Overthinking is an all too often occurrence for most of us, and when it comes to preparing meals for the week it can shift into overdrive. Hey, I am guilty of it too and for good reason.
Some barriers that make meal planning daunting include family preferences, budget, time, the unpredictable schedule changes, food waste, and let us not forget not knowing what in the world to prepare that allows you to perform well. However, overthinking is the largest barrier to meal prepping.
There are many “diets” claiming to be the key to success and friends who offer their opinion because, hey, it works for them so of course it will work for you! When I start working with a new client, one of the first questions I ask is what a typical day and week looks for them. A meal plan should be something that fits into your life without causing a huge hiccup.
After all, preparing meals for the week is supposed to make life easier, not harder.
Establish your goals
What is your “big picture” personal goal statement? You know yourself best, so this is a good time to decide what your long-term goal is and what short-term, attainable goals you’ll need to set in order to meet that goal. Use this statement as a guide to planning your meals each week.
Take the pressure off by allowing yourself enough time to meet these goals. That way you’ll have the best chance to succeed. For example, losing weight quickly typically results in a meal plan that is not realistic and thus not sustainable long-term, which will produce results that are great for a while, but do not last.
Find a pace realistic to follow that does not deviate much from your current pattern in order for the plan to feel comfortable, not like a dreaded chore each week. Shooting for small changes and small victories that lead to a lasting change is the key.
You have mentally prepared with your goals; now it is time to put pen to paper. Here is a bullet point list of successful tips I have developed based on my experience working with an array of athletes.
Choose one or two breakfasts to stick to each week: You may have to change portion sizes or ingredient portions based on your planned workout for the day, but choosing a few options is doable. For example: make an overnight oat recipes to store in your fridge and then pre-portion ingredients for smashed avocado and goat cheese toast with either a hard boiled egg or egg to cook (if you have time). Add or change ingredients to meet your needs for the day, but stick to two basic meals.
Choose a few snacks to have in between meals: The biggest culprit of overeating is becoming overly hungry. Stay on top of your hunger by consuming snacks that are easily accessible. For example: whole ingredient bars, fruit and nuts, veggies and hummus.
Make your leftovers last: Again, making a few options and eating on them throughout the week can be pretty easy. Have your containers ready after making a meal and portion out your future meals. Sounds easy enough, but many of us don’t realize this one act could save a lot of time, money and “overthinking” lunch or dinner the next day or two. Another utilization of leftovers is portioning and freezing them. Remember to label the containers with the item and date, because if you are like me they tend to get lost for months or you are squinting to see what is actually in there!
Chop your vegetables ahead of time: We all know why there are meal services that deliver a box with pre-chopped and pre-portioned ingredients: this is the part that takes time and cleanup. However, if you chop ahead of time and portion most ingredients you may realize cooking does not take as much time as you thought on a busy night. It may take an hour on the weekend, but you can throw together a meal very quickly if that is out of the way.
Slow cookers and pressure cookers, we bow down to you: But seriously, these gadgets are lifesavers. Slow cookers can be used to cook and store meals for the week or used to turn on in the morning and consumed that night. Pressure cookers (like the Instant Pot) can make just about anything in under 30 minutes.
Now that you have thought through your goals and food preparation, it is time to establish your routine. Create your grocery list and then plan the best time to shop, prepare ingredients and meals ahead of time Some of my clients like to do their shopping Saturday and prep on Sunday afternoon.
Others like to use frozen meals and easy snacks the first half of the week, and slowly prep those nights for the rest of the week. Some like to shop Saturday and again mid-week.
Point is, find your system.
Experiment with your schedule and try not to get discouraged. You absolutely will find your groove, but it may take a few weeks to figure out what work for you and your family.
In conclusion, will you fail from time to time? Yes. Will you have days and maybe weeks when you cannot follow a plan? Absolutely.
Be realistic with your established plan and be open minded enough to allow the plan to ebb and flow as your life does, and it always does!
Katie Rhodes-Smith MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a board-certified sports dietitian and founder of OWN-Nutrition, LLC (www.own-nutrition.com). She is based out of Little Rock, Arkansas, but works remotely with multisport athletes exclusively, specializing in triathlon nutrition. Katie applies a research-based approach to her practice.
The views expressed in this article are recommended for athletes who are familiar with metabolic efficiency principles. As always, only introduce new fueling strategies in training and adopt only what works for you. The views are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.