meal prep

Habits: Meal Planning & Meal Prepping

DenaFebruary 2, 2023

In my last post, I talked about my recent success with habit tracking and scaling back habits. Today, I want to dive into a habit that is going very well, but previously had been a long-time struggle for me—eating too much takeout. The negative health and financial impacts caused by eating too much takeout are devastating.

The average American household spends thousands of dollars a year on dining out. It’s wildly expensive. To turn a profit, restaurants charge an average 300% markup on the food that they serve. On top of that, there is the cost of the tip (for the server or delivery driver), plus additional surcharges. In most cases, you’ll easily pay $15 for a restaurant meal that you could make at home for $5.

On top of that, eating at home is vastly more healthy than eating restaurant food. Restaurant meals typically contain higher amounts of sodium, saturated fat, total fat, and overall calories than home cooked meals. In most restaurants, food is loaded with salt and cooked in toxic seed oils. At home, you make the choice about what goes into your food and into your body.

Eating at home clearly makes the most sense in terms of money and health. But it’s not that simple. Life is busy and eating out is both satisfying and convenient. In order to make eating at home a habit, we have to make it just as satisfying and convenient. In Atomic Habits, James Clear says there are Four Rules of Behavior Change that we can use to build better habits: 1. Make it obvious. 2. Make it attractive. 3. Make it easy. 4. Make it satisfying. When it comes to eating at home, the best way to achieve this habit, in my experience, is to meal plan and meal prep.

Here are the 4 steps that I take each week to plan & prep my meals.

1. Keep a running list. Make a list of meals and recipes that you want to eat. Notice how I emphasize “want” here. If health is a major concern for you, I encourage you to be mindful that meal planning & prepping is work. In order to be successful, and to be consistent with this habit, it has to be attractive and satisfying. So build the habit first by choosing meals that you will eat and enjoy. If the food bores you and you don’t eat it, it will be a waste and you’ll have no motivation to continue. Later, once you’ve consistently established the habit, you can take it up a notch and make your meals even healthier.

I love using Pinterest to build my lists. I keep several boards for inspiration: a Food Inspiration Board, a Meal Prep Board, and a Veggie Inspiration Board. You can create your own Pinterest board, keep a running list in the notes section of your phone, or keep an old-fashioned notebook. Just keep building that list so that you have a solid pool of go-to meals to choose from.

Finally, make sure that the meals on your list store well and can be easily re-heated. This will give you the most bang for your buck and the most output for your effort. Casseroles, soups, curries, and rice dishes are all great options.

2. Keep a calendar of meals. Make a calendar for the week and plug meals into each meal spot. I recommend planning out 5-7 days at a time. In my case, I fast most mornings, so my meal plan for each day includes: brunch, mid-day snack, and dinner.

3. Get your groceries. Make a grocery list using your calendar of meals. You know what you’re going to make, now you need to know what you’ve got on hand and what you need to buy to make each meal. Staples like salt, pepper, spices, and olive oil, you may have on hand. Other things you will need to purchase. Make sure that your list is thorough and you get everything that you need. If you forget an ingredient, that will be an easy excuse to break the habit and order a pizza before you even begin—so be thorough.

4. Batch prep and cook. Choose a time to prep and cook. I like to do this every other Sunday afternoon. I carve out a few hours and just get it done. Cook all of the things that you can freeze or store for 5-7 days. Prep the things that you’ll want to throw together during the week. For example, you can pre-chop salad and veggies and store them so that they’ll be easy to toss into a salad or a quick stir-fry. Everything else will be cooked and ready to go. You can keep larger dishes (like casseroles and quiches) in large containers and cut out pieces when you’re ready to eat. Or you can pre-portion your meals and store them in small containers—an excellent portion control hack. I love these Pyrex casserole dishes. You can cook in them and then store without dirtying anything extra.

Sure, taking a few hours out of your Sunday afternoon is a time and energy commitment. But for the cost savings and the health benefits, it is incredibly worth it. I tried to meal plan for years unsuccessfully. Meal planning alone just wasn’t enough. You can make the plans but when the reality of a busy day hits, it’s just so much easier to open an app, tap a few buttons, and have whatever your crave delivered right to your doorstep. Only once I started meal planning and meal prepping, did I find success. This method can work for anyone.

I will say it again because I want to be real with you, meal planning & prepping is time-consuming, especially in the beginning as you’re finding your groove, but it’s incredibly gratifying and effective. You can save thousands of dollars each year and you can take inches off of your waistline, improving your health and your finances all in one shot. Talk about ROI! When you meal plan and prep, there are no longer excuses during the week. Healthy, affordable, homemade food is ready for you to eat. It’s just about as easy as opening an app at that point. You open the fridge, heat up what you want to eat. No fuss. And it’s a hell of a lot healthier and cheaper than restaurant food.

Here are a few of my favorite meal prep tools:

Always Pan
Perfect Pot
Oven Pan
Casserole Dishes
Glass Meal Prep Containers
Silicone Meal Prep Boxes
Ninja Air Fryer

I hope that you found this post helpful, friends. If you have anything to add or have questions for me, let me know on Instagram: @_denajoan!

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