How to Meal Plan
There are multiple reasons you might want to meal plan. Planning meals in advance can help you make a grocery list. Having a meal plan can help make week nights easier. When you come home from work, no need to spend time debating, "What am I having for dinner?" If you plan ahead, you can even start prepping the meal ahead on the weekend or whenever you have spare time.
A meal plan is not the same as a diet plan. It's not about counting calories or other nutrients. It's simply about planning ahead.
As such, the guidelines I am about to share are general, healthy habits & are not intended for any specific medical condition. If you have a condition, like kidney disease, diabetes, or Crohn's Disease, you may want to work with a dietitian or other healthcare professional to learn about the appropriate dietary habits for your condition.
Step 1: Consider any constraints.
Before you actually start picking out the food for you meal, determine if there are any factors that need to be taken into account. For example, if you're planning a lunch to take to work, is there a refrigerator available to keep foods cold? Is there a microwave available to reheat foods? If not, you'll need to plan foods that can be eaten at room temperature or that can be eaten from a thermos. If planning supper after work, how much time do you have to prepare the meal? Work nights might not be a good time for recipes with long roasting times, for example.
Step 2: Pick a protein.
As a vegetarian, figuring out my protein source is the most important thing. For meat-eaters, it might be as easy as picking between chicken, beef, or fish. But, for vegetarians, it might require combining several foods to get enough protein. For example, a half cup of black beans provides only 8 grams of protein, which is not enough for a meal for most adults. Add a glass of milk, soymilk, or pea milk for additional protein. Or consider a cup of cooked quinoa for 7 grams of protein (pictured).
Step 3: Pick your produce.
Half your plate should be fruits & vegetables. Decide if you'll make a cold salad, a hot side, or if you're including vegetables in your main dish. It's easy to include vegetables in your main dish. Consider adding tomatoes, peppers, & onions, in dishes like chili & fajitas. Add peas & carrots to pot pie. Vegetables also mix easily into soups, stews, & stir-fries. At breakfast, add fruit to yogurt, cottage cheese, or a protein smoothie.
Step 4: Pick a starch & a recipe.
Now your meal is really coming together. Earlier, you picked a protein, like beans, but you didn't really pick how you're eating it. Adding a starch can help determine how you're eating it. Maybe you're having simple beans & rice or maybe it's black bean soup with crackers. Tortillas can be used to make burritos, tacos, or enchiladas. Look through your collection of cookbooks or digital bookmarks for recipes, if needed.
Step 5: Determine how much to make.
Are you making enough just for one meal or do you want leftovers? I like to make extra at supper to take leftovers for lunch the next day. Some people like to repurpose leftovers into other meals. Cooked chicken can be made into chicken salad, for example.
You're ready to begin any preparations. If you don't have the ingredients you need, add them to your grocery list. Consider setting canned goods or other non-perishables out ahead of time. If you're planning to use dried beans, soak them the night ahead. Many fruits & vegetables can be washed, peeled, chopped, or otherwise prepped in advance.
Need more help meal planning? LivingPlateRx offers customizable meal planning tools. Use their weekly planner to pick out dietitian-approved recipes. Select how many servings of each recipe you want. Plan leftovers. Pick from whole foods snack options, like fruits, nuts, & vegetables. Their software will make a grocery list for you!