The Benefits of Using a Meal Planner

Whether you live alone or have a family of hungry mouths to feed, using a simple meal planner can make all the difference to your healthy-eating goals.

You may have heard the expression "failing to plan means planning to fail". Nowhere is this more true than in your meal-planning.

In essence, that expression means that if you don't plan ahead you're a lot less likely to reach your goals. In fact, you're really setting yourself up for failure.

So, let's say you've decided you want to lose weight, get fitter or generally live a healthier lifestyle. In that case, you'll need to pay attention to each meal you're eating. Creating a healthy meal means creating a healthier you.

Haphazard Meal Planning

It doesn't just happen like magic, though, particularly when you've spent years eating unhealthy foods. You need a meal planner to help you out.

After all, you may decide one Sunday that, "This week I'll make sure I eat as healthily as possible."

It all starts off fine on Monday - you eat up the last of those oats, nuts and mixed berries by making a healthy muesli for breakfast.

For lunch you take in to work some sliced turkey, wholemeal bread, avocado and salad to make a sandwich. You're feeling pretty good and this healthy-eating lark seems like a breeze.

In the evening, the kids are hungry and you always have leftovers from the Sunday roast on Mondays. So you heat up the meat and gravy and mash some potato to go with it.

You're out of fresh veg but you have enough frozen peas for the four of you, so that's ok.

By now, you're feeling ravenous, so you add a bit more potato to your plate. Let's be honest, you heap on quite a bit more potato to your plate. And then you have seconds of roast pork and crackling.

Then Tuesday comes around. You've run out of ingredients for muesli, so you cram down a couple of slices of toast, butter and jam.

That doesn't feel like enough, so you have a couple more.

That's the last of the bread, you've also used up the sliced turkey and you can't just have avocado salad with no protein for lunch, so you go to the food court.

Instead of opting for a healthy wholemeal sandwich with plenty of salad and some fresh chicken, you're tempted by the takeaway offering of three servings of meat plus fried rice, so you go for that instead.

Later on, following a hard day at work and a long drive or packed train commute, you arrive home and then you have to decide what to eat.

You'd planned to go to the supermarket with the kids, but one of them is feeling poorly and your partner needs to work late, so you can't leave the house.

The fridge is bare, and that means the only option is to dial up for takeaway or send the older kids to buy fish and chips for the family.

Whatever happened to the healthy-eating goals you had on Sunday? You'd start again tomorrow, but with what food? You still haven't done that supermarket shop…

Plan Healthy Meals

That may seem like an extreme example, but it shows only too easily how failing to plan means planning to fail.

You don't have to have a family or a sick child to picture how not planning your meals in advance can derail your healthy lifestyle goals.

After all, how many times have you been on your way home after work, promising yourself you'll go to the shops to buy something healthy to cook, only to find yourself lured by the thought that "takeaway would be so much quicker and easier, and I really just want to put my feet up in front of Downton Abbey. Besides, I only need to eat half the takeaway." Yeah, right!

It's a fair bet that this kind of scenario might even be what derailed you from any previous weight-loss or healthy lifestyle goals you've had in the past. So how can you do things differently this time?

A key tool is a meal planner to help you set out exactly what you (and your family) are going to eat throughout the week. Sounds too rigid? Too much like hard work?

Well, isn't it hard work to have to decide at the last minute what you're going to eat?

Isn't it hard work to struggle with the thought that you really want to eat healthily but have left it too late to find something that fits the bill?

Why Planning Works

Consider these benefits of having all your meals planned out:

  • There'll be no more last-minute scrabbling around deciding what to eat.
  • You're far less likely to make unhealthy choices as a result of tiredness, lack of organisation or simply feeling ravenous.
  • You're won't need to nip out to the nearest convenience store because you're out of food and have to resort to pot noodles or packets of chips.
  • Takeaway becomes a treat to enjoy just occasionally rather than something you turn to habitually because you've left it too late to buy the ingredients for a healthy meal.
  • You'll enjoy the pleasure of knowing you have on hand exactly what you need to cook a nutritious, tasty meal.
  • You'll experience the satisfaction and boost to your self-esteem of building new habits and moving towards your goals.
  • You'll know exactly what healthy foods to buy for the week, and can schedule a regular time to go shopping.
  • Your family will have fewer household arguments over what to eat.
  • You'll throw out less food (and therefore enjoy a lower grocery bill) because you'll know what's in the fridge/freezer and when you're going to eat it.
  • You'll spend less time shopping for food because you can do it all in one hit.

That's a lot of benefits! Sound good, don't they?

Easy Ways to Create a Meal Planner

To create your own meal plan, you'll need:

  • Some time set aside each week - around 30 minutes should be enough. Ideally, this would be at the same time each week, so that it becomes one of your new healthy lifestyle habits.
  • A pen and exercise book, or even a dedicated meal planner book or journal from your favourite stationery store. You can go as plain or as fancy as you like, but you don't have to spend much money if you choose not to.
  • A folder where you can store your favourite recipes and ingredient lists.
  • If you prefer to do things on a phone or tablet, download a meal planner app. Search for them in Apple's App Store or on Google Play using the words ‘Meal Planner', ‘Menu Planner' or ‘Food Planner'. Some of them will enable you to store recipes, adjust them to your needs and create an ingredients list, all with a few taps of your finger.

Once you've gathered these items, follow these easy steps:

  • Think about each day of the week ahead of you.
  • Decide what meals you'll want to eat on each day, taking into account where you'll be, what your family activities are and, most importantly, your health and weight goals.
  • Be sure to plan each meal carefully - don't miss out breakfasts, for example, and if you decide to cook enough of one dish to have the leftovers for lunch, make sure you've accounted for any veg or salad you might need to prepare freshly the next day. You'll need to take into account serving sizes, and whether these will be different for you and your partner or children.
  • Take snacks and drinks into account, substituting the biscuits, chips and soft drinks you may previously have bought with healthy snack options.
  • Follow the principles of healthy eating and aim to eat breakfasts, lunches and dinners along these lines.
  • If you're at a loss for recipe ideas that fit your lifestyle goals, invest in a book such as The No Excuses Cookbook by Michelle Bridges (Viking, $29.95) or search online and you'll find plenty of websites with options that fit the bill.
  • If you have access to supermarket catalogues or websites, take advantage of in-store specials to cut costs.
  • Think about seasonality of fresh produce to help you plan your meals.

Planning Gets Easier

If you're not used to planning your meals, it may take a couple of weeks to get used to what you need to do.

But it will soon become second nature, and the idea of running out of food or doing last-minute shopping will become part of your dim and distant past.

Now that you've created your healthy meal plan, it's time to think about buying all the ingredients you'll need. And for that you'll also need a shopping list.

Sign up to Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation and all the thinking is done for you! 12WBT includes all your weekly meal plans, recipes and shopping lists.