishes, and salads. Dried beans are the most cost-effective buy. A 1-pound bag, soaked overnight and cooked, yields about 5–6 cups cooked, whereas a 1-pound can of precooked beans yields about 1 ¾ cups. Precooked beans are still a great, inexpensive protein source.
- Don’t Throw Anything Away. Freezing leftovers like extra rice, sauces, or chicken in 1/2 c “snack” baggies will money and time. Save for fast meals or lunches instead of eating out.
- Make Your Own Salads. Bagged lettuce and pre-cut vegetables cost 3-4 times the price of uncut versions. You can tear two heads of dark leafy lettuce or cut up a few pounds of broccoli in less than one minute for the same grab & go convenience.
PREPPING your WEEK
NOW it’s time to prep your MEALS! This whole post has been BUILDING up to this point so it’s finally GO time! Eating clean definitely takes planning and preparation. I know the life of a busy mom and the struggle to feed everyone healthy, homemade meals. It’s easy to slip into fixing the family unhealthy convenience foods. Let’s face it. Making dinner with a whiny toddler on your leg or while breaking up fights between the kids isn’t exactly fun. BUT by planning and prepping your meals ahead they can easily be frozen for later use. Designate a PREP day, Cook everything on Sunday… or whatever day works best for you. I choose Monday’s because those are typically low-key days when I have time to get ready for the week ahead. I get everything washed, cut, and ready to go, so I can literally throw it together in a few minutes. Taking just an hour to get food prepared all at once saves you lots of time (and calories) during the week. Here’s what I do to prep for my meals for the week.
- Wash, cut, and pack fruit. I usually cut up strawberries and pineapple, and I wash blueberries, raspberries, and grapes. I throw everything in a big bowl, so it’s ready for a quick fruit salad snack throughout the week. I also dish it out into 5 single serving containers for each day as either a snack or part of my breakfast. (1 cup per serving)
- Wash and cut veggies. Have vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower ready to throw into the skillet for a quick stir-fry or ready to dip in hummus, Greek yogurt or a healthy dip. I also keep a bag of frozen veggies on hand to quickly heat up and toss into meals Eat Clean Egg white’s as well. In addition, you’ll want to prep veggies to go in a quick salad, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, and carrots. I take the easy way out, and I buy cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots, so all I have to cut up is the cucumber (and red pepper if I feel like it)! I throw all my veggies in covered bowls this way, I can quickly throw together a salad for lunch the next day (1 cup servings)
- Lean proteins. Cook lean meat like chicken or tilapia for meals throughout the week. Cut it up, and store it in single serving containers to grab for lunch to throw on your salad or heat up with 90 second brown rice bowls. Hardboiled eggs are great to have on hand, too. (3/4 to 1 cup servings or 2 hardboiled eggs)
- Complex carbs. I always have bags of 90-second brown rice and sweet potatoes ready for a stir fry or baked potato in the evenings. I also cook a giant pot of quinoa on Sundays that can be mixed with vegetables and lean meat, too (1/2 cup servings)
- Healthy fats. I like to portion all of my feta (or other cheeses) out, as well as avocado, almonds, other nuts, etc. (1/4 cup servings)
Storing your MEAL preps
- The containers you use to store your meals in should be both microwave- and freezer-safe. Both glass and plastic may work well, if they meet these standards (all glass and plastic containers are different). Another option is large freezer bags. Certain foods will freeze well in a bag, and can then be defrosted in the refrigerator, placed in a microwave-safe container, and then reheated.
- Before portioning out cooked food into containers, allow it to cool completely first and always leave extra room at the top of to allow for expansion of the food during freezing.
- Make sure food is wrapped well and/or covered with air-tight lids to prevent air from getting in.
- Foods with high moisture content (such as soups) tend to freeze better than drier foods.
- Don’t turn your food into a mystery science project. Use a permanent marker to label each dish with a name and a date. For maximum quality and flavor, use each meal within a couple of weeks. Just like in a store, rotate your stock so that the newest meals are in the back and the oldest are in the front for easy access.
- Vegetables should be slightly undercooked to prevent them from becoming mushy when you reheat them.
- Be careful about bacterial contamination. Completely cool hot food before freezing it to prevent the growth of bacteria. Bacteria can grow when the outside of food freezes while the inside remains warm.
- If you’re not sure a meal will freeze well, cook and freeze only a small portion the first time. If the quality is okay, then go ahead and freeze more in the future.
- Read your owner’s manual to find the fill level that will keep your freezer running at peak energy efficiency. Certain freezers run best when completely full, while others shouldn’t be filled more than half-way.
- Consider posting a freezer inventory list nearby to track the meals (and dates) of everything in the freezer. Check off each item as you remove it and you will know exactly what foods are available at all times. This also prevents forgotten foods from going to waste.
- Freezing your meals is a great way to keep foods longer, but frozen doesn’t mean forever. As a general rule, fruit and vegetables will stay freezer-fresh for around eight months, fish and shellfish for up to six months, and meat and poultry for three. Trust your instincts and throw out anything from the freezer that smells or tastes “off.”
- Don’t re-freeze defrosted foods because the taste and texture will decline and you could be risking bacterial contamination.