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How to be a Meal-planning Master?

Happy Meal

It's really about priorities and organisation

For me, organisation is a necessity when it comes to healthy living. Without it, it's all too easy to come home tired after a long day at work, stare baffled into the pantry, and decide to tuck into a big bowl of cereal for dinner because it's the easiest option. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with supping on cereal, once in a while - but it is an issue for my carb-hating body, especially if it turns into a several-times-a-week occurrence.

This morning when I was in the staff kitchen at work slicing up some tomato and avocado to top a couple of Kavli crackers (yummy snack!), one of my colleagues piped up that I 'always eat so healthily'. He continued to tell me that as much as he'd like to be healthy, he just doesn't have time. He is just so busy he doesn't even have a spare moment even to drink the water from the pitcher on his desk! 'I envy you!' was his closing remark.

I don't want to sound preachy (I'm sure I probably thought along similar lines a few months ago - though I wouldn't say it aloud to a colleague!), but I felt like telling him I could see right through his excuses. For one, I'm just as busy as he is, but I MAKE time to take all of three minutes a day to slice up my fresh tomato and avo, and refill my water bottle (which literally takes 30 seconds!).

Before, I didn't really value my health, so taking a few minutes out of my busy morning to prepare a healthy snack did seem a bit indulgent. But now, I see the benefits in doing so - and I know I'm far less likely to crave a sugar-laden lunch or slump at 4pm if I take this time. And I don't think I should be made to feel guilty or indulgent for doing so!

Anyway, back to the topic of this post. To me, meal planning is the ultimate way to ensure I am organised and able to fit healthy living into my week. I've been a meal planner for quite some time, and would feel a bit panicky without my little Saturday planning and shopping ritual, I think. I'm not one who can stick to a strict regimen where my breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are mapped out each and every day, so I've come to know the balance that works for me - my routine eliminates the stress of being faced with an empty pantry while leaving me room to switch around meals if I want to, and choose snacks I feel like on the spur of the moment.

I thought I'd share a couple of the simple tools and tricks I use to make meal planning as simple and streamlined as possible. Even if you are an old hand at meal planning, hopefully you'll find it interesting to see how I do things!

1. Google Calendar and Excel.

I use Google Calendar to schedule all of my appointments, coffee dates, reminders and even workouts for the week, so I know which nights I'll be out, when I'll need a quick and easy dinner and when I'll have more time to prepare a more involved meal.

Then, I use a simple calendar template I created in Excel to fill out any activities/events that will influence my cooking (in the grey column - see below) - and then I fill out the 'lunch' and 'dinner' columns (often I will take dinner leftovers for lunch the next day, and try to squeeze as many meals as possible out of each 'batch' of food we cook - quite easy when there's only two to cook for). I don't plan my breakfasts (they're usually much the same - protein smoothie) or snacks (because I like to have a bit of freedom to choose my snacks freely).

And then, most important, I stick the menu on the fridge where it's easy for me (and M) to see it! I also print out any new recipes I'll be trying and pin these to the fridge too, and make sure recipes in recipe books are flagged and accessible.

2. Mealboard iPhone app.

Some time ago I purchased this wonderful app which has seriously simplified my grocery shopping. It's only a couple of (Australian) dollars and worth every cent! It is basically a meal planning and grocery shopping tool that, after a bit of preparation to set up, makes shopping an absolute breeze.

To start with, you need to add your recipes to the app - which involves listing each ingredient and quantity. It's a bit time-consuming, but once you've set it up with your favourite recipes you only need to add new ones when you cook something different. Then, each week, you can use the app to 'schedule' your meals for the week.

(Obviously, the above is not mine - it's the example off the app! I'm usually lazy and just punch in my meals one after the other rather than organising them by day, since I've already done that bit with my Excel menu.) THEN (and here's the exciting bit), you go to the 'shopping cart' page, and hit 'sync' - it then totals up all the ingredients you'll need for the week and even lists them by supermarket aisle. Super cool! You can then add any extra items you need - toiletries, snack foods etc - to the list.

Then, as you put items in your shopping trolley, you simply check them off on your phone and they move to the bottom of the list. Easy peasy! So, that's my meal planning routine in a nutshell. It's all pretty simple, but hopefully it has you some ideas that will make your meal planning a little less painful. Do you plan your meals? Any tips for making the meal planning/grocery shopping process easier?