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Meal planning: is it useful or useless?

I’m going to be honest here. In the past, I have personally struggled with meal planning. Sure, I can help others and will happily create a plan for them to follow, but me? I just couldn’t do it. I think where I went wrong is that I would make a plan (excellent!) and then panic a bit that I’ve limited myself to those foods. What if I have a spontaneous dinner out? Or decide that I don’t want to have porridge for breakfast? What will happen to me?!

It is common to see meal plans splashed all over the Internet. Type in ‘meal plan for weight loss’ and around 5 million results will pop up. This is a lot of meal plans! It’s also common for those meal plans to be similar to each other, and honestly quite bland. Oats for breakfast, protein+ veg for lunch and dinner and a handful of almonds for a snack. Of course these foods are good, but not everyday of the week. You’ve got to remember that most of them won’t be as reliable as seeing a proper, qualified Dietitian or Nutritionist.

So, what I’m going to do is give a couple of tips to meal plan, but also not to meal plan. Make sense?

On the blog a few weeks back, I wrote all about healthy eating on a budget. In this, I said that planning your meals for the week can help you save money. This is true! Sitting down and writing a few meals you would like to cook is meal planning, but not in the sense that you have chicken, rice and broccoli for 7 nights straight.

With the new social media outlets, such as Instagram or even Pinterest, it can be easy to find inspiration for healthy meals. All you need to do is follow through and ACTUALLY make them. Write down the recipes, check your cupboards for ingredients and make a shopping list. If the recipe calls for 4 serves, this can potentially be used for lunches the next day (depending on how many you’re cooking for!).

You have to figure out what works for you. Will three meals suffice? Or will three meals and a snack during the day keep the hunger at bay? Once you have this sorted, you can plan for snacks – almonds/walnuts/cashews, rice cakes with peanut butter or a piece of fruit are excellent choices. Some people prefer three meals; others can’t not eat three meals without snacks. Well-planned snacks can make it easier to decrease portion sizes – it allows you to manage your hunger.

There is no point having a meal plan that introduces all new foods to you that you’ve never had. For example, if your usual breakfast is a bowl of cocoa pops and an iced coffee, how sustainable/easy do you think it’ll be to go cold turkey? Changing foods slowly is key. Don’t decide to only eat salad for lunch when you usually wouldn’t. Slowly add salad to your lunchtime sandwich or a piece of fruit at breakfast – ease into it!

Have the fridge/freezer/pantry stocked with healthy foods. Brown rice, quinoa, tinned foods and herbs are all examples of things to have on hand that can help you make a healthy meal. Keep the fridge and freezer stocked with fruit and veg and even pre chopping or peeling can help you stay motivated throughout the week. Because who really wants to come home from work and peel and chop a load of veg?

View healthy eating as a healthy lifestyle. Moderation is key, and having a little bit of everything and not a lot of just one thing. Portion control is also important – this is where planning your meals can be beneficial in servings and leftovers!

Now, I don’t want you to read this and get the wrong idea. I am not stating that ALL meal plans are bad – a plan that you’ve downloaded off page 53 on Google may not be the best (fair call right?). I just want you to understand that there is no need to be super strict, because it is more likely that you will find it harder to follow. If you come in and see one of our Dietitians, they can help you with healthy eating options. That is the information you can trust!

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