6/30/15 - Weight Loss Challenge: Week 5 - Helpful Meal planning ideas

In the first entries of this series we looked at the basics of weight loss, then some simple applications to reduce calories, and finally how important it is to choose the "correct" calories. With the basics covered, we jumped into ways to get moving and burn more calories. Today I want to provide some ideas and practical applications to make this lifestyle change a little easier and maintainable.

Among many issues, lack of planning is a roadblock along the way to a healthy lifestyle. Having already discussed the pitfalls of dining out on a regular basis, it makes sense that preparing your own foods is the best way to go. The problem lies in lack of ingredients, cooking skills, and time. Cooking skills is definitely a learned behavior, but is easily solved with the help of calling up mom, or searching Google and YouTube. Lack of ingredients and lack of time requires planning far in advance in order to circumvent the issue.

Meal planning and such is definitely possible with just a few recipe books and some pen and paper, but for me, I have had great success using the iPhone/iPad app Menu Planner. There are plenty of other options out there. A quick google search for "Menu Planning Apps" returns plenty of good options, including this article from Lifehack. The beauty of these types of apps and websites is that you can enter a list of recipes and ingredients, and meal plan for the entire week. Once you've got a good plan laid out, it will generate a grocery list for you, which you can take with you to the store and get all the ingredients you need for an entire week of meals. It also cuts down on waste and excess as you'll know ahead of time exactly what foods you need to have.

On Saturday, I sit down and determine what meals I'd like my family to eat for the week. Breakfast and lunch are usually generic, requiring little to no prep work. These might include Sweet Rice for breakfast, or cereal and toast. Lunch is typically sandwiches, quesadillas, or salad. For dinner, I'm able to use the app to group our recipes by protein (chicken, pork, beef, etc). I try to vary the types of meat and vegetables we eat to help prevent boredom. Once the week has been outlined, with just the click of a button, I'm able to generate a shopping list and walk through the house to determine which of the ingredients we have. The app details recipes down to salt and pepper or even needing to add water to a sauce, so I check each ingredient to make sure we have enough for the week. After a quick trip to the grocery store, we are ready for 7 days of meals.

That process helps with having all the ingredients on hand, but it doesn't always help with having the actual time to prepare your food. To help with this, I try to spend part of my Sunday afternoons preparing as much of the food for the week as possible. Things such as white rice can be prepared in large batches and easily lasts a week in the fridge. Peeling and cutting most vegetables for the week saves time when you need a half cup of diced onions for your spaghetti sauce on Wednesday. I grill up about 5 pounds of chicken every Sunday to use as my main dish at lunch, and also for dicing on salads or mixing into Guacamole Chicken Salad.

Two other things that have been helpful for me is Freezer Meals and Crock Pot/Slow Cooker recipes. Right now, our family favorite slow cooker meal is Bourbon Pulled Pork. It's as simple as putting all the ingredients in the slow cooker over night in the fridge, and then pulling it out and turning it on low in the morning for about 8 hours. We usually throw some meat on the plate, heat up some canned baked beans, and cook up a veggie for a very easy, tasty meal. And as long as portions are controlled, it is completely reasonable for maintaining a healthy caloric intake. Notice I also didn't mention a bun, there's one more way to save 150 calories without losing quality of the meal. As for freezer meals, the sky is the limit and most of the options we have tried are also slow cooker meals. At some point in time, you fill a container with all your ingredients and freeze. When you need a meal on "short" notice, pull it out to thaw overnight and cook in the slow cooker during the day.

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer, nutritionist, scientist or weight loss guru. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last roughly 10 years researching weight loss for my own knowledge and to help my family stay healthy. All information provided has been helpful for me, but carries no guarantees. I am willing to discuss at length any topics mentioned and would love to be proven wrong in order to better myself and my knowledge.
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