I know that planning, and preparing, meals in advance is a perfect way to eat healthy while saving time and money.
And, yet, if I ever managed to neatly pack 4 to 6 ounces of protein, like grilled chicken breast or pulled pork, half a cup of roasted sweet potatoes or squash, and one cup of cooked broccoli into a plastic bowl I would, invariably, forget it at home and end up eating a twelve dollar burrito with extra guacamole, and a side of guacamole, at my desk.
I did this today. I did not actually leave my lunch at home because I do not, currently, plan and prepare my meals in advance. I am bad at planning. But, before I get to that, here’s how to meal plan:
First, shop smart. This means taking a little time out of your day to write a shopping list on a budget. One way to save money, of course, is to avoid convenience foods, frozen meals, and to buy store brands instead of brand names. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy foods you love to eat. Since these are the ingredients you’re committing to eating for the week, you may as well eat your favorite lean proteins, veggies, and high-fiber foods, like beans. And don’t forget fruits. Fruits are nature’s candy.
Once you’ve got your wallet-friendly shopping list ready, it is time to attack the grocery store with the single-minded intensity of a special forces raid: get in, buy only what is on the list, and get out. All of this is easier said than done but I recommend trying it. Shopping smart is hard for me to do since grocery stores are mazes filled with emotional landmines and sometimes I go in wanting to buy a bag of baby spinach but leave with three boxes of overpriced chocolate chip toaster waffles.
The next step is the most important. This step is called “making enough food for a week.” This requires food, cooking appliances, and time. A little skill doesn’t hurt, but if you find the right recipes you can just throw some pork in a crockpot with some chili powder or dried herbs, and that’s that. I had hoped that a meal prep plan was as simple as cooking one gigantic meatball. I have since learned it is slightly more complicated than that. This second step requires a plan, too. One reason I have trouble planning is I have a very comfortable couch. I have lived my life by the maxim “procrastinate hard, nap hard” and I know I need to change that.
The next step is sorting your proteins, starches, and vegetables into plastic bowls, which is probably the easiest of all the steps. Then it is a simple matter of stacking the containers in the fridge, stepping back, and admiring your handiwork. The next step, however, is more challenging than all the others. You have to eat all the food you prepared. I have done my research and, yup, this is very important. If you do not eat each carefully proportioned, tasty, and nutrient-rich, meal then the whole exercise is pointless.
Just to recap: make a plan, execute the plan, and that includes eating what you made instead of just ordering Thai on a food delivery app. This is meal planning in a nutshell, which reminds me, nuts are an excellent snack. Lightly toast almonds in a skillet for a few minutes and store them in small ziplock bags! This is valuable information I’m imparting here.
But back to why I’m bad at planning. I am lazy and irresponsible and afraid of the future. I should know better, and I do. I want to be the kind of person who has the personal discipline to do things that make them better.
I have seen friends successfully plan their meals and I know this because they told me. These friends have lost weight and saved hundreds of dollars. Their success stories make me mildly envious, and envy is a terrible catalyst for change. If I see a neighbor jogging early Saturday morning I think “I should be jogging early Saturday morning instead of just staring out my window at my jogging neighbor.” I tried meditating the other day because a friend of mine keeps talking about how it improved his life. I ended up napping. (It was a pleasant nap but I wouldn’t say it improved my life.)
The best way to encourage a modest life change is to make a deliberate choice, even if it is a small one. The journey to successfully prepping a week’s worth of homemade meals begins with a single step (and, then, four more). And, so, that’s why next time I’m going to save the second half of my twelve dollar burrito (and the remains of my side of guacamole) to eat later in the day.
Then I’ll start a shopping list. First on the list: a bag of baby spinach.