A Free Spirit's Guide to Effortless Healthy Meal Planning
Does the phrase “meal planning” strike terror in your heart?
Every diet and fitness guru insists you must plan your meals every week.
If “planning meals” wasn’t enough, you also have to “prep your food.”
Food prep brings to mind images of mismatched, stained Tupperware containers lined up on a counter, each filled with four ounces of tasteless chicken breast and a sprout or two of overcooked broccoli. No thanks.
Is it possible to eat in a healthy manner without spending hours of your life pouring over recipe books, killing time on Pinterest searching for recipes, making long ingredient lists and alphabetizing your shopping lists?
Can you lose weight without spending an entire Saturday afternoon chopping, peeling and slicing veggies?
Will you reach your fitness goals without seven identical containers of chicken and broccoli?
I’m here to tell you YES.
(Make sure to read to the end for the printable Free Spirit's Zero Effort Shopping List!)
Meal planning is a great idea.
I am a huge proponent of meal planning. I’ve planned family meals long before I started my “get healthy” journey six years ago. Back in the day, when I was extremely organized, I plotted our dinners and wrote our family’s weekly menu on a dry erase board posted in the kitchen.
Later, my healthy meal plans were written on printables I created to keep myself organized. I still mostly plan meals that way.
But several weeks ago I had an interesting issue arise. I was participating in a challenge group run by a friend of mine. She asked us to post our weekly meal plans.
There were crickets on my end. This was an extremely busy week. I had two projects with time-deadlines, plus my regular job and family obligations. My own workouts and training are top priority so I wasn’t going to cut into that time. And I must play guitar or I will lose my sanity. I had little time (or desire, by the way) to post a meal plan.
I almost felt guilty.
Then I remembered I wasn’t a total failure. I had gone to the grocery store. My fridge was full of healthy items and the pantry and freezer were stocked. I didn’t have a PLAN – I couldn’t tell you what I would eat for dinner on Thursday (let alone that night) but I had healthy, fast, grab-and-go meal options.
I am not a failure. I am simply a meal planning free spirit.
What to do when you don’t have time to plan meals.
As simple as meal planning can be (read about it here), there are days and weeks when we just don’t have the time or desire to go to even a little trouble to write a plan on paper.
Or, you might be a person who prefers to be flexible, wing it or go with the flow. I am very structured about some areas of my life, but I also like the freedom to choose food (or whatever) at the spur of the moment.
I thought you might be the same. Hence this Free Spirit’s Zero Effort Guide to Healthy Meal Planning.
The free spirit’s guide to meal planning.
Good nutrition doesn’t have to mean hours of perusing recipes, meal planning, writing long ingredient lists, food prep, chopping, peeling, and slicing. It doesn’t mean making seven identical Tupperware containers filled with the same (yawn) boring ingredients.
The Healthy Free Spirit can simply go to the grocery store, quickly fill a cart with ingredients, and have all she needs for a week’s worth of meals.
You can use your local grocery store, a big box plus grocery store like Super Target or Super Walmart, Costco or Sam’s Club. If you’re more high-end, try Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.
The secret? Healthy convenience foods.
“Healthy” and “convenience” is not a paradox. Zucchini is a healthy food. Twinkies are a convenience food. Pre-cut veggies in a plastic tub is a healthy convenience food. Simple, right?
You are entitled to define what “healthy” means to you.
There are a million definitions of good health. Some people will not touch a food processed in any way, shape or form. I’m not one of them. If you are, then you might as well stop reading now. I don’t mind a food product gently caressed by a factory machine, so long as the end product doesn’t have tons of added junk.
Many of the items on my Free Spirit’s Shopping List are superfoods. Imagine that.
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Gentle guidelines for a Free Spirit.
Because we free spirits don’t take kindly to rules, I offer a few gentle guidelines.
Choose a few items from each category (proteins, produce, starches, etc.)
Select foods you like and will actually eat.
These are the raw ingredients. Each day just toss a few items into your bag and call it lunch. Open a few containers and you have dinner. Grab a protein bar, an apple, or a handful of nuts and that’s your snack. Simple. Healthy. Zero stress.
Oh, and one premise of healthy eating that I’ll share. Each meal or eating opportunity should ideally have a source of protein and a fruit or veggie. If you have fat to lose, then starches or grains are best saved for after exercise. Don’t stress over these rules, because they’re not rules. Just guidelines.
Free Spirit’s Healthy Shopping List
Download this printable shopping list and pop it in your purse. (We Free Spirits never know when we might end up at the grocery store.) Just whip it out and choose whatever items sound appealing at the time. Stock your fridge, pantry and freezer with healthy convenience foods.
Meal planning has never been so simple.