Like pretty much everyone I know, I always figured I could loose a little bit of weight and be all the healthier and all the happier for it. Unlike pretty much everyone I know, I never bothered to convince myself that starting a new diet and half-assing it would be the way out. Last year, once Thomas and I bought our own flat in cash and moved in, I started “dieting,” and haven’t stopped “dieting” since. I’ve seen great results, but I know that what I did was transform the way I ate rather than just create a “diet” for me to stick to, then eventually drop.
I didn’t start with a meal plan. I didn’t think meal plans were a good idea to start with because I didn’t want my mind to trick me into thinking I was being constrained and repressing myself while dieting. I started my diet cutting out all the “boring” stuff that I knew accounted for a lot of calories, but that I wouldn’t really miss if they were gone – rice, bread, and other carbs – though I still ate them irregularly (sandwiches, cottage pies, & lasagna <3), as I didn’t want it ever to feel like my “diet” was depriving me of anything I loved.
Why I Started a Meal Plan
So I started my low carb diet and it took off. I lost a lot of weight (by my standards) slowly, over the span of half a year. But then one day Thomas and I were at the grocery store, again asking the same questions we always asked each other there, “What do you feel like eating this week? Should we grab this? Should we try these this week?” Fed up with making the same annoying decisions every time we were in a super market that always ended up frustrating us and leaving us adding way too many lasagna ready meals to our basket, the next morning I took to paper and wrote up a tentative meal plan.
Thomas didn’t mind it one bit, especially since everything on it was essentially our favourite dishes we ate anyway. I’d managed to drag Thomas into my low carb dieting without meaning to, a little bit at the start but more and more as time progressed, since he’s not going to cook himself separate meals and he figured he’d might as well be healthy about his snacking too.
I hated the idea of meal plans. Always have. Like I mentioned, I associated the idea of having a meal plan with constraint and essentially repression. But since we scheduled our favourite dishes to eat every day, this “constraint” disappeared – at least for me.
Making a Meal Plan I Actually Liked Following
Want a meal plan without constraint? Only schedule meals you love. Like burgers and steaks? Schedule those for dinner. Love burgers but are worried about the carbs – only schedule in the burger + cheese + toppings – if you can live without the bread more power to you. You love lasagna but know you shouldn’t be eating it often? Schedule it in once a week. Spoil yourself a little. Don’t deprive yourself of things you love completely, just reel in how much “unhealthy” stuff you permit yourself to schedule, and let yourself be healthy and indulge throughout the week. Have plenty of ideas for snacks so you don’t default to junk food as snacks (nuts, boiled eggs, and other protein-filled snacks are great), and you shouldn’t feel constrained at all on a meal plan. Actually, for us, we’ve felt the opposite of constrained: we feel just a little more free.
Why? It’s taken a lot of the annoying decision making out of our day. That horrid “What should we get today?” question no longer exists: get what you need for dinners once a week, get what you need for lunches once a week. Two shopping lists, one for Monday, one for Thursday, and you never need to write another one for yourself again. It’s all scheduled, and though lunches for us are loose sometimes (i.e. any cheese, cured meats, & pickled/jarred veggies), with some constraints over what we’re getting for those lunches, it doesn’t take too long to choose what we want.
Oh and, since our favourite healthy foods are scheduled, we don’t end up in those repetitive loops we used to, having the same meal over and over because we just couldn’t remember what else we liked to eat. This may sound crazy, but it happened to us quite a bit… You know you like breaded cod and haddock, so you get that for two days that week and you become fed up with it because you’ve had it too much, then do the same thing the next week with smoked salmon… It’s not pretty or fun. With a meal plan, you can space things out and not repeat them so you still get novelty every day, and ditch the whole “too much of a good thing” that might end up happening if you’re buying groceries at the top of your head every week.
Want some more freedom in a meal plan – some room for choices you can make? Group similar things together and give yourself a choice between them when you go to the grocery store. Our Wednesday “cheat night” is a choice between lasagna, cottage pie, or Thai/Indian curry ready meals. It doesn’t matter what we pick up – we get what we feel like that week. Friday is either chili con carne, pasta, or meatloaf. We decide at the grocery store which we’d rather have for dinner that Friday and we grab it, but they’re all similar meals and yet different enough that if we feel bored with one, we’ll grab the ingredients for the other.
How Our Meal Plan Has Helped With Stockpiling
We’ve been on our meal plan for a month or two; tweaking it here or there as we went to suit our needs better. Then one day I realize that meal plan’s not only benefited us in that we have to make less decisions, that our diet is more varied, and that our overall health feels better, but it’s helped our prepping, too.
I came to this realization one day when I was trying to re-stock our pantry. After a long time of completely ignoring our pantry/stockpile preps, and basically eating through everything we’d stocked up months and months prior, I took the time to sort out what food we still had left.
Again, we’re on a low carb diet; eating lots of meat, lots of fish, lots of cheese, as well as many fruits and veggies (both jarred and fresh) as well. So as you likely guessed, we had a lot of pasta left, and a lot of noodles and rice.
Low-carb foods are not the easiest to stockpile. It’s possible to stockpile them to some extent, but it’s certainly not the standard long-term shelf life kind of food, which mostly consists of carbs and more carbs to act as the groundwork staples for your meals.
That being said, there’s plenty we were eating through in terms of a stockpile that we didn’t pick up at the grocery store on a weekly basis. What’s that? A lot of the stuff we eat on the side of our meals. We eat baked beans around twice a week; whenever we have sausages. We use canned kidney beans when we make chili once a week, and we use canned tomatoes when we have chicken fillets with Parmesan as a topping. These are things that are ultimately very stockpile-able, so to speak, and now that I have a meal plan, I don’t need to worry about not being able to eat through what I grab before the expiry date rolls around.
I also can estimate accurately how much of each thing I’ll be needing, proportion-wise.
We have either chili con carne, pasta, or meatloaf on Fridays, and usually default to chili. We use two cans of kidney beans for our recipe usually, and so we can estimate how many cans we’ll need for the next 6 months based on this knowledge.
Every week, we use chopped tomatoes for our Parmesan chicken dish – one can. We also use one can for chili or pasta, and so we can assume we’ll need at least two cans per week. Even if we end up having meat loaf a few times instead of chili or pasta for dinners on Friday, I know those canned tomatoes will be eaten anyway, and I can estimate how fast they can possibly go by assuming we will use two jars a week instead of one.
Nothing will expire or go way out of date, and so I can comfortably buy items like these in large quantities without feeling like I’m going to end up chucking my food in the trash because we just didn’t eat pasta, for instance, as often as we thought we would.
If I change my meal plan, I can immediately then change my stockpile shopping lists, recalculating how much in terms of proportions we should have based on the new meal plan. If I increase the number of baked bean tins we go through in a week, or if we make chili and pasta dishes on separate days, I immediately know to stockpile more of the baked beans or canned tomatoes.
I also know that with the way we’ve scheduled lunches, jarred and pickled veggies will also be eaten, so I can finally start stockpiling a heck of a lot of these comfortably. They have long shelf lives anyway, I just never bothered to stockpile them before because we used to essentially forget to eat them. Not anymore. We get lazy about buying fresh veggies sometimes, and others, we just plain prefer the taste of the jarred stuff (pickled cornichons with honey + capers = <3), so they’ll definitely be eaten alongside our cured meat and cheese low-carb lunches. Also we’ve managed to find a few jarred veggies that would go great as sides to dinner dishes. In case we are busy one week and need to delay shopping, we can just pull some chicken out of the freezer and have these as a side. What I stockpile of these will be eaten, thanks to the new meal plan.
Why We’ll Likely Always Stick to Having Meal Plans
I hate waste, I really do, and so this meal plan thing has worked out gloriously for us from every angle. I didn’t start a meal plan because I wanted to find it easier to prep, but that’s been the result. Now I know exactly what to get more of, exactly what to not bother stockpiling, and I’m sure what we have will be eaten before it expires. No more worrying about being left with a bunch of expired tins and jars to binge eat through a month after expiry. Not going to happen.
Win, win, win. At least the way I see it.
Will we go back to not having meal plans? Maybe, but unlikely. If we deviate from our meal plan one week, it’s not a big deal at all; the food we stockpiled will still be eaten if we go back to the meal plan the next week, and by sticking to the meal plan we feel healthier because the things we’ve scheduled into the week are all healthy things we love eating.
So instead of ditching the meal plan completely, we’ll just deviate from it whenever we feel like it. For a day, for a week, for half a month. Then back.
We’ll reap all the benefits of a meal plan – eat healthier food, have less redundancy in what we eat, be freed from making annoying decisions, and know exactly how to prep/stockpile in a way that isn’t wasteful – and we’ll be better off for it.
Have You Ever Tried a Meal Plan?
Are you currently using a meal plan now? Ever used one in the past? Why did you or didn’t you like it?
If you’ve used meal plans, did you find they helped you prep?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section down below.