Eating well can be complicated and overwhelming. Not only do you constantly have to use as much will power as possible to avoid office treats and late night snacking, but mealtime can be frustrating and confusing. Particularly during the holidays, will power is mostly questionable. Just this morning, our office secretary knocked on my door to say that she brought in a homemade pecan crisp and she had replenished her jar of candy canes on her desk — Lois, the things you do to me and my diet!
One trick that I learned to keep me organized and calm about my meals was to create a weekly menu. Every Monday morning, I outline my meals for the week, as well as snacks if I get hungry in between. It is so helpful to visually see my week in meals, and it keeps me from putzing around the kitchen, grazing in the pantry, while wondering what to it. It also prevents me from caving in and ordering take out or making a box of macaroni and cheese. Also, it is incredibly helpful for grocery shopping. I buy exactly what I need, and no more than that, so less food is wasted.
When planning my meals, I follow these guidelines:
- Use the same or similar ingredients throughout the week. It’s incredibly wasteful to buy a whole bunch of cilantro for just one dish that calls for 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Instead, I try to make sure perishable ingredients are used several times during the week, so that I am sure they will be used before they spoil. Additionally, recipes that include canned foods like beans or tomato sauce should be treated the same way, if your recipes don’t include using the whole can.
- Embrace leftovers. During the work week, I usually take leftovers from the previous night’s dinner for lunch. This makes my life SO much easier — I have fewer meals to worry about, and I can make two meals at once! Also, it is so much easier to make 2 portions of a dish than 1 portion when I’m cooking for myself.
- Use your menu as a grocery store guide. Your menu will tell you exactly what ingredients you need for the week. Let that be your road map in the grocery store, and try not to stray into the cookie aisle! (It happens though…)
- Variety isn’t always necessary. Breakfast is the single hardest meal for me to plan, particularly because I go to work so early and I need something that travels well in my lunchbox. I usually try to plan just one or two simple recipes that I can throw together easily or make all at once, like muffins or breakfast breads. This makes my 6:15am brain happy, and my 8:00am tummy even happier.
- But variety and experimentation never hurts! I like incorporate new, exciting recipes into my meal plans along side tried and true go-to recipes. It keeps my week exciting, without being too stressful trying to learn new recipes all the time.
- Schedule in time to eat out. I love my friends, and my family, and Chirag. And we all love eating. A lot. Quite frankly, if I refused every dinner invitation, I probably wouldn’t have much of a social life. Just try to make smart decisions about eating out, and if you can, take a peek at the restaurant’s menu beforehand and narrow down a short list of healthy options that sound yummy. I always try to eat lighter meals before eating out so that I can enjoy my restaurant meal to the fullest… and maybe even split a dessert too! 🙂
- Plan your meals around your life, not the other way around. Do you have to work late on Wednesday? Can’t get home until late on Thursday? Leaving work early on Friday? On-the-go all day on Saturday? Plan to make your quickest and easiest meals on your busiest days, and save those more tedious ones for when you have more time.
- Have fun with it!! I don’t treat my menu like a steadfast binding contract. I leave some wiggle room (snacks are generally optional, if I feel hungry between meals), and if my aunt invites me over for a home-cooked meal, you can bet that I’m saying yes, letting my previously planned dinner move to the back burner. Menu planning isn’t always exciting, and on most Monday mornings when I’m writing my menu, I’m half asleep and in a daze. I brighten things up with colors and swirls to keep up the energy all week!