A healthy eater is an organised one. No doubt about it. You simply cannot eat well without some kind of forethought. Now before you switch off and think: “Meal planning is not for me”, stay with me. You don’t have to plan everything to the letter. However, having at least a basic idea of what you plan to eat each day means you can have the right foods available, avoiding those last minute dashes for takeaway or convenience food.
The benefits of meal planning far outweighs the initial time investment in taking the time to plan. Here’s why meal planning is so great:
Reduces decision fatigue
In the hustle and bustle of our modern lives, decision fatigue is a huge problem! We’re making decisions (big and small) all the time! This means that when it comes to meal and snack times, our brain is so worn out it lacks the computing power to make even the simplest of food choices. In order to compensate for this, it relies on auto pilot or habits to make food choices and as a result we choose foods without much conscious thought. Unfortunately, these are not always the healthiest choices, but because we’re so busy, we don’t have the mental capacity to change them.
Meal planning reduces your mental load.
By thinking ahead, at a time when you do have the mental capacity, you can pre-decide your meals and snacks. Then when meal times roll around, you already know what you’re eating because the decision has already been made. This is particularly helpful when trying to overcome unhealthy auto-pilot food choices that might de-rail any healthy eating or weight loss efforts.
Australians are time poor!
Australian research has shown that one of the main barriers to healthy eating for people is a lack of time. With after school sport, jobs with long hours, shift work, caring responsibilities and lots happening in many households, further research is showing we’re spending less and less time cooking and preparing food at home.
When you don’t have time for some meals, but you still want to put a healthy meal on your plate, you need to spend time at less busy periods in your week to think ahead and make provisions. This time investment will pay dividends into the future. One of our dietitians put together this great article on easy weeknight meals for time poor people. We’ve also got a STACK more meal planning resources for our members in the Nutrition Education Portal.
Go slow. Starting by picking one of your meals to plan, like dinner. Knowing what’s for dinner and having the ingredients ready to go will do wonders for making the week go smoothly, especially when you’ve got lots on in the evenings. Here are 6 easy steps for planning dinner.
Helps you manage stress
The dreaded question; “What are we having for dinner?” can tip even the most sane person off the edge of overwhelm! If life is busy and you haven’t got anything planned to eat, it often adds to the mental burden you’re already carrying. This extra stress is removed when a meal plan sits on your fridge (or in your phone) that clearly outlines what’s on offer for meals and snacks.
A meal plan let’s you breath a sigh of relief knowing that the food part of your day is taken care of and you have one less thing to worry about.
Maximise your intake of healthy foods
When it comes to eating well, staying organised is a key part of your long term success. Healthy food generally has a short shelf life, needs regular purchasing (at least weekly) and requires preparation and cooking. Thinking ahead about what’s coming up in your week and how your meals and snacks fit around this will help you always put a healthy meal on your plate no matter how busy you are!
If you’re looking to consistently improve your eating habits, then meal planning gives you the ability to be intentional about including healthy foods like vegetables fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds into your meals and snacks. If you’re planning for the whole day you can ensure you hit the basics like planning in 2 pieces of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables and make sure that your meals include whole foods from a wide variety of sources.
When you plan to eat vegetables everyday you have a greater chance of actually achieving that goal compared to just winging it!
If you’re on a tight budget, you can’t afford not to meal plan. Meal planning will help you know exactly what foods you need to purchase, which means you’ll only buy what you need. You can also be intentional about planning meals that include cheap pantry staples and ensure you’re using similar ingredients across the week which will reduce the number of items that you’ll need to buy.
Puts you back in control
Being in control of your food choices is a key part of eating well long term. Healthy foods like vegetables and other whole foods often have a short shelf life and require some kind of preparation. This means you need to be intentional about it. Taking the time to plan a week of meals that suits you, your life, your health goals and your food preference will pay dividends into the future.
When you’re organised with your food, you know what you’re eating, you’ve got the ingredients ready to go in your kitchen and then you can focus on the rest of your life knowing that your food is sorted!
Increases food awareness
Food awareness is a key part of successfully changing your eating habits long term. Mindless eating and being on ‘auto-pilot’ is a key driver of poor food choices and can often leave people confused why their ‘healthy eating efforts are not working. Their intentions don’t align with their reality, but they’re not aware of it to make the necessary changes. Planning your meals and snacks and then logging your actual meals and snacks against your meal plan is a key way of being honest about your actual food intake and becoming more mindful of your food choices.
Reduces your reliance on convenience foods
When we become busy, stressed, tired or decision fatigued it’s easy to rely on convenience foods to get us through the day. These foods often come in a box or packet and require very little time to prepare. Most convenience foods are high in energy, fat, salt and sugar and low in vitamins and minerals. Learning to become organised with effective meal planning skills will help reduce your reliance on these foods week to week and increase your diet quality.
However, not all convenience foods are unhealthy and to prove it, our team has compiled a comprehensive guide of breakfasts, lunches and dinners that are super quick and easy and but still tick all the nutritional boxes. Check it out below: