Today we begin the process of creating a low calorie meal plan for a week. The previous few posts set the stage for how you go about creating a system to support quick, easy, AND healthy food preparation. Did you write down the meals and snacks you are accustomed to eating? Have you listed at least 3 meals that are reasonably healthy and low calorie? Need some help with this? See Healthy Foods Recipe List to Lose Weight from the previous post.
Although it may seem daunting what you are looking at is preparing about 21 meals in a week. Sound like a lot? Yeah, it does to me also. So let’s take a closer look. Most people, including me, eat out at least once a week. That reduces the total to 20 meals. And how about breakfast and lunch? Except for occasionally making pancakes, homemade waffles, scrambled eggs, or muffins, breakfast for me is usually simple. The same goes for lunch.
So what are we left with? We’re left with about 6 dinners/main meals. I reduce that number of meals to cook to only 3-4 total. Here’s what I suggest. If you have someone else in the household you can share meal preparation with by all means share the work! My husband cooks some of the meals. The other way to cut down on time spent cooking is to make what I like to call “planned overs”. That’s really a fancy way of saying leftovers. I actually look forward to having them! Hey, the less cooking I have to do the better. Why do leftovers get such a bad rap?
In my household what works for us is to have me to cook 3 main meals each week and my husband cooks one meal on either Saturday or Sunday evening. With a total of 4 meals to cook, we plan on making enough extra with one or more recipe to have planned overs for two additional evening meals. Or we decide we will eat planned overs once and then we elect to heat up a frozen meal for the other evening. The frozen meal might be a commercially prepared meal or it might be an extra from one of our earlier planned overs in the previous month or two. Make sense?
Let’s see how this adds up:
7 easy breakfasts (with one breakfast a bit more time consuming)
7 easy lunches
1 evening dining out
3 meals prepared by me
1 meal prepared by my husband
2 meals consisting of planned overs or 1 planned over and 1 heat and eat meal
21 meals total (+ snacks)
Can you cook 3-4 meals a week? If you are willing to do that you can have healthy low calorie meals that taste good and won’t take an unreasonable amount of time to prepare. You’ll need to spend a bit of time transitioning to a healthier way of eating but it’s well worth the effort. You’ll look and feel better than you have in a long time, maybe ever!
TIP: Serving commercially prepared food at home has not been shown to save much if any time over preparing meals from healthy food ingredients. (Source: Cannot find the reference will add this later!)
There are many ways you can plan ahead to simplify what you eat each week. Here are some of my favorites:
-Soup (Make a big pot to have planned overs.)
-Large Salad (Think beyond just having salad greens as a base. You could have a whole grain such as barley or quinoa or whole-wheat pasta instead.)
-Burgers or Meatballs (make with turkey, chicken, beef, pork, OR beans) We like to make up a large batch of Spinach and Turkey Meatballs and then freeze a bunch for easy spaghetti meals or sandwiches at a later date.
-Chili (chicken, turkey, beef, or vegetarian) (Make up enough to have planned overs or freeze the extra.)
-Lasagna (Made with meat OR vegetarian) (Make up a big batch to have planned overs and more for freezing.)
TIP: Of the 4 meals you prepare you can plan for one or two to be meals you put together with little or no cooking. These meals might be chef salads, pita pizzas, simple tacos or tortilla wraps, spaghetti with meatballs (defrost some from the freezer), etc. By doing this you would only have to COOK more time consuming meals once or twice each week. Make sense?
When eating at home I like to pick 1-2 food ingredients for the week that will form the basis of each lunch. If I go with more than this I can end up wasting food. My husband decides what he needs to put together lunches to take with him to work.
-Low fat cottage cheese
-Sliced meat/chicken/turkey or Tuna fish for sandwiches
-Peanut butter or other nut butter sandwiches
-Low fat yogurt supplemented with some fruit and whole grain crackers
-Small salad with chopped cheese and/or meat, plus veggies
-Tortilla wrap sandwich
On the weekends we often eat left overs for lunches to finish up the little bit of this or that that’s left in the Refrigerator and needs to be eaten up.
For more lunch ideas see Preparing Low Calorie Brown Bag Meals
-Cold or Hot cereals depending on the time of year
-Toast (Supplement cereal or toast with a good protein source such as a hard-boiled egg, lean cooked meat, fish, or sausage, low fat yogurt, or low fat cheese)
-Waffles or Pancakes (whole grain is always best and heating up frozen will save you time over preparing your own)
-Leftovers (Food is food no matter when you eat it!)
Need more breakfast ideas? See Best Healthy Breakfasts for Weight Loss Part 1
Can you see yourself creating a simple meal plan for the week? Give yourself at least 15-20 minutes one evening or morning each week BEFORE you grocery shop. Jot down the 3-4 meals you will prepare. Write down the ingredients you will need to buy to prepare your meals. Think about what you would like to eat for your breakfasts and lunches. Check to see what food or ingredients are running low and stock up. Plan to include enough vegetables and fruit in your meal plan. Think about having healthy choices available for snacks.
Begin with the recipes and meals you have right now. Add at least 3 new healthy low calorie recipes/meals to your Master List if you have not done so already (Healthy Foods Recipe List to Lose Weight). After this first week do your best to add at least one new recipe each week. If it’s only every other week or whatever you can manage, just stay on track. You will gradually transition to a healthier way of eating with fewer calories. Weight loss and maintenance will become much more manageable.
I’ll share a copy of the kinds of foods I might have on my grocery list soon.
As you move closer to having a low calorie healthy diet you can choose to make healthier versions of some of your favorite foods or eliminate them all together. It is MUCH easier to eat healthy low calorie food when you don’t have tempting high calorie-dense foods instead of nutrient-dense foods in your house.
Tip: Allow yourself ONE treat each week but rather than making or buying an entire cake or pie or plate of cookies or whatever, consider going out to a great bakery or restaurant. ENJOY one piece of the absolute best tasting treat you can find. Make it a reasonable portion (share with someone else if it is too big!). You would not believe how much this helps! You get to enjoy your treat and then not go home to a week or more of munching on treats you don’t need!
If you must have these kinds of treats around for other family members consider freezing the extra or at least keeping the food out of sight and out of easy reach. Otherwise you will more likely than not succumb to the principle of See it, Eat it!
Here are SOME foods you may need to cut back on or eliminate to improve your weekly menu plan:
Hot dogs, breaded fish or chicken pieces, high calorie bagels, most granola bars, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, jams and jellies, bacon, high fat meat, donuts, pop tarts, soda pop, jars of gravy, cakes, pies, icing, etc.
Make this the week you get started with creating your own low calorie meal plan. You can do it. If you have questions be sure to ask!