How to Meal Plan for the Super-Swamped
Too busy to figure out meal planning? Healthy living pro and Entrepreneur in Residence Brooke Thomas breaks it down to the basics.
From Brooke: I’ve found that if I don’t plan ahead for good choices to eat throughout my busy week, I am more likely to wind up eating fast, fried or fake foods out of desperation or lack of preparation. There’s only one problem. Some of the most common meal planning methods don’t work for me. I really tried to set aside half my Sunday to prep, but after going to church and having lunch with family or friends, there was always something to do that took priority. I tried making a giant pan of chicken breasts to eat throughout the week but I got so tired of eating chicken. I even tried freezing crockpot meals but I would forget to take them out to thaw the night before! I decided that if this was going to work, the ‘one-size fits all approach’ wasn’t going to do. I needed a plan that was flexible, offered variety, and didn’t take half of my weekend. Here are my top tips that have been super successful with my busy schedule.
Find two hours any day of the week to plan
It doesn't have to be the weekend. It can be Monday night or Saturday morning, whatever works for you. You just need two hours.
Let your schedule influence your plan
Yes, meal planning can be different every week. Don’t even think about choosing recipes until you’ve checked your calendar. If you have a late meeting on Tuesday or are meeting friends for happy hour on Thursday, you will need to adjust your plans so that what you prep doesn’t go to waste. Schedule your most complicated meal for the day you have the most time to cook. Consider the weather, too. If it’s supposed to rain, you don't want to plan to grill.
Use your leftovers
Plan at least one meal that makes great leftovers or can be repurposed—like my crockpot chicken (recipe below). Eat it the next day as it is or cut up the chicken and make chicken salad. You can even use the bones for stock to make soup and freeze it.
Throw in a new recipe
Pinterest is a fast way to add a little variety to your usual line up. The kitchen should be a fun and inspiring place or you won’t want to spend much time there.
Don’t blow off breakfast!
At my house, it’s a safe bet there will be at least one morning you are running late and scrambling to get out the door. This veggie fritatta is great to make and eat all week.
Plan for snacks
I always make a week’s worth of grab-and-go snacks so I don’t end up eating a candy bar or chips.
Inventory your pantry
See which ingredients you’ve got and what you’ll need to get. Last-minute trips to the store are a fast way to derail your day and stress you out! I always keep my ‘just in case’ items in stock: lemons, limes, avocados and canned beans (garbanzo, cannellini and black beans are my musts).
See what can be done ahead of time
Pre-sort smoothie ingredients into freezer bags. Marinate meat. Cut up veggies. I’m a slow chopper so cleaning and cutting veggies ahead of time is giant time saver later. Chopped vegetables like carrots, onion and peppers will last about five days when refrigerated in a properly-sealed plastic bag. Zucchini noodles and cut butternut squash will stay fresh in the fridge for 3-5 days. When storing veggies in plastic bags, make sure to poke some holes in the bag to allow for proper air circulation.
Check your mindset
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a chore. A busy life can often be stressful, but I look forward to my “meal-prepping” time. It’s a relaxing break for me. I turn up the music, turn off my phone and block out the world for a bit. It’s a great feeling to know that I am not just doing something good for myself and my family but that I’m making everyone’s week ahead easier. Here are a few of my favorite recipes to get you started and help you plan ahead for your week:
HONEY GARLIC CHICKEN WINGSBy Brooke Thomas from 360YourLife.com
SIMPLE SLOW COOKED ROTISSERIE CHICKENBy Brooke Thomas from The Thankful 30
For the spice rub: 1 tsp dried thyme 1 tsp garlic powder 1 tsp paprika ½ tsp cayenne Salt/pepper to taste
BLACK BEAN HUMMUSBy Brooke Thomas from The Thankful 30
OVERNIGHT APPLE CINNAMON OATMEALBy Brooke Thomas from The Thankful 30
Dry ingredients: 4 cups gluten free oats 2 tsp baking powder 2 tsp cinnamon 1 tsp sea salt
Wet ingredients: 1 can full fat coconut milk 1 cup water 2/3 cup maple syrup 2 Tbsp chia seeds plus 6 Tbsp hot water mixed (egg replacer) 2 tsp vanilla
For more recipes and practical ways to live a healthier lifestyle, join Brooke’s community on Facebook.