Not knowing what, where or when you’re going to eat each day can limit your options and affect your nutrition. Without a plan, food choices are typically guided by feelings of extreme hunger. You start grabbing things that are convenient, and feeling ravenous causes you to eat more than your body needs. Lack of a plan can also lead to lack of variety, limiting key nutrients you need to perform well.
Assuming it includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, a meal plan can help you improve your nutrient intake. Knowing your meals are taken care of also allows you to focus your energy on other important areas of your life—school, athletics and family. Finally, meal planning can improve your sports performance, by helping you remember to prepare good pre- and post-workout meals and snacks.
Meal Planning Tips
Here are four different ways to create meal plans. Choose one or two that work best for you.
1. One Ingredient
Turn one main ingredient into 5 different meals. Instead of eating the same thing every night, cook one ingredient plain and use it in different ways throughout the week. For example, plain pre-cooked chicken can be used for chicken salad, served topped with BBQ sauce, or made into a panini or quesadilla. If the chicken is already cooked, you save a lot of time.
2. One-Pot Meals
Whether it’s a casserole, a quiche or a crockpot meal, a one-pot meal is great if you don’t get bored eating leftovers. Benefits include fewer ingredients to buy, fewer dishes to wash and simplicity. To get adequate nutrients, make sure your one-pot meal contains a variety of vegetables, a lean protein and a whole grain.
3. Freezer or Pantry Meals
A great way to save money and use what you have in the house. Try planning meals that use what you have in the pantry or freezer. Pantry staples may include canned beans, tuna, pasta and rice. Freezer options might include chicken, salmon filets, turkey or beef burgers, and frozen fruits and vegetables.
4. Vegetarian Meals
Even if you’re not a strict plant-based eater, it can be fun to plan a week’s worth of vegetarian meals. They’re often quick and easy to make and a good way to try new ingredients. Make sure to include protein sources such as quinoa, beans, lentils and eggs.
They keys are is to be realistic with your plan and find what works for you. On busy days, your meal plan might even include takeout or eating out, but planning for it makes it less impulsive, since you already know what you are going to order.