My Meal Planning Process + Crash Course in Meal Planning
You’re going to want to grab some coffee and settle in – this is going to be a long post.
Without fail, the questions I get asked most often have to do with food & meal planning – what do I eat , how do I eat, how much do I eat (spoiler alert: A LOT), and how do I possibly have time to make all that food. Short answer is, I don’t. I’m a BIG fan of meal planning/food prepping for a reason – I don’t have time (or really want to) cook each meal, every.single.day. That’s a lot of stove time that could be better spent on other things – like writing or foam rolling. Or you know, working. There have been a few requests for a post about meal planning so I thought I would do a post about my meal planning process & a little crash course to meal planning. Now obviously, people plan different ways - this is just the way my brain likes to do it. So without further rambling, here we go:
1. Create “meal templates” and figure out how much food you actually need: I’ve talked about meal templates before here and here and I cannot advocate for them enough. They’re super helpful in figuring out approximately how much food you will need to buy for the week.
For example, on training days I eat approximately five servings of protein (not counting pre/post workout), 4 servings of some sort of carbs, and 3 servings of some sort of fat and on non-training days it is mostly protein & fats. There are some things that I eat that are the same every single day (i.e. eggs for breakfast & also having fruit at breakfast) so I build those specifics into my template.
Here is the basic idea:
meal 1: eggs + fat + fruit
meal 2: protein + veggies
(meal 3: protein + veggies) *this isn’t always there, depends on how hungry I am & how big my other meals were
meal 4: protein + carbs + ½ fat
GYM (pre-workout/post-workout: liquid protein + carbs)
meal 5: protein + carbs + ½ fat
Now my idea of a “serving” is probably different than yours, so use your own experience to figure out a rough estimate of how much food you need. My situation is a bit unique since my husband works at a restaurant meaning he is gone most of the time and also eats at work so when I plan our meals and how much food to buy, those factors get taken into consideration.
If you’re planning for several people (i.e. a family), just use the average amount each person eats - it doesn’t matter so much for things like veggies, carbs, or fruits but it helps keep the cost down of pricey items such as meat and fats.
2. Make category lists: I usually start my grocery lists by making “categories” such as proteins, vegetables, fruits, fats, carbs, etc. Then I list out some items that I know I want or need that week and fill in accordingly. This isn’t a completely comprehensive list but it helps me organize my thinking and look at what items I will have to “work with” for the week. For example, my category list might look something like this:
I also try and plan to have a few bigger “bulk” protein items for the week - these tend to be cheaper in the long run (think pork shoulder, beef roast, etc.) and produce a LOT of food for what can be considered minimal prep. It’s pretty easy to throw a whole chicken in an oven or a beef roast in the crockpot. Just set it and (somewhat) forget it. After I make my category list and figure out what I want for the week, I can get more specific.
3. Get specific: I usually narrow down exactly what I am going to make by doing a few things:
- checking out recipes on other blogs, websites, etc. for items I know I will buy (like chicken)
- finding “bulk” recipes for proteins like pork shoulder
- compare ingredient lists on recipes to what I already have & see what I need to buy, what I can substitute, etc.
At this point, I will add some items like canned tomatoes, certain spices, etc. to my grocery list so that I can make those recipes. I don’t get too worried with following recipes to the letter - I will substitute with other items that I already have or items that may be cheaper or that we like better.
4. Hit the store: Now I’m ready to actually shop. I will usually order most of my groceries online (from Relay - check out the sidebar link for a great deal!) and then whatever I can’t get, I will go and pick up from the store. When I’m doing my online shopping or at the grocery store, if there is something that is maybe cheaper, looks better, or is more appealing, I don’t hesitate to snap it up. For example, if the store is out of ground beef but they have some thinly sliced stir fry beef, I might pick that up instead. Be flexible!
5. Revise & make prep list - go big or go home: If I’ve made any substitutions while at the grocery store, I simply go back to my initial plan and do a little revision. After that, I make a giant prep list, broken up by categories, and get to it. My prep motto is “go big or go home” - I try to prep things like proteins in ways that will yield the most food. For example, rather than buying a few pork chops, I buy a 3-5lb. pork shoulder, put it in the crockpot, and make enough meat for us to eat off of for a few days. I also roast big portions of veggies and prep items “in bulk” to get the most productivity out of my kitchen time. An average week’s prep list could look something like this:
- hardboil eggs
- pork shoulder in crockpot
- bake chicken breasts/thighs/legs
- cook off ground beef
- roast broccoli
- prep big salad (we love to do coleslaw)
- shred brussel sprouts
- roast green beans
- cook rice
- bake sweet potatoes
- roast potatoes
If you’re pressed for time on the weekends or have strange schedules (like us), you can break up your prep into two days like Sunday and Wednesday. I often will prep a decent amount on Sunday and then prep additional smaller things during the week when I’m making dinner or have a bit of free time in the afternoons.
Now, for some special topics:
Pre/Post Workout meals:
I’m no expert on anything...except my own experience. With that said, I’m not a trainer, coach, nutritionist, dietitian, doctor, or anything else. I’m just speaking from my own experience/preferences.
I get lots of questions about pre & post workout meals - what I do, what I eat, how I time them, etc. so I will attempt to answer these all in one paragraph (okay, maybe three). My general idea about pre & post workout nutrition is this - get your other meals in line first. It’s great to want to figure out how many grams of protein/carbs you should have and in what ratio 30-60 minutes before and after your workout, but if you’re not hitting your recommended/necessary amounts of calories and protein a day (especially if you’re looking to gain muscle), you’re putting the cart before the horse so to speak. Work on getting everything else nailed down then examine the small stuff and get down to the nitty gritty with it.
With that said, I’ve changed what I have before/after workouts more times than I can count. I’ve done morning workouts with nothing in my system (minus some BCAAs & water), I’ve eaten “real food” before and after workouts (during my Whole30), I’ve done protein shakes, I’ve done carbs before, carbs after, no carbs, all the carbs, etc. My goals have changed (weight loss vs fat loss vs muscle gain) therefore my pre/post workout nutrition has changed. Over time, I’ve discovered a few things:
- I prefer liquid meals pre & post workout. The “real food” thing just makes me feel a bit sick and honestly, deters me from eating it.
- I prefer to have some protein & carbs (maybe) before I workout and then have a decent amount of protein & carbs (in a 1:2ish ratio) after I workout.
Now what does this look like? Usually it’s something like this:
Pre-workout: ½ serving protein powder + caffeine of some sort (usually coffee) with some coconut milk
Post-workout: 1 serving protein powder (~30g) with one decent sized sweet potato.
Second post-workout meal (aka dinner): rice or potatoes (depending on the day/volume/squat pain) with protein and some fat.
Again this all depends on YOUR goals, wants, needs, preferences, etc.
Meal Planning/Eating on a Budget:
Oh hey look, I’ve got a post for that.
Here are a few go-to recipes that are great to make-ahead and eat off for the week:
My favorite pulled pork
Personal fritatta (triple it to have breakfasts on hand for the week!)
From around the web:
Cabbage casserole from Health Bent
Crockpot chicken from Lean Green Bean
Asian Chicken Thighs from Nom Nom Paleo
Slow Cooker Coconut Chicken from Your Inner Strong
Apricot Power Bars from Elana’s Pantry
And that's a wrap!