New Year, New Plate: How to Make Meal Planning Your New Year's Resolution
As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, many embark on a path of self-improvement, setting resolutions that often center around improving our well-being. Whether it's shedding a few pounds, adopting a healthier lifestyle via diet and exercise, or making mindful choices, the start of the year provides a fresh canvas for positive change. In this quest for self-discovery and improvement, meal planning emerges as a powerful yet often unnoticed tool.
As we delve into the realm of health in the new year, let's explore how meal planning can be a key step in aligning your resolutions with practical strategies for success.
Why choose meal planning?
Meal planning isn’t just about figuring out what’s for dinner; it’s like having a trusty sidekick in your quest for healthier living! By adopting a proactive approach to your dietary choices, you empower yourself to make conscious decisions, steering clear of impulsive pitfalls that may derail your resolutions. The link between meal planning and resolution success lies in the intentional and thoughtful nature of your food choices.
At the onset of the new year, numerous individuals set resolutions aimed at cultivating a healthier lifestyle. Embracing meal planning becomes a powerful catalyst for propelling these health aspirations forward. It serves as an effective strategy to jumpstart and sustain those wellness goals, offering a structured and thoughtful approach to nourishment that aligns with the overarching commitment to a healthier way of living.
If you are already convinced to try meal planning and want to know how to begin, click to links or skip down to the next couple of sections for Setting Realistic Resolutions and 10 Steps to Get Started.
How does it lead to a healthier lifestyle?
Meal planning encourages healthier choices by facilitating the thoughtful selection and preparation of well-balanced meals, incorporating a diverse range of nutrient-rich foods. The big three for health benefits are personalization, balance and moderation, and food wisdom.
We’re all a bit different. Our tastes, our needs, our health goals – it’s like a unique fingerprint. Tailoring your meals to cater to your specific tastes, dietary restrictions, and nutritional requirements ensures that your plan is not just effective but also enjoyable.
Balance and Moderation:
Health goals are a marathon, not a sprint. Embracing balance and moderation gives you space for those occasional treat-yourself moments. By integrating these realistic choices, you foster a positive relationship with food, creating a sustainable journey toward your health and wellness goals.
As you plan, you explore a variety of foods, learning about their nutritional value. Researching recipes and ingredients adds to your knowledge, and personalizing your meals to your taste and health needs deepens your understanding of how nutrients affect your body. The ongoing practice of meal planning makes you more aware of your overall diet, contributing to a gradual and practical buildup of nutritional knowledge over time.
Now that you are aware of its ability to help you meet your health goals, let’s discuss some other perks. If you have ever thought about bringing meal planning into your life, you’ve likely come across its “fantastic time and money saving” reputation. But let’s get down to it – how exactly does it amp up your time management while staying budget-friendly?
How does it save time?
A common misconception about meal planning is that with all the cooking and time spent in the kitchen, it can be way more time-consuming than a traditional open-and-close the fridge or pantry a million times-a-day diet. Well, the magic lies in all the “prep” that lets you escape the time wasted on option paralysis. The time is spent in action rather than in thought. So, let’s dive into the ways meal prepping becomes a super practical hack for rocking a healthy lifestyle while still acing the time management game.
Efficient Grocery Shopping:
With a meal plan, you know exactly what ingredients you need for the week. This reduces the time spent wandering through the aisles, trying to decide what to buy.
Streamlined Cooking Process:
Knowing what you’re going to cook in advance allows you to prepare ingredients in batches. For example, you can chop vegetables or marinate proteins ahead of time. This “pre-preparation” can significantly reduce the time spent in the kitchen on busy weeknights.
Minimized Cooking Time:
Meal planning often involves choosing recipes that are relatively quick and easy to prepare. This might include one-pot dishes, sheet pan meals, or recipes that use similar ingredients. By selecting efficient recipes, you can minimize the time spent actually cooking.
Prevent Multiple Trips to the Store:
When you plan your meals for the week, you’re less likely to find yourself trekking back and forth to the grocery store. This not only saves time but also reduces the likelihood of forgetting essential ingredients.
Less Time Deciding What to Eat:
The daily question of “What should we have for dinner?” can be monotonous and overwhelming. Meal planning eliminates this decision fatigue, as you already know what's on the menu for the week. This can be especially helpful during the workweek.
How does it save money?
Wellness culture is packed with programs and subscriptions that add up over time, so, if you want a couple of those health subscriptions meal planning can help add room to the budget. Here are the specifics.
Reduced Impulse Buys:
When you plan your meals, you are less likely to make those impulsive purchases that quickly add up. This saves money and cuts down on the time spent browsing and deciding on items that weren’t on your list. Or if you are like me, it gives some specificity to the list item titled “get snacks.”
Minimized Food Waste:
Planning meals helps you buy only what you need, reducing the likelihood of unused perishables being thrown away, which translates into savings over time. Also, a reduction in food waste can decrease the food that ends up in landfills adding to carbon emissions. Yay, planet!
Bulk Buying and Discounts:
With a meal plan, you can take advantage of bulk purchasing options and discounts, particularly for staple items, leading to significant savings on a per-unit basis.
Eating Out Less Frequently:
By having meals planned and ingredients on hand, there’s less temptation to dine out or order takeout, which can be more expensive than preparing meals at home.
Efficient Use of Leftovers:
Meal planning often involves strategic use of leftovers, preventing them from going to waste and saving money by incorporating them into subsequent meals instead of purchasing additional ingredients.
In summary, meal planning provides structure and organization to your eating habits, resulting in savings in both time and money, as well as promoting your health. The upfront investment in planning pays off throughout the week, making it easier to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet even during busy periods. It’s not just about streamlining your routine; it’s about keeping that commitment to your resolutions that encourages limitations but can handle slip-ups and indulgences.
Setting Realistic Resolutions:
Now, here’s where the real fun starts – meal planning. It’s like your food BFF, making the healthy stuff sneak into your routine without making you hit the panic button. The first step in any successful resolution is setting realistic and attainable goals; this is the key to long-term success. Skip the grand overhauls; let’s focus on little wins that make you go, “Hey, I got this!” Aim to prepare homemade meals at least three times a week, rather than trying to change every meal of the day all week long. This goal is specific, measurable, and realistic, making it attainable for most individuals. It helps break down broader goals into manageable steps, allowing for a gradual and sustainable approach. As you successfully integrate this habit into your lifestyle, you can then build on it by gradually increasing the number of home-cooked meals or introducing other healthy meal planning practices. This way, you can build a sense of accomplishment and stay motivated as you work towards your health and wellness objectives. Meal planning can help you bridge the gap between aspirational and attainable. Still not sure where to start? We got you!
10 Steps to Get Started:
1. Set Clear Goals:
As mentioned above, define your meal planning goals. Whether it’s eating healthier, saving time, or managing your budget, clear objectives will guide your planning process. They also offer a way to track your progress!
2. Assess Your Schedule:
Take a look at your weekly schedule. Consider your work hours, social commitments, and any other engagements. This will help you tailor your meal plan to fit your lifestyle.
3. Create a Weekly Calendar:
Develop a simple calendar for the week ahead. Include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Having a visual representation will make it easier to see your meals at a glance.
4. Start with Familiar Recipes:
Begin with recipes you are familiar with and enjoy. As you get more comfortable with meal planning, you can experiment with new dishes. Choose recipes that are realistic for your cooking skill level and the time you have available.
5. Take Inventory:
Ever gone to the store just to buy more of something you already have? I know I have, so don’t skip this crucial step! Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer before making your grocery list to prevent overbuying, and to use up ingredients you already have. Also, you will need some starting materials like containers. Check out our article on choosing meal prep containers here; it’s perfect if you are just getting started or need to replace the ones missing lids and stained a weird orange from that one time you made chili.
6. Plan for Variety:
Monday: Oatmeal, Turkey Sandwich, Spaghetti; Tuesday: Oatmeal, Turkey Sandwich, Spaghetti; Wednesday: Oatmeal, Turkey Sandwich, Spaghetti. Even in this pretend scenario I am so BORED. I don’t know about you, but I have had a “meal plan” look like this. But they do not have to, meal plans allow for variety that is not only good for you but makes your diet more engaging and even exciting. Planning for variety ensures you get a range of nutrients and keeps your meals interesting. This can help your New Year’s resolution stay alive until February.
7. Designate Prep Days:
Choose one or two days in the week for meal prep. This can include washing and chopping vegetables, marinating proteins, or cooking staple items. Consider batch cooking, where you prepare larger quantities of a dish that can be portioned and stored for future meals. This is a great time-saving strategy.
8. Keep It Simple:
Especially when starting, keep your meal plans simple and realistic. Overcomplicating things may lead to frustration. As you become more comfortable, you can experiment with more elaborate recipes.
9. Utilize Technology:
Explore meal planning apps or online tools. These can help you organize recipes, create shopping lists, and even suggest meal ideas based on your preferences. We are going to dive into this a little more in the next section.
10. Be Flexible:
Life can be unpredictable and sometimes plans change. Embrace flexibility in your meal planning. If a recipe doesn’t work out, or if plans shift, have backup options or be prepared to adjust. Regularly assess your meal planning experience. What worked well? What could be improved? Adjust your approach based on your reflections to make the process more tailored to your needs.
Meal Planning Apps:
Utilizing a meal planning app, whether you are embarking on this journey or are already well-versed in meal planning, offers a multitude of advantages. These apps act as centralized hubs for organizing recipes, meal schedules, and shopping lists, offering efficiency and easy access. They inspire culinary diversity with a variety of new recipes, saving time and effort. Customization features adapt plans to changing preferences, dietary needs, or special occasions, while nutritional information supports informed meal choices.
Calendar integration aligns plans with schedules, and features like guided instructions and video tutorials enhance cooking skills. Automated shopping lists streamline grocery trips, and certain apps support health goals with features like calorie tracking. Remember that money saved? Consider investing it here in these apps. In a nutshell, they help reduce decision fatigue, foster consistency, and may even offer social features for sharing and inspiration, making them valuable companions in maintaining a healthy and organized approach to food.
Incorporating New Habits Gradually:
The key to lasting change lies in the gradual adoption of new habits. This principle applies both to your resolutions and your approach to meal planning. Small, consistent changes are more likely to become ingrained in your routine, leading to long-term success. For example, start with meal planning breakfast (or whatever meal feels right for you), and then once you are consistent and happy with your progress add another achievable goal like lunch 3-4 times a week. By embracing a gradual shift, you pave the way for sustainable habits that align with your overall well-being.
Every journey is marked by milestones, and your resolutions are no exception. Celebrating your small victories and tracking your progress diligently becomes a source of motivation. Positive reinforcement acts as a powerful catalyst, propelling you forward on your path to success. Recognizing and acknowledging your achievements, no matter how small reinforces your commitment to a healthier lifestyle.
So, here’s to a year of delicious, nutritious, and achievable resolutions. May your plates be full, your goals be met, and your journey be filled with joy and good food!