Hello gym-goers! Etage Athletic Trainer Emily Hoffman here. Just in from a great session, and while refueling with some oats I prepared earlier in the week, I thought it might be helpful to share my tips and tricks for meal planning.
Because as summer comes to an end and the more rigorous routine of fall takes shape, getting back into a steady meal-planning and prepping routine can be a challenge. Or maybe you’ve never even attempted to meal plan but always thought it might be beneficial.
Whether you’re looking to simplify the evening routine, save some time and/or money on meals, or eat a more well-rounded diet, meal planning and prepping can help you accomplish any and all of these goals.
So how do you get started?
Secrets To Shopping
Let’s begin with grocery shopping. I find it best to devote one day of the week (I like Sunday) to this task, with the intention of buying all you need for the entire week. This allows you to have food on hand all week along and avoid splurging on takeout.
Before shopping, I brainstorm and schedule meals for the week, then make a list of all the ingredients I need to buy. And don’t forget to work healthy snacks into the rotation. Pre-portioned items like 100-calorie packs of almonds are a smart, convenient choice and can help you avoid “mindless snacking.”
Ok, so now you’re ready to grocery shop with that list in hand. Just remember not to do it while hungry to prevent impulsive decision making and purchases!
Begin shopping on the outside perimeter of the store where produce, meat, dairy, and other real and fresh foods are located. These healthier items should comprise the bulk of your cart contents. Afterward, head to the central aisles, but keep in mind that the prepackaged and processed foods living on these shelves typically contain more fat and sodium.
Once you get home with your groceries, you can start meal prepping for the week. On social media, there’s a big push to cook a large quantity of a dish and portion it out into five different meals. This is most definitely a workable option. But it may not appeal to those of us who crave more variety on a daily basis.
My personal preference is to cook my protein options in bulk and in advance. Protein is the most essential part of a meal, and with it already prepared, you can ensure it’s never missing from your plate.
Oftentimes I’ll prepare one large pan of chicken along with a hefty portion of salmon for the week. Then I’ll incorporate one or the other in a salad, pasta or other dish I’m making that day.
I recommend taking this same approach with breakfast and snacks. Egg bites and overnight oats, for example, are quick and easy options that can be prepared ahead of time, stored in the refrigerator or freezer, and alternated throughout the week to avoid repetition in your diet. If you don’t already have a go-to recipe, I like these for egg bites and oats.
A Few Words on Food Tracking
Some of us choose to meal plan just to simplify our daily routines, but it’s also helpful when you’re trying to keep closer tabs on your nutrition. And if you’re looking to go a step further in that arena, you might consider food tracking.
Though it’s by no means necessary to maintain a healthy diet, food tracking is a helpful tool if you’re interested in:
• monitoring your caloric intake to meet your fitness/nutrition goals;
• growing your awareness of macronutrients in foods; and
• avoiding over/under-eating to help with energy levels.
There are many different apps to help you monitor the nutritional value of the foods you consume. Two of my favorites are Etage’s Premier Training App’s in-app meal tracker and MyFitnessPal. These platforms are both very user-friendly and show you the caloric and macronutrient values of what you’re eating.
A couple lessons I’ve learned along the way on my own personal journey with food tracking:
1. Consider tracking throughout the week but taking the weekends off to avoid burnout. We all deserve a little break when it comes to watching what we eat.
2. Food scales far outweigh the competition. They’re just a more efficient and accurate means of measuring food than cups and spoons.
Life’s moving at an extremely fast pace for all of us. But when we take a little time to be more deliberate about the food we put in our bodies, we set ourselves up to make better decisions and live healthier lives. Meal planning, prepping and tracking are helpful tools on this journey, and I hope I’ve offered some guidance to get you going – or back on track.
Emily Hoffman, ACE CPT & NASM nutrition coach, has spent the last decade working in the health and wellness industry as a coach and trainer. She holds a degree in education from Point Park University and grew up dancing competitively.