Meal planning is, on paper, a very simple task. But if you are not in the habit of planning or thinking about meals in advance, it can feel very daunting. These are our key principles of meal planning. These principles can work for people who are quantifying their nutrition using macros or calories as well as people who are following a structured eating or intuitive approach.
Enough means, very simply, that we are eating enough of the right things to meet our energy and macro and micronutrient needs. The macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fat. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Macro and micronutrients work together to help our body function optimally. Our energy needs describe how many calories we need in a day to fuel our activity level. When we don’t eat enough, we can feel tired, lethargic, and experience cravings for junk foods. Most people can generally eat enough by getting in 3 square meals per day and 2-3 snacks. A square meal is one that contains a protein source, a carb source, a vegetable and a fat. Often protein will have fat, so we don’t need to make an effort to include that specifically. An example of a square meal might be:
1 cup of cooked quinoa with chopped veggies
4oz of baked salmon
Mixed green salad with avocado and light dressing
2 eggs + 2 egg whites
1 cup cooked oatmeal with walnuts and honey
Snacks can be anything but it is usually a good idea to try to get in protein with snacks as well.
Balance means that we are not excluding food groups from our diet or being unnecessarily restrictive with the timing of our meals. We want to be eating regular meals and regular intervals that contain a balance of macronutrients.
Variety means we are including a number of different types of each macronutrient. If you are new to meal planning, it will probably be easier to include less variety at first. As you get the hang of it, you can start to add in different components and foods which will not only make eating more enjoyable, but will also help with meeting micronutrient needs as well!
Moderation means we are eating enough but stopping before we are overfull. A key to moderation for many people is permission to eat but also eating big enough meals at mealtimes so you are not left over hungry when it is time to eat. When we include all kinds of foods in our meals, including treats, it becomes easier to listen to your body when it says “that’s enough” as opposed to falling into scarcity eating where you eat more of certain foods because you don’t know when the next time you will get that food will be. Permission empowers moderation.
Inclusion means very simply including all kinds of foods. As mentioned above, this is a key component to not only nourishing our body, but also eating for the social and familial enjoyment of eating. Food is for more than just meeting basic biological needs so planning to include meals our or foods you love helps make sure are meeting your human needs too!
When it’s time to plan your meals, carve out at least 30 minutes to sit down with a pen and paper and think about your week. The way you structure your meals will depend on your needs and schedule. Many people have success by eating the same breakfast every day and then planning dinners. When you cook dinner, you cook enough for lunch the next day. So you get added utility out of planning that one meal. When dinner and lunch always overlap, you end up doing 1/3 less work both with planning and preparing food!
Be willing to experiment and see what works for you and if you need help, our coaching staff is ready to assist you!