Meal planning is often the biggest key to nutrient-rich and mindful meals at home, where you can enjoy what you’re eating and still eat well. All too often clients share with me how they get bored quickly or have trouble coming up with fresh ideas. Here’s my strategy to planning meals at home that keeps meals nutritious, delicious, goal-minded and easy:
Pick protein first.
Keep it lean, but don’t feel the need to restrict it to just chicken breast or salmon.
Great options can include pork tenderloin, sirloin, beans and lentils, skinless chicken thighs, fish or seafood of any variety you like.
Pick one different type for each night of the week. If you’re vegetarian, you still want to fill up first on protein, so options become different beans, lentils, tofu and eggs as examples.
I keep all proteins in the freezer and just remove as needed throughout the week. If there are any unused proteins, it gets worked into the meal plan for next week.
Choose your cuisine.
Whether it’s Mexican, Italian, Asian, etc., these flavors are what really add variety into your week. You might pick one type for each night of the week to add lots of variety, and the following week you can have the same types of cuisines but by switching meats you can also change the dish. For example, if you choose Mexican, you can have chicken enchiladas one week and ground beef bell pepper nachos the next.
Add volume with veggies.
Adding in these low calorie, low carbohydrate/sugar options not only provide lots of volume to your dish (allowing for bigger portions; and who doesn’t want to eat more food), but also tons of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Pair whatever veggie that matches the protein and cuisine. For bell pepper nachos, sliced peppers can be the bed for the protein and toppings. Grated cauliflower can be used instead of rice or mixed together in burritos, stir fry, pot roast and grits.
Give yourself a break on busy days
Leave yourself a miscellaneous night or two for eating leftovers, dining out, having breakfast for dinner, etc. Leave this night for your hardest or longest day of the week.
Work this formula into your weekly routine using resources like cooking shows, Pinterest and recipe books to provide inspiration for new dishes, twisting the ingredients as necessary to fit into your nutrition goals (minimizing added salts, excess fats, etc). For ease, I find one pan dinners or saute/stir-fry type meals are the most simple and least time consuming!
This really just focuses on dinners, which can be used for leftovers for lunch as well. If you’re thinking about what to do for breakfast and snacks, keep the protein-first concept but pair it with a fiber-rich source like fresh fruit. Veggies can always be added in, but if you’re getting double portions at lunch and dinner, you can allow yourself the fruit here to serve as some sweetness, hydration, vitamins and minerals.
For example, mini crudités for snack options to pick from throughout the week:
Honey crisp apple and tablespoon almond butter
Pear and reduced fat cheese stick
Orange and 2 tablespoons pistachios
Rebecca Miller, MPH, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist with Ochsner Fitness Center. She also writes a blog called Twisted Nutrition. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.842.9551