Tools for Weight Loss Success: Weekly Meal Planning

I’m going to start a new semi-regular feature on the blog: Tools for Weight Loss Success. I don’t anticipate that any of them will be earth shattering, but if they will help one person “put it all together,” they will be worth it. I’m going to kick off the series by writing about meal planning.

Why I Plan My Meals

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll notice that I often post my meal plan at the beginning of the week. Creating this plan is something I’ve been doing for months…probably close to a year. I make a weekly meal plan for quite a few reasons:

  • I love to cook, but don’t get home until 5:30 each night. Planning my meals for the week allows me to do necessary prep on the weekend so we still get a home-cooked meal each week.
  • I like to cook with seasonal ingredients. In the summer and fall, I often go to the farmer’s market and buy what looks best, then come home and plan my meals around it.
  • I hate going to the grocery store for one thing. Planning my meals allows me to make just one trip to the store per week.
  • I prefer to take my lunch to work. When I know what we’re having for dinner each night, I know if there will be enough leftovers for both of us to take lunch, or if I need to plan a separate dish for my lunches.
  • I follow Weight Watchers, so I like to know that I’ll be on track with my points for the week, yet leave a little room for splurges.
  • I avoid wasting food because I plan for leftovers.

How I Plan My Meals

On Saturday or Sunday I sit down with my breakfast and pull up my Weight Watchers meal planner. I take mental (sometimes physical) inventory of what I already have on hand that can be used, paying special attention to what must be used before it spoils. If I have a lot of ingredients that have to be used, I search for recipes that use those specific ingredients. Some of my favorite sources are Skinny Taste, Skinny Kitchen, Weight Watchers recipes, and some of my printed cookbooks. I find five recipes that look good, and slot them in Sunday – Thursday.

Then, I add my breakfast for each day. I thrive on routine, so it’s usually the same breakfast for the entire week.

Next, I take a look at the portion sizes of the recipes I’ve chosen for dinner. I allocate some of the leftovers to my husband’s lunches, and if there are any left over I slot them into some of my lunch menus. If there are still holes in the menu, I plan on making some soup, chili, or a rice bowl. I add these to my meal planner.

At this point, I look at the nutritional profile of my menu. I try to follow the Weight Watchers Good Health Guidelines, so I’ll make sure to have two full servings of dairy, at least five fruits/vegetables, 2 teaspoons of healthy oil, whole grains and lean proteins. These could be added as part of a meal or a snack.

If I’m not yet at my daily point minimum, I’ll add in some snacks. If I’m already at or over my point minimum, I’m done. (Because I’m following Weight Watchers, I can add fruits/veggies as snacks when I get hungry because they aren’t allocated Points Plus Values).

Now I know what we’re eating every day, it’s time to make a shopping list. By following this method, I usually have a pretty short list. Every week I end up buying yogurt, milk, and some fruits and vegetables. Some weeks, that’s really all I need.

After I go shopping, I determine if anything can/should be made ahead. For example, if I’ve chosen a noodle casserole dish for Monday’s dinner, I’ll probably make it on Sunday afternoon/evening and put it in the fridge so I just need to heat it in the oven when I get home from work. While I’m making the casserole, I might have a cut of meat cooking in the crockpot so it can be shredded and stored in the fridge. If I need rice for the week, I’ll make that on Sunday night and portion it out as I need it from the fridge. If I need to take meat out of the freezer, I do that on Sunday so it’s sure to be thawed when I need it.

How Much Time It Takes To Plan

I probably spend 20-30 minutes planning my menu and one hour grocery shopping. My prep time varies based on what I’ve chosen for the menu. Some weeks I only spend 30 minutes prepping things on Sunday. Other weeks I find myself in the kitchen for 4-6 hours cooking soups, stews, prepping produce, and baking breakfast options for the freezer. These weeks are far from the norm, and can totally be avoided by choosing easier-to-prepare dinners.

In the long run, meal planning saves me time. Most nights, dinner is on the table 30-45 minutes after I get home, and it’s cooked from scratch.

I Love Meal Planning

I probably love meal planning so much because I love food, and I love to cook. It has a lot of benefits even if you’re not trying to lose weight. However, if weight loss is one of your goals, it’s a very valuable tool. Making all your decisions for the week at once makes it less likely that you’ll get off track and just order pizza because you don’t know what to make for dinner.

Do you meal plan? Do you have any tips & tricks to share?