How to Plan Healthy Meals

By Ali Luke
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Have you ever skipped breakfast because you were in a rush – and ending up grabbing a mid-morning candy bar to stave off hunger?

Have you ever wished that you had something healthy for lunch – when your canteen seems to specialize in greasy fried foods?

Have you ever phoned for a pizza just because there was nothing in the fridge?

Most of us have fallen into these traps at some point, often when we’re busy or stressed with a number of work and life pressures. The key to succeeding long-term with healthy eating is to get organized: to plan ahead to ensure that things go smoothly.

Organizing Your Whole Week

It pays to think ahead a bit when you’re dieting. I like to do this on a Sunday afternoon – usually a quiet time in the week for me. Good things to consider are:

  • What meals will you be eating this week? What groceries do you need to purchase, and what do you already have in the cupboards?
  • Do you have food on hand to make simple lunches to take into work (or school)?
  • Will you need to eat out at any point during the week (perhaps for a business event, or when meeting up with friends). If so, plan to make sensible, healthy food choices for the rest of that day to mitigate any damage caused by indulging more than usual while you’re out.
  • Are there days when you’ll be too busy or tired to cook an evening meal? Can you prepare extra food a day or two before so that you have something on hand that just needs reheating?

Organizing Your Day

How often do you resolve to get up earlier, and to have plenty of time to exercise and eat a healthy breakfast in the morning? And how many times do you manage it? If you find it hard to get going first thing, try getting as much preparation as possible done the night before.

Organizing Breakfast

  • Put your cereal box, bowl and spoon ready in the kitchen – and make sure you have milk in the fridge (a 7am dash to the corner shop won’t help your morning run smoothly).
  • Prepare a fruit salad the day before, and refrigerate overnight – a quick, simple and healthy breakfast.
  • Measure milk and porridge oats into a large jug and keep it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you can just zap it in the microwave.

Many of us waste money and eat unhealthily at lunchtime because we end up buying sandwiches from supermarkets, or grabbing the meal of the day at the canteen. It’s almost always healthier and cheaper to make lunch at home: you’ll know exactly what’s going into it.

Organizing Lunch

  • For a simple no-preparation lunch, cook extra when you make your evening meal and take a “doggy bag” of leftovers the next day.
  • Chop up salad or make sandwiches the evening before: they’ll keep overnight in the fridge.
  • If you are buying a sandwich or salad from a supermarket, check the labels for fat, sugar and calorie content. Many stores do “healthy” ranges, which can cut the calories in your lunch in half.

If you find yourself surviving on microwave meals, or regularly eating out just because you can’t find the time or energy to cook, plan ahead with your evening meals: don’t rely on feeling inspired when you get home!

Organizing Dinner

  • Make sure you’ve got enough basic foods in the cupboards and fridge (Mike wrote a great list here) to make a simple meal at any time.
  • Where possible, make double portions and freeze half. This works especially well for curries and pasta sauces. You’ll save yourself a lot of effort on busy nights if you can get something healthy and homemade out of the freezer.
  • Get other family members or housemates involved in the cooking. Don’t rule out using your children to help: they could wash vegetables, fetch and carry, and set the table. Take it in turns with your partner to cook the evening meal, planning around the nights when you or they are likely to be busy.

How do you organize your day and your week to make sure that you can stick to your healthy eating plans without life getting in the way?

12 Comments

  1. Michelle @ Organized Eating

    I agree! Be organized makes eating healthy easier. When you don’t have any food in the fridge or have no idea what to make it is so much easier to go get fast food then stress out about what to cook.
    I have found making a weekly meal plan and grocery list has helped out tremendously!

    Reply
  2. O.

    I have memorized all of my fast food exchanges from ediets. And it is a good thing too, because ediets discontinued that program. But it works for me because I work in malls and shopping centers. I have memorized about a dozen menu items at various restaurants under 500 calories.

    Reply
  3. lauriebrd

    Ali, I just love your articles! Such great advice and so well-organized 🙂 It’s all so true, and if someone were to plan ahead as you recommend they would definitely lose weight–it’s that easy!!

    Reply
  4. Teavalize

    Eating healthy foods must be consider in a budget. One could also depend on the budget but has the nutritional content that may give. For example, Fruits and vegetables that are in season and locally grown will usually cost less and it is rich in some nutrients needed by our body. If you have not eaten most of the time or skip a meal, you may be able to take some fruits and vegetables for not having to do some cook at home. There were some instances that you may take the risk in skipping meals, so water too is very important to keep you body on the go. It will not prevent you for being dehydrated.

    Reply
  5. Spectra

    I’m really anal about how I prepare and buy my food. I shop once a week and get everything I need so I’m not stuck mid-week with no food in the house. Every night, I pack my lunch to bring to work so I have no excuse to eat at the cafeteria. If I’m going to be traveling to someplace where I won’t be able to eat healthy, I bring my own food in a travel cooler. It’s all about prioritizing. I guess I COULD use the excuse “Oh, there’s nothing healthy to eat here; I’ll have to eat junk”, but I don’t like to compromise on my diet, so I do the extra legwork to make sure I have healthy food wherever I go.

    Reply
  6. Out of Shell

    I’ve been working on this too, and a bit of organization and planning has really made it so much easier to save money on food and eat so much healthier.

    On Sunday we picked out a few easy and healthy recipes for the week and bought the groceries for them. We picked several that used brown rice so we could just make a huge batch of brown rice on Sunday night and use it the whole week (veggie stir fry, lentil and kale curry, etc.). Every night we pick one of the recipes to make for dinner, and then we have the leftovers packed into lunch containers and ready to go for the next day.

    We’ve been making our morning green smoothie at night too since the blender is so loud and we’re waking up super early (don’t want to disturb the land lady!) So that is really helping to make sure that we always have a healthy breakfast on the go instead of rolling out of bed late and eating whatever.

    All of this is really helping reduce stress levels and keep us healthy, so we’re going to try to make it a habit and stick with it.

    Reply
  7. Kate

    My downfall is although I am massively organised throughout the week with buying in the right foods and knowing my meals if I have had a long day I get home and it all just goes to pot. My partner works long days so the majority of the week I eat on my own, so if I have a hard day and I am eating on my own I just go for the easiest meal which usually isn’t good for my diet and I blow my weight loss for that week.

    Reply
  8. Miroslav Nikolov

    Organizing helps with weight loss, but it helps with everything.

    If you accomplish it you will success in all daily activities.

    Reply
  9. jenelle

    Being single and living in a city, I find it completely necessary to organize my meals in order to maintain/lose weight. Otherwise, I’m certain I’d be eating out 6 out of 7 days a week.

    I’m very routine with my grocery list. Breakfast is always a healthy cereal, soy milk, fruit. I work in an office that has the oh-so-luxurious community fridge, so I tend to bring a container of hummus and a package of sprouts to leave in the fridge for the week, and leave some whole grain pitas in my desk (so I have no excuse during the week to eat out!). I stockpile dinners. Dinner is my weekly wildcard. I’m new to cooking, so I usually try a different healthy recipe every week. Because my days are busy, this is perfect. I just microwave leftovers and enjoy!

    Keeping my meals relatively rigid helps me gauge how much damage I’m doing when I DO enjoy some of the city’s food offerings (which is impossible to resist!).

    Reply
  10. julie

    I try to have a few different meal setups to last me through the week. I take a lot of shortcuts, for example, I buy a whole wheat sourdough baguette on Saturday, cut it into sandwich sized pieces, stick it in the freezer. A few days a week, I get one out, put some turkey and spinach and cheese on it, heat it up at work for lunch. I usually tend to have a big pot of soup or beans I make on Sundays or Monday eves, which makes the better part, if not all, of dinner. In cases of extreme laziness, I have a box of spicy Korean ramen, I can fry up some tofu, chop some veggies, and it’s a decent meal, though outrageously high in sodium, which I can deal with.

    For those times when a burrito must be gotten, or pizza must be ordered, I just try to mind my portions.

    Reply
  11. psychsarah

    I’m convinced that organization is the reason that I’ve been more successful at weight loss than my husband. I do pretty much everything you describe in the article, from meal planning to taking lunch/snacks with me etc. I go crazy when my husband claims he couldn’t eat healthily due to the choices at whatever restaurant he ended up at for lunch or that he cant’ make a workout because he hasn’t eaten all day! I try to get it through his head that if he would just take some healthy food with him (even nuts and fruit at a minumum) he would always have a healthy choice at hand, but alas, he can’t seem to get to that level of organization, despite my efforts.

    Reply
  12. bijou

    a lot of it also requires prioritizing. for example, i would love to have something different for lunch everyday, but since sunday night is my only available time for cooking, i only have two choices: 1) eat the same reheated food that i cooked in bulk on sunday night, or 2) opt for a store-bought lunch that offers me variety but renders me poorer and fatter. it’s not an altogether pleasant choice, but maintaining hard-won fitness is about making tough choices.

    Reply